It’s been said the very word “Philippines” is un-Filipino. Yes, our country is named after a foreigner, King Philip 2nd of Spain, but so too are many others. America is named after the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, and that hasn’t stopped them from developing a unique culture in less than 400 years. (But then again, “American culture” is an oxymoron.)
It’s such a Pinoy habit to diss one’s own culture. Malaise is so ubiquitous, so long-running, it’s passé. Cynicism is poor excuse for apathy. Let me offer a new fashion for thinking:
As a nation we have had a traumatic childhood. The Spanish Era, the American Era, and the Japanese Era: Our history books define each chapter by which invader tormented us. And those historical Manalad murals feature the colonizers more prominently than our own heroes. But let’s get over our hang-ups. Let’s stop blaming the past and move on. The history and culture of the next 400 years should be about us, not our oppressors.
The Philippines has been independent for a little more than 100 years. But despite having more than 7,100 islands, 600 languages and two insurgency fronts, we have remained a distinct yet diverse culture in a world tearing itself apart with ethnic cleansing. We are not self-destructing like Liberia, Sudan, or North Korea. We don’t bomb other countries or dump cultural surplus like the USA either. Let’s give our selves some credit.
We ‘fess up, we are culturally dysfunctional. Torn from our indigenous roots at infancy and abducted by our wicked stepparents Spain and America, we have had a hard time finding anything we can truly call our own. Our Jeepney is an American war wagon; our Catholic religion is a Spanish brainwashing scheme; our lechon a wonderful Chinese invention; and Jasmine Trias swears patriotism to another flag.
But one defines Filipino not with “purity,” but with “richness.” We have been a multi-cultural society for more than 500 years; inclusiveness is part of our character. We already had an impressive indigenous culture in precolonial times; we can still reconnect to it. And when we “Filipinize,” we subvert, mutate and make other cultures our own as well. Rizalistas in Banahaw, suka on your kwek-kwek and T-shirt hawkers at Edsa Dos. The Philippines has religion like nowhere else, English like nowhere else, and revolutions like nowhere else. Agaw armas? Agaw kultura!
I know, “Ispagheting Pataas” is not culture to be proud of. Unlike Thailand, India or China, we don’t have centuries-old temples or great dynasties. Isaw, banana ketchup, Darna and Pepe Smith are all products of the last half-century. Much of Pinoy culture is pop culture. And that is a good thing. Pinoy culture is not a museum piece; it is alive.
We are a young country. We are still under construction. And that makes this a very exciting time for artists, designers, writers and anyone with a stake in our culture. And that means all of us. We get to help build Pinoy culture from the ground up. We don’t just rediscover traditions; we start them. We get to write our name on the concrete while it’s still wet. Now is the time to be trailblazers, innovators and firsts. It is a golden opportunity and an inescapable responsibility. What we do as artists, writers and audiences either corrodes or galvanizes our culture.
The Filipiniana should be more than just a tiny section of every library. In the same way, “Filipino” should be more than just a theme we occasionally use. It should be our main preoccupation. Our culture is so much uncharted territory; there is room for every Filipino’s imagination.
Dodge Ball, the Movie nor Himala, the Musicale? Boy band Blue or jazz band Radioactive Sago Project? Daniel Steele or Carlos Bulosan? Singapore or Batad? Given our ever-dwindling spending power, it matters what we choose to spend our time and money on. As citizens we cast our ballots only once every few years. But as consumers we vote with our peso daily. At stake is which culture survives and thrives. Let’s not wait for the government support; we can succeed regardless. Let’s not wait for international recognition to tell us what’s good for ourselves; we have our own criteria and our own tastes. When it comes to our creativity and our money, go Filipino and vote wisely.
That’s where I come in. Let Culture Vulture be your lookout for fresh meat on the culture scene. Go beyond the shopping malls. Satisfy your appetite for soul food na lutong kawali, whether it be contemporary dance and digital short films at Green Papaya, post-punk fashion and surreal paintings at U.F.O., or designer duels and collaborative digital art at HalfProject.com. Chill-out on all the Luna paintings you can feast your eyes on in a day, from the Lopez Museum to the National Museum to the GSIS museum and further.
Beyond the tyranny of the cool and stodginess of “fine art,” Culture Vulture gives you culture without the elitism or the cronyism. From spoken word to ballet, from the Cultural Center to BigSkyMind, it’s all here. With opinions, reviews, day-trips, rants and raves, Culture Vulture will give you the skinny on all that can’t be found on press releases. Watch this space.
By Rome Jorge
Get in touch with Culture Vulture through www.hanepdesigns.com or e-mail rome.jorge @gmail.com.