What’s a Filipino? Whether you agree with him or not, broadcaster Arnold Clavio’s “They’re-not real-Filipinos” criticism of Azkals players following a sexual harassment suit brought against some members of the national football team, appears to have hit a raw nerve – and raised an important question. This article is one of a series exploring the very notion of “being Filipino”. Follow @interaksyon on our #WhatsaFilipino discussion on Twitter, and on this special coverage on InterAksyon.com.
Growing up, my mother, a Filipina, always shared the many experiences and memories she had about her life in the Philippines. We spent lots of time talking about the closeness and importance of family, values of the people, lifestyle in Manila, the importance of traditional Filipino dishes, the different customs, the humility of the people, the work ethic, respect for others – especially the elders, and the influence of the Catholic religion.
I visited my Filipino relatives in the United States frequently, so I was able to see and feel Filipino culture for myself, and I embraced it. It was so different than being around my American relatives – different in a way that I enjoyed and touched my heart. I was very familiar with and loved all Filipino food, and the Catholic religion was very much a part of my life with heavy influence from my mom.
When I was released from the Houston Rockets, and Danding Cojuangco’s group contacted me to possibly come to the Philippines to represent the national team, it was like a dream come true for me. One of my goals in life was always to travel to the Philippines to meet my family members, especially my Lolo and Lola, of whom I only knew from letters and photographs. I wanted to see and feel for myself my mother’s homeland and the Filipino culture that I had heard about so much about since I was a little boy, and quite frankly, to learn more about myself and just how “connected” I was to the Pinoy side of me.
I also had an opportunity to represent my country in a sport that was so dear and important to its people. It really was surreal to me, and I quickly forgot about the NBA, and I lost my desire to one day play there, or anywhere else — playing in Spain was also in the mix at the time. I was beyond excited at the thought of relocating to the Philippines and continuing my career as a basketball player there.
Playing in the 1981 Jones Cup, my first real international competition representing the Philippines, was my greatest moment in my basketball career. I can still remember sending my mom a photo of myself in my RP national team warm-up jacket and feeling so proud! When we were in Taipei participating in that tournament for nearly two weeks, my only goal was to win the championship, not for ourselves, but for the people of the Philippines and Mr. Cojuangco, who made it possible for me to be there. Yes, it was unfortunate and difficult that our team was not embraced by the people and especially the media, and I fully understand why, but nothing could take away the pride I felt when I wore the uniform of the Philippine national team, even as short-lived as it turned out to be.
(Editor’s note: The first incarnation of the Northern Consolidated Cement national team, assembled by Cojuangco, were made up of eight naturalized American players, Filipino-Americans Brown and Willie Pearson, and local college stars Frankie Lim and JB Yango.)
Coming to the Philippines, the most difficult adjustment for me was the climate. I had been in Southern California for several years, which has a semi-desert climate — warm days, cool nights, low humidity — and the heat and humidity in Manila was really difficult for me. I can remember during practices and games the need to change socks and shoes midway through the practice or at halftime of the games (especially at Rizal Memorial) because I would sweat right through them, causing me to slip and slide on the court. The food was not an issue to me since I ate mostly Filipino food even in the States.
One of the things I did when I arrived in the Philippines was get out often and “see and do and learn.” I didn’t just sit in the hotel or condo and watch TV or play cards like a lot of the players did. I was out and about all of the time trying to learn as much as possible about the culture, the people, the food, the places where the common folk spent their time. Also, I lived in a condo as opposed to the hotel where almost all of the players were housed, and I was really thankful for that. Living away from the hotel allowed me to be immersed in the Filipino culture among its people, and that is exactly what I wanted, and it enhanced my adjust to life in the Philippines.
Yet, boy did I have some lessons to learn! I can still remember walking around Quiapo in a three-piece suit on a sweltering hot evening! No wonder the people were looking at me like I was from another planet! That was just “innocent ignorance” on my part, but the more I mingled with and engaged the people, the more I learned and became more comfortable with the common folk and the “Filipino way.” I became an expert in bartering for the wonderful Filipino fruits that I loved. Or at least I thought I was an expert!
Living in the Philippines dramatically changed my perspective about being a Filipino. I learned the true qualities of a Filipino: the compassion for others, the humility, the intense love of family, the importance of food and the Catholic religion, the respect for our elders, the respect men have and display for the Filipina, and the pride in culture and country. Engaging and learning from Filipinos in the States is vastly different than engaging and learning from Filipinos in the homeland. Spending nearly 10 years in my mother’s homeland, which I now also refer to as home, taught me first-hand what a true Filipino is.
When I left the Philippines in 1990, maintaining a connection with the country was difficult. There was no Internet, no social media, no TFC, and only newspapers. I tried as best as possible to keep up to speed with what was going on back home in the Philippines, but it was difficult. I can remember taping the news program TV Patrol on a nightly basis so I could at least have an idea of what was going on back in Manila and the rest of the country.
My wife is a Filipina, and my needs and desires were now heavily influenced by Filipino culture and lifestyle from living 10 years in Manila. The difficult thing for me, and it haunted me for years, was how painful it was for me to be away from the Philippines and most importantly, the common, everyday Filipinos who I became so close to on a daily basis while living in Manila.
Here in the States, I have come across some Filipinos who have “adjusted” their culture, their desires, their needs, their language, and in essence, their “heart” from the Filipino to the American way of life. Physically, they still look Filipino and still consider themselves a Filipino. But to me, there is something missing. They do not possess the “Filipino heart” that makes the Filipino so special.
The love of country, compassion and respect for others, humility, good work ethic, the need and desire for closeness of family, the willingness to assist others, and undying PRIDE in being Filipino. Those, among others, are the qualities that make a “true Filipino” in my eyes.
And while there may be some naysayers still who say “Ricky Brown is only a half-Filipino,” I can tell you, with all of my heart, that this Pinoy blood in me runs deep and with sincere Filipino pride. Those who know me on a personal level would attest to that emphatically because I wear it on my sleeve.
Ricardo Brown is a pioneering Filipino-American basketball star. After starring for Pepperdine University in the US NCAA, he was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the third round of the NBA draft before moving to Manila to embark on his Philippine basketball career. He was named the PBA Rookie of the Year in 1983 and Most Valuable Player in 1985. He finished his career as the league’s all-time leader in scoring average.