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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.
"Laykah? Li-kah?" the barista asks, his brows furrowing, worried that he’ll be hanged if he doesn’t pronounce my name right.
"No. Leeekha. Likha. Tagalog. Filipino," I correct him before paying for my coffee.
"Ahh. Ganda naman ng name nyo."
This scene is replayed at least once a week because many people probably have not encountered that many Likhas in their lifetime, hence, the difficulty in pronouncing my name.
Well, it’s a little bit bothersome to go through this routine every now and then but I wouldn’t trade my name for anything else.
I love my name.
It makes me instantly Filipino even if I get to be mistaken as Korean, Chinese, Singaporean, Taiwanese, and Japanese here and abroad.
At least every month, the dialogue above would be followed by queries regarding my siblings’ names.
Then I would be rolling the names off my tongue: Agham, Sining, and Kalikasan. Yes, Kalikasan.
“Your parents are probably artists,” one banker told me one time.
“Um, no. They are teachers. In UP,” I replied. The banker’s lips opened up to say a silent “ah”, as if that explained everything.
In the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) where I graduated, I didn’t have to explain. I didn’t feel weird having that kind of name because I had friends and schoolmates who were in the same predicament.
Liwayway, Dalisay, Filipinas, Luwalhati, Bituin...My father’s friend and drinking buddy named his sons, Likas, Maharlika, Gilas...
I was right at home. No one asked how my name was pronounced.
Why give us those names?
My parents, who went through the First Quarter Storm and joined those organizations in the alphabet soup, probably felt it was their moral and patriotic obligation to give their children Filipino names as a badge of their nationalism.
Well no, not really.
The simple reason was that, as my mother jokingly related to me, we would have an easier time getting NBI clearances if our names aren’t as common as John or Mary especially since the surnames Castillo and Cuevas are everywhere, well at least in Batangas.
My father had a hell of a time trying to secure clearance from NBI because in 1979 there were three Rodolfo Cuevases in the agency’s watchlist and one of them was marked criminal from a nearby Laguna town.
So what’s in a name? Does that make us already makabayan? Does having “Likha” for a name make me Filipino to the core?
No, I don’t think so.
I can keep my name but can dump my citizenship anytime, if Tahiti or one of those other French Polynesian countries would take me in tomorrow. I can diss every Filipino that comes in my line of sight and forsake my country in every opportunity I can get and still retain my Filipino name.
I’ll just pretend that its pronunciation is Laykah and I’m some Chinese-Spanish mestiza born in Spain and married an equally exotic Franco-Hispanic guy named Miel or Miele.
But what makes me a Filipino?
I’m still grappling with that question as I type this.
I remember my father lamenting that it’s a travesty that schools nowadays (well, up to the time he was still alive anyway) do not require students to read “Pepe and Pilar”, adding that my gradeschool shoved “Ned and Nancy” down our throats.
He even asked, as I rolled my eyes, “What is this Harry Potter thing? Nobody reads Ibong Adarna anymore?” That’s my dad, the extremist.
I was lucky my highschool made us read Kangkong 1896, Florante at Laura, Dekada 70, Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo--the latter two were required under the law, by the way.
If I follow my father’s logic, then my husband is less of a Filipino since he has not read Noli and El Fili altogether as he came from a Catholic highschool that probably made delving into those novels less of a priority than reading Iliad or Odyssey.
Does reading The Revolt of the Masses by Teodoro Agoncillo from cover to cover make me more of a Filipino than, let’s say, those who grew up reading something else?
There is this foreigner who now lives among the Mangyans of Mindoro, fighting for their right to live and their right to die with some dignity. I doubt if he has read Agoncillo but in my book he is more Filipino than majority of us are.
In Likha’s Book of Definitions, a Filipino is somebody who left or laid a piece of his or her heart in the Philippines and/or in every Filipino in any part of the world.
It’s a rather complicated explanation, according to my book, but there is really no easy way of defining Filipino or being a Filipino.
Even if you haven’t stepped on Philippine soil for the last 20 or 30 years but the sweltering heat and the smell of sampaguita being sold on the streets of Manila still haunt you everyday even in your waking hours, you’re still a Filipino in my book. Even if you can’t pronounce uraro properly.
In my book, you are a Filipino---even if your name is Antoinette Margeaux Desmarais---if you move heaven and earth trying to secure a sick Filipino contract worker’s passage home despite all odds, even if it endangers your own well-being.
According to Likha's Book of Definitions, you are a Filipino if you rock out to the tunes of Parokya ni Edgar and Eraserheads, trying your darnest to give justice to the songs--twang and all--and post them on YouTube for other Pinoys to appreciate.
Even if your skin color is as white as a Siberian winter.
You are a Filipino, despite your pidgin Tagalog or Bisaya or Ilocano, if you try to cross a river just to be able to get to that barrio where a diarrhea epidemic is raging on because they needed your medical expertise.
To me, you are a Filipino if you tear at your hair, trying to make sense of the bedlam that is the Philippines but you also try your best to be one of the solutions, and not contribute to the problem.
You are a Filipino if you know what the line "ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo" means.
There are other simpler definitions I can give you but it’s already taking up too much column space here.
But I can assure you that having a Filipino name alone cannot make one a Pinoy.
As a footnote, my twin daughters’ names are Isabella and Adriana Miel--pang-artista di ba?
Having Spanish-influenced names does not make them less of a Filipino. But I will make sure they would learn what "ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo" means.
Likha is a business reporter at InterAksyon.com. She would have wanted to name her twins Katha and Sinag-tala but she was heavily sedated and still sore from surgery to protest when their birth certificates were signed. Please follow her on Twitter.
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.)