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Filipinization: a process

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Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of those that are in South America. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s población is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. And almost all old towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisado, rondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María, paper and book culture, la mesa, la silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for a Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me a Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my Filipino national identity. But Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

"España y Filipinas" por el pintor famoso, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Zapatonto-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) who virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Philippine History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Philippine History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. Although it is understandbale that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Philippine History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagalog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters as part of our reality.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Kastilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

The Philippines is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny.

Tía Isabel’s response to a hispanophobic “Asian”

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Arnaldo’s blogpost about my dad’s hometown received all sorts of commentaries. There was one comment that I just could not ignore: one coming from someone with a Japanese-sounding name. Actually, it’s not really his anti-Filipino/hispanophobic comment that made me stop and read: it’s the response that he got from Chile-based Filipina scholar, Elizabeth “Tía Isabel de Ilocos” Medina (also a distant relative of Arnaldo and a very good friend of our mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The bone of contention? That Filipino culture is Asian. Is it? Read below to find out.

Dear Rijuku,

“Asian” is a misnomer, first of all. It’s a label invented by the West, based on geographical location and racial groupings. But the Japanese don’t consider themselves Asian. They are Japanese, period. And they consider themselves superior to the rest of the “Asians”. They consider that only the Germans follow them in superiority.

Human beings are social and historical beings. We are not racial beings. Race is just color of skin. It says nothing about the spirit and worldview. You see lots of Eastern Europeans with slanted eyes but they don’t consider themselves Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Eskimos or Mongols or Tibetans. The Indians of India are Aryans by race but they don’t consider themselves Germans or Europeans.

Filipinos are not the same as Indonesians, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, Malayans, Japanese, Singaporeans, even if we are all classified as “Asians”. We are all very different. Now, in terms of religion, a lot of these so-called Asians share religious practices like Buddhism and varieties of ancestor worship like Shintoism and others practice Islam which arrived in the “Asian” countries through the Arabian Peninsula and so forth.

The archipielago of St. Lazarus, as Magellan called our archipelago, was slowly being converted to Islam but the Spanish defeated the Muslim rulers of Maynilad and spread Catholicism to the Visayans and Luzonianos from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as in Mindanáo in the cities where they established colonial rule or in the outposts where they maintained forts.

Because of our Christianization, which was much more widespread than in China or Japan or in the neighboring countries colonized by the Dutch and the British, we developed a culture that was a mix of indigenous monotheism/ancestor worship/animism and Christianity — much like the mix that developed in all of the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Central and South America. So because of this, we Filipinos are much more similar in culture and belief system to the Hispanic American nations, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, than to our “Asian” neighbors. But even the Thais are very different from the Malayans and the Indonesians and the Vietnamese and the Cambodians and the Indians. You can’t put them in the same bag and just call them Asians.

It’s the Filipinos who have accepted this label because we became a North American colony, and our Hispanic Filipino culture and memory were destroyed.

We accepted that label “Southeast Asian” because we became totally subjugated by the U.S. Turned into psychological vassals. And we accepted the new self-image the U.S. imposed on us as The Little Brown Brother.

Are the Indonesians, the Indians, the Thais, the Malaysians the “Little Brown Brothers” of the U.S.? If as you say there is no difference between us “Asians” — realize how racist you are being, how dismissive of our uniqueness — then they should also consider themselves as such. But they don’t. They don’t consider themselves copies of each other. And they don’t read their history books in English like we do.

I won’t convince you of anything, but consider this: 100 years ago, your great-grandparents hated the idea of the Americans making the Philippines their colony. They did not want to stop reading, speaking and studying or teaching Spanish, to study, read, speak and write in ONLY in English.

But since you were born when — in the 1980s? — and there are no writings in your family of the rejection that your forefathers felt for all things American, and you were born in a Philippines that was already TOTALLY re-engineered to be a bad copy of the U.S., then you believe that you are merely “Asian”. That Filipinos are “Asians”. It means, basically, that Filipinos are nothing. Because what is “Asian”? It’s just a sociological term coined in U.S. universities, probably after 1900.

Regards,
Tia Isabel

P.S. A quote from my unpublished ms., Thru the Lens of Latin America: A Wide-Angle View of Philippine Colonial History:

Once implanted, a first colonizer culture, already fused or syncretized with the original local one (i.e., Spanish culture), will resist the advent of a subsequent colonizer culture (U.S. culture). However, with the passage of time, the new generations — who did not experience the moment of cultural transition and its accompanying resistance to a new transculturation (in other words, the [Hispanic Filipino] people’s resistance to adopting a new transplanted dominant [U.S.] culture, due to the inertia of the preceding cultural process) — will have no awareness that such a phenomenon ever occurred. They’ll simply assume that what is now there has always been there (North Americanized Filipino culture), and has always been universally embraced. The younger generations will accept the (North Americanized Filipino) culture they were born into, notwithstanding their parents’ or grandparents’ having once perceived it as invasive and alien, and perhaps even having sworn to resist assimilating it at all costs.

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