Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Makes You a Filipino?

What is the essence of a culture?

Is it language? Values? History?

Can we possibly pinpoint a single attribute that authenticates one's culture?

Recently, I discovered the Speak Out series on Youtube that originally aired on The Filipino Channel. A Filipino-centric talk show, Speak Out explores relevant issues in a town hall meeting-style forum.

So what happened when they got a group of Philippine and American-born Filipinos together to define the Pinoy identity ?

Well, let's just say it involved a heated debate about the subjective essence of Filipino-ness (you can watch the program HERE):

Assimilating into American culture...

  • "The message that I received was that my Filipino-ness was not good enough. And that I will not be accepted by my accent and by the way I dress. In essence, I have to shed my self of my Filipino-ness."

The language debate...

  • "They expect us to explain our [Filipino] know...our mission statement in Tagalog. And then they came up and said, 'We don't think you should call yourself Filipino because you can't even speak the language!'"

  • "How are you going to tell me that you're a Filipino organization and you can't even speak Tagalog?! The essence--the foundation--of that can't even explain!"

What is American?

  • "What does Americanization mean or what is the American Dream? And who is American? When we think about this...when we think about this concept...most people think about White folks. So if a Filipino wants to be a Filipino American, are you trying to be White or trying to have the ideals of America--of freedom and democracy, and have wealth and privilege?"

What is Filipino?

  • "Let's just reverse the question: What does it mean to be Filipino? Does it mean chinellas (slippers) in the winter? Or does it mean putting our parents on a pedestal? "

Needless to say, the program stirred up a lot of strong feelings regarding the cultural authenticity of a Filipino, and I have to say I was getting pretty riled-up in the process! I guess the whole debate caught me off guard since I didn't realize such a strong rift existed between these two groups of Filipinos...but then...after thinking about it, I started to get it.

How can we strip one of their Filipino-ness on account of the fact that they may not speak Tagalog, but instead speak "fluent" English? Many of our parents believed that raising us in North America accent-free would allow us to become more successful within the larger culture, having encountered their own challenges with discrimination when immigrating to the new country. But the the seed of European superiority was obviously planted long ago...

Why do we often convince new Filipino immigrants that being American or being Canadian trumps being Pinoy? What is really dividing us? Why do Filipino American and Canadian kids often ignore their Philippine-born counterparts at school? Is it really because of their accents? OR is it because new Filipino immigrants remind us that we came from a place that's often been suppressed by our "good English" and North American privilege?

So what makes you a Filipino?

loyalty is layers
of strength
as many Pinays
runs through my veins
my brown skin
at times
triggered the taunts
that have lingered
with Those dark times
All Pinoys share
the mountain
from which I see the world
and the way
that world
wishes to see me.

1 comment:

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