MANY Filipinos who were born overseas seem to be either ashamed of or clueless about Filipino culture. But once in their lives, when they feel incomplete, they feel a desire that makes them want to know more. When one seems to have forgotten, a yearning for a connection is felt.
The children of the Filipino diaspora may hear bad things about the Philippines; sometimes even described in their favorite Netflix series — the weak justice system, the poverty and the corruption. Many people are lazy beggars and find every foreigner a milking opportunity. But in their obligatory visits with their families, they see a resemblance to them in each local they meet and feel a sense of magic seeing how similar we truly are.
How does it happen?
Apparently, that’s how culture works. You may not be aware of it, but because one or both parents were raised in the Philippines, or grandparents have lived in the Philippines, through socialization and child-rearing, one is passed a sense or a consciousness. The historian Fernand Braudel essayed an idea that one should look at history in the “longue durée,” which means not just as a series of particular events but of mentalities that connect these events. Mentalities can be concepts that are passed on by a people from one generation to another, even if they are not totally conscious of it.
The people of Poland have a strong sense of “nation.” Poles are deeply connected by their language, culture and their strong Catholic faith. But why do Filipinos seem to not easily connect with each other? Because certain events actually separated us all from one another.
Despite the fact that we were an archipelago, the maritime culture and language of the Austronesians connected us. The waters did not separate us but actually made it easier for people to navigate and trade with each other. It was our colonial experience that alienated us from each other, from the divide and rule policy of the Spaniards to the imposition of English in the public schools by the Americans.
But also, the miseducation of Filipinos made us look at history in the perspective of the colonizers who wrote it. It not only made us feel bad about ourselves by telling us of their superiority, but by making it appear that every good thing about our culture came from them — our faith, our system of government, our salvation as a people from “barbarism.” This made many Filipinos look at distant shores for the source of “kaginhawahan,” or the good life, rather than stand up and rely on our own. This gave us a sense of the “smallness” of our own identity. Not realizing what economists are really saying: we are not a very small country with not a very small economy.
For the longest time, Filipinos of the diaspora were almost totally separated from their motherland, but technological advances like The Filipino Channel and eventually, social media, expanded the national discourse to include the overseas Filipino workers and the Filipino migrants. Their involvement in Filipino politics was felt in the 2016 elections and continues to be felt. As I wrote in a journal article 10 years ago, cyberspace has expanded the reach of the Filipino nation and it can be used to unite us more. Yet we have also seen that now, despite being more nationalistic, we are actually as divided as ever. Just look at Facebook.
But if you see history in the continuing consciousness of pakikipagkapwa — seeing the self in the other, kapatiran with your fellow Filipinos, kabayanihan and bayanihan in times of need, you will see how it was manifested through different times in our struggle for freedom, in disasters and in this time of coronavirus. You will also see it in your fellow Filipino. Sure, there are bad apples in every nation, and we should recognize our mistakes and not essentialize our bad national habits, but Filipinos should also see and tell the world of our best sales pitch as Nas Daily vlogger Nuseir Yassin put it — “There’s more love in the Philippines.” But you can only be a good salesman if you know your product. You can only love someone if you make an effort to know the person.
If you want to love the Philippines, you have to make an effort to know her history — the “saysay” (meaning sense) of our kasaysayan.
Our awareness of our kasaysayan will also make us realize that although we root ourselves in our common Austronesian heritage, we do not deny that colonization also enriched whoever we are, for good and bad. Our faults and virtues are a blending of the East and the West. It is what makes us Filipinos now.
Never try to find the pure Filipino, none exists. You are as Filipino as our history made us to be. Inheritor of a great legacy.