By Dr. Rex Bacarra
A race in diaspora and a nation re-birthed over and over again from the wombs of the Spaniards, the British, the Americans and the Japanese, cannot claim authenticity.
This lack of rootedness is reflected on how we desire and what we desire, and when how we desire is self-centeredly individualistic instead of the more unifying collective, and what we desire is exemplified with our obsession with fairer skin among others that are naturally extrinsic to us, then who we truly are as Filipinos, as a nation struggling for identity, is in crisis.
Writing for The Atlantic, James Fallows in 1987 offered a stinging, “…dark view of a nation not only without nationalism but also without much national pride.” A blunt criticism, yes, but one that speaks the truth. It begs the question – “What does it take to be a true Filipino?” Or are we, like a story of fiction, cloaked with layers upon layers of magical coats, unable to identify who we truly are, because of what we have become?
Do we consider a Filipino true when he claims to be one, speaking with an American twang? When one is a Filipino in passport, yet considers the spoken English as a superior way to communicate, automatically changing from Tagalog to heavily-accented English when ordering in Starbucks for a Latte, is he truly one? It is not just the language, but the preference for the Zaras and the Guccis, instead of the homegrown Shoes by Kai and Harpoon Co, which you, unsurprisingly, probably have not heard of.
So are we fictional Filipinos? No. Something beautiful flows in the veins of every Filipino courtesy of these influences. While people can question our material tastes and preferences, we acquired traits and values that have become unique to us. When globalization happened and the conceptual walls of segregation fell, when Filipinos jumped overseas to take advantage of the global opportunities, when intermingling with people of colors became the norm more than the exception, then people all over the world took notice of the Filipinos.
More than the karaoke and how good we smell, they noticed our passion, both in religion and in our tolerance for pain. Being Filipino in a borderless world means acting on our belief, and we practice the values contained therein. We are respectful and pleasant to work with. The endearing use of kuya and ate, or their equivalent, should be consciously practiced in all associations. Being prayerful should reflect our actions. When we celebrate the mass, attend the Simbang Gabi leading to our Lord’s birth, experience the joys of Easter, fulfill our panatas and vows, indulge in the merrymaking of fiestas, birthdays, and anniversaries, we show to the world a global attitude that can be traced to a three-century influence of Spain that had metamorphosed into a passion that throbs emphatically even now in our hearts.
Being Filipino in a borderless world means being incurably happy. This is classically Filipino, borne out of years of being with colonizers. We have learned to adjust and be flexible. We smile in difficulties, we laugh awkwardly when we are unsure, and we roar when we are afraid. This is a trait that speaks volume about how we see and interact with the world. Our sense of happiness has a way of divesting our pain, of overturning our suffering, and of extending our patience and tolerance. Some people think that this attitude does not a Filipino help, but in a world where threats are common, where wars in number destroy, where egos bloat senselessly harping for false entitlement, a patient Filipino who wears a smile in the middle of chaos is like a singular rose in a thorny forest. It doesn’t just look beautiful; it heals the broken.
Dr. Rex Venard Bacarra
Professor of Philosophy at the American College of Dubai, Rex Venard Bacarra says of himself – “I may be bad in folding a fitted sheet and horrible in parallel parking. But, I am excellent in chewing the maggots of the philosophical universe. Maybe…” True to form, this modern day ‘Filosopo Tasio” shares with us his thoughts on our society today – this time delving into the question of Filipino identity.
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