IT is February 14, and it’s the day to take a leave from the toxicity in the air, depart momentarily from the realm of hate politics, and the trolls and bashers.
After all, and despite our political divisions, we Pinoys are a caring and loving group of people. Our sense of community is deep, our love for others sincere and enduring, and our laughter and tears coexist in rituals that become us.
We make it our right to intrude into the lives of other people, and more so of friends and family, to a point that we even expect them to meddle in our affairs. It is a badge of familiar love and kinship. The worst statement one can tell someone is “wala akong paki sa‘yo” (or “I don’t care.”) Being told this amounts to a severance of being part of the collective self.
We thrive on our connections. This is the silent bond that keeps us going in times of crisis. We may not obey traffic rules when we drive, but we surely take note of the behavior of other drivers as we act as a community, where the norm are not the rules of the road, but the sense of “pakikipagkapwa” and “pakikiramdam.” We blame not the failure to obey rules as the cause of congestion, but the lack of “pagbibigayan” by greedy and selfish members of the community.
Our sense of family and of community are celebrated as our source of raw power, that they become the substrates that cement our social and political order.
We are a country that amazed Anderson Cooper for our ability to smile despite being ravaged by a killer supertyphoon. Our source of strength during disasters and crisis is not the robustness of the state, but the organic nature of our connectedness, and the thin line that divides our laughter and our tears.
We are a deeply sentimental people that we seem to convert our pain and suffering into a celebration of our humanity. We have our “hugot” lines that speak of hurt yet screams of undying longing and love. They are embodied in our emotional soul that finds expression in how we entertain ourselves, from our soap operas to our songs. I remember a Canadian telling me how they hate Celine Dion for her sentimental songs, even if she is a Canadian. I told her Filipinos love Celine Dion. In fact, we emulate her style of “birit” as a measure of our passion that our music celebrated this in Regine Velasquez and Sarah Geronimo.
And there is one human activity where we cement our connections and our sentiments. This is when we partake of food.
Food and eating are cultural elements of our identities that embody how we build our social order.
We do not pay attention to the ambience and the presentation. There are very few fine dining restaurants that specialize in Filipino food. We do not have elaborate presentations in our cuisine the way the Thais do, or well-prepared multi-course dinner settings.
It is not the place, or the presentation, or the setting on the table that matter. It is the company and the camaraderie that count. We do not even care if we have manners. A sign of tight bonds is when someone can dip into the plate of another to have a taste of what is there, an act that is considered a violation of etiquette and table manners in some cultures, but for us is a sign of being family, of being “hindi na iba.”
And this finds clear cultural expression in the boodle fight where boundaries defined by plates, and individual utensils, are set aside in favor of a communal rite, where eating has become community-building.
It is this cultural location of food that is the root of the rituals of life that makes it easier to understand the logic of the series of Jollibee TV commercials for Valentine’s Day.
Food is not just a physiological need. In the Pinoy worldview, food has become a living social artifact, even as it has also become changed by the times.
Jollibee is a manifestation of these changing times. After all, it is molded from the Western model of a fastfood outlet.
However, the commercials have vividly reminded us that forms may change, but what makes us a people will endure. Fast food does not necessarily mean fast, or superficial, love. The narratives being told are of an undying and unconditional love, an unchanging modality of communing with others who are no longer an “other,” that defies modernization, and even alteration of the technology and the manner of delivery.
The Jollibee commercials are representations of things that endure for the Pinoy, despite change.
And that would, cliché be damned, have to be love, family and connectedness, with a healthy dose of melodrama to celebrate our hugot moments.
And this is our assurance that despite our political divisions, we will not break.