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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.
My child has just entered grade school and he can barely speak a straight sentence in Filipino.
I feel tremendously guilty. When he speaks to a tindera at the corner store, to the manong selling taho, or to the kuya who watches over them at school, he confidently expresses what he needs in perfect English.
They all smile and accommodate him like it's the most normal thing. I cringe inwardly.
My guilt in my child's delayed language education comes from knowing that he cannot fully understand the world around him.
In his toddler years, when his world was limited to his parents and a few other family members and friends, he was in no danger of being miscomprehended.
Today, as I push him towards independence and to explore the world on his own I realize that his lack in knowing the Filipino language can hinder him.
Never mind that, later on, his grasp of the "international language" can help him succeed. Right now my child has little to do with foreign relations or business opportunities.
He needs to be able to speak with the children at the playground, understand songs on the radio, appreciate Lola Basyang's tales, and say more than "para" to the tricycle driver.
We have a long way to go in those areas.
In the meantime, eavesdrop on conversations that I do have with my child.
Join us as we talk about Star Wars and Lego. Indulge us on his lengthy discourses on dinosaurs. And watch out for his questions about the Katipunan (Isn't that a road?), democracy (Why don't we have a king?) and why the woman who pushes the kariton asks for our trash while her children sit among the junk they gather.
My child may not speak the language but he knows he is Filipino. And, through efforts made at home and in school, my child gives and cares about it.
In the mind of someone that young, being Filipino can easily be something prescribed. It's another word on a form: name, age, nationality.
But is it, really?
Just last week, my US-based mother was having a chat with my son on Skype and their conversations quickly moved from toys to migration.
"Why did you have to leave?" he asked her. "Are you still Filipino?"
A quick "yes" on her part pacified him, but what affirmed him more was realizing how they - oceans apart - go through similar "Filipino" things.
Eating adobo, interjecting the pos and opos, singing the same national anthem are all small reminders that we are the same.
Over the summer, we chanced upon the dioramas at the Ayala Museum that depict the history of the Philippines from the first Filipinos in Palawan's Tabon Caves through the colonization of the Spaniards and the Americans, the Japanese Occupation, until the beginning of the Commonwealth.
What six-year-old would want to go through some 60 scenes, and its corresponding narrations, for an afternoon?
Maybe it's because of the visual nature, but he loved it. He loved seeing the battles. He listened to my commentaries at each stop. He was shocked to find out that Jose Rizal was killed.
Most importantly, he asked my favorite question: Why? Why did they come? Why did they fight? Why did they "capture" us?
What is a Filipino? Is that even the right question? What if we rewrote it to ask: Why be a Filipino? Or, better yet: How does one become Filipino?
In raising my child, I often wonder how to instill a sense of patriotism in him that goes beyond cheering for Pacquiao or voting for Jessica Sanchez. How to go beyond knowing how many islands we have, collecting Filipino books for the home library, or supporting locally-made products.
Citizenship, after all, may be a birthright but nationality has to be a responsibility.
My son doesn't know anything about why the latest impeachment trial was monumental or how come the K-to-12 curriculum is controversial or why the RH Bill is taking so long to pass.
But he does know that people in power should not be greedy, that he goes to school to become his best self, and that his body is changing differently from his girl classmates.
He knows all these because we talk to him. Yes, in perfect English.
But also, as much as possible, in a localized context - as a Filipino family that lives in the Philippines.
That's my loophole, I guess.
As I emphasize our lack of language mastery, I know that we make up for it in exposing him to his country, its many nuances, its tumultuous history, and its proud heritage.
Little by little, nationality shines, regardless of national language.
At the end of the day, I believe we are what we do, more than we are what we say.
Last week, I saw one of the best sights I've been missing for some time.
It was time to pick up the children from school and I knew I'd find my son playing, all sweaty and sticky, with his friends.
True enough, there he was, arms outstretched, blocking a playmate from passing through.
The kids were playing patintero.
It was at that moment that I saw what it meant to be a Filipino from a child's perspective.
It is about connections. He to his classmates as they learn to work and play together. To me as I remember my childhood. To his culture as he learns a local tradition. To his future as he creates skills that he will need as he grows up.
It is about heritage that is fluid and evolving and participative: What we raise our children to be will dictate the ever-shifting nature of being Filipino.
There were no words that needed to be said that afternoon. I mostly heard grunts, shrieks, and panting. They were Filipino kids playing a Filipino game.
In that moment, they couldn't have been more Pinoy.
Candice Lopez-Quimpo, hands-on mom to a six-year-old, is a Manila-based lifestyle writer whose work is published in various magazines and websites. She likes exploring the curiosities of everyday life.
So What's a Filipino? Contributions in the form of articles, photos, and yes, even short films, that seek to help answer the question are welcome at email@example.com. Potential contributors should also include short biographies of their selves as well as profile photos.)