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What's a Filipino? What defines us - and more important, what binds us; what dreams unite us - now that we're scattered all over the world, born to a mix of races, into different cultures, speaking different languages? This article is one of a series exploring the notion of "being Filipino" in a globalized world and time. Follow @interaksyon on our #WhatsaFilipino discussion on Twitter, and on this special coverage on InterAksyon.com.
Remember those lists that supposedly enumerate the traits common to Filipinos? You point with your lips, you cook rice by measuring the water with your hands, etc. [See: List]
Well, I’ve made my own. Like all lists, it’s completely subjective and based on experience and observation. Feel free to agree/disagree.
You know you’re a Filipino if…
You are noisy and can cope with a lot of noise… What did Neil Gaiman say when he went to Manila? We’re even noisier than Brazilians. Hah. Just my luck that I moved to a country where noise is considered a scourge. Neighborhoods have “noise patrols” and noise pollution levels are monitored just like air pollution. (Maybe that’s not so bad if your neighbours insist on karaoke binges all night long.)
But you can’t stand powerful bodily aromas. I’ve tried, believe me. I've exerted utmost efforts to be polite but my nose betrays me. I’ve had sneezing fits triggered by overwhelming emanations in crowded train carriages and people have looked at me as if I were a Nazi.
You are resourceful. Madiskarte. I’ve never met a Pinoy who was stymied by rules.
You think rules are suggestions. This is just the obverse of the above. If there’s a rule, there’s always a way to get around it. Perhaps it is a result of centuries of navigating corrupt, byzantine, and oppressive bureaucracies. Then again, Pinoys also thrive in settings where there are established systems and rules that apply to all. So we can still change.
You’d rather sleep on the floor than ask your guests to do so. We are brilliant, gracious hosts. I’ve been in shacks that were home to people who had nothing and yet still got the royal treatment. I’m proud to report that I’ve kept the flame alive here: No guest of mine will ever sleep on the floor and not have a decent meal before they go.
You are not fazed by disasters, man-made or natural. Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Dictatorships? We’ve survived them all.
You thrive anywhere… Desert? Tundra? Metropolis? Rural backwater? Been there, been that.
But you need to hang out with your barangay… Heaven forbid that one eats out/watches a film alone/goes to the beach/lives alone. Is there something wrong with you? Do you hate people? Do you think you’re better than everyone else? Why don’t you get your second cousin’s godmother to live with you? She’ll do the housework and keep watch over your apartment while you’re at work. No? Are you hiding something? Nothing wrong with taking care of each other but "independence" is not a dirty word.
So you’re a bit wary of “foreigners”. Did I say “foreigners”? I meant black people. Or anyone who’s not white. There, I’ve said it. It’s been bugging me since an aunt wished aloud that my (British) husband was “sana hindi negro.” I nearly did a cartwheel. Look, we’ve been dealing with foreigners for centuries. A fifth of our people live side by side with all races. We should be the last people on earth to cling to prejudice. Snap out of it.
You are a polyglot. Now there’s a P-word I like. I’ve never met a Pinoy who could not speak the language in their host/adopted country after a couple of years.
You’ll eat anything as long as it comes with rice. Even burgers. No, a sandwich doesn’t count as lunch and fruit is for dessert, not dinner. But we’ll eat offal, sea creatures, insects, fertilized duck egg, etc. Even the (recent) vegetarians among us will at one point in their lives have ingested something from our eclectic “nose-to-tail” cuisine. What, you’ve never eaten goto (tripe), sisig (a pig’s face, basically), sinigang (fish heads), lengua estofada (ox tongue), isaw (chicken entrails)? I’m reporting you to the Bureau of Immigration right now.
You learned about Philippine history from: A) Textbooks B) TV C) Elders D)Yoyoy Villame. Full points if you answered D.
There is, of course, no definitive list of all Filipino qualities. And, I dare say, no fixed definition of what a Filipino is.
For legal purposes, we have our passports, tax returns and birth certificates to prove our citizenship. But do these documents really define us as a people?
What of Pinoys who have gone elsewhere and no longer possess these papers? Have they stopped being Filipino? What of those who grew up abroad and have only one Filipino ancestor somewhere in their lineage? Fake?
We learn from history and current events how citizenship can be reduced to race and ancestry; to how long one’s family has lived in one place. This is untenable: humans tend to move around the world and marry each other. Taken to an extreme, it can be very dangerous--what else did the Nazis champion other than purity and supremacy of race?
By such narrow definitions, I will never be British. Nor will millions of Filipinos who were born abroad or live abroad by choice or need, be anything other than perpetual outsiders in other countries.
And if we employ the same criteria to Filipinos who have left and to their children, then no one of mixed heritage or anyone born abroad can ever “really” be a Filipino. Also, no one who has been born elsewhere to parents/ancestors of other ethnicities can ever be “truly”a Filipino.
That’s an awful lot of people to write off: people who want to keep their links to their old country, who have the skills and resources to help out in various ways, who want to discover their roots, or people who moved to ours in search of better lives.
I’m reminded of an encounter I had here in London with (whom I assumed to be) an Indian man, his wife, and a group of his friends. He looked happy to see Pinoys and, in fluent Tagalog, announced that he was “taga-Cubao”. And what about his friends, I asked. “Oh, they’re Indians”, he replied. “I’m Pinoy.”
I think that’s the surest sign that you’re a Filipino: You lay claim to it, and in doing so, help shape its meaning.
(Carla, who has previously written for Newsbreak, is a writer and researcher specialising in new media and political communication. She came to the UK to study eight years ago and has stayed on. She lives in London with her husband, Andrew.)
(Contributions in the form of essays, pieces, photos, and yes, even short films, that try to answer the question are welcome at editor at interaksyon.com. Contributors should also include short biographies and profile photos to their submissions.)