Yesterday we celebrated the 114th anniversary of our Independence Day.
A few days before that, there was quite a stir in the Networld as Netizens reacted strongly against the Bayo add with tagline “50% Australian 50% Filipino.” When I checked out the ad, I was not really outraged by its supposed racist leanings, but I wasn’t also happy about the copy. It was not properly edited, leaving grammatical errors that may well outrage your English teacher or your next-door grammar police.
Then a few days before June 12, there were some very good posts on Facebook that express patriotism in creative ways. Why? Even Google was one in celebration with us when its Google Philippines logo was changed to reflect the Philippine flag. My personal favorite was the TGIF (Thank God I’m Filipino), which I saw on June 11 (a Monday that felt like a Friday because the following day was a holiday).
On June 12 my favorite artist and teacher Jim Paredes posted on his FB wall, “Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino!” There was a thread of comments that followed. Some mentioned about our fight for freedom, Handog Ng Pilipino sa Mundo (the song he composed after the EDSA People Power Revolution), favorite Pinoy almusal, etc. Then one guy commented, “Easy Jim … you live in Australia.” To that Jim replied, “Excuse me, I live here most of the time. And when did geographical location stop anyone from being Filipino? Not Rizal, Ninoy, and 12 million kababayans today.”
This got me thinking about what it really takes to call oneself Pinoy? In the same FB thread Jim narrated a story of his friend Gus Cosio back in 1983. Gus was driving to Makati together with Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J. who was to going to say mass at the protest gathering in what used to be called Ugarte Field. This was organized as an expression of outrage on Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. The beloved American Jesuit asked him, “How old are you young man?” He answered, “I’m 31 years old Father.” And this is what the good priest said, “I’ve been a Filipino longer than you.” Fr. Reuter took up his Filipino citizenship after the war, which he experienced in our country. He is white Caucasian but his passport is Filipino. And most of all, his heart is Filipino. He has dedicated his life to educating Filipinos in the humanities.
So what is being a Filipino? A Filipino is one whose heart belongs to the Philippines.
And when can you say that one’s heart belongs to the Philippines? When can one say that he or she is patriotic?
As I reflected on this, I realized that being patriotic to our country is very much like being loyal and loving to our family. Think of how you deal with your family members. You can hate them for some of their quirkiness and you can tell them about it, but if you hear other people say the same things about them, you would be hurt and would even defend them, right?
An example I can think of is when young actress Claire Danes described Manila as “a ghastly and weird city which smelled of cockroaches, with rats are all over, where there is no sewerage system” back in 2009 when she was here to shoot a movie. We raised a howl at her unkind remark and even declared her persona nan grata, even if we knew that a lot of our streets are really in terrible shape and we have a long way to go in improving sanitation and hygiene.
Think about how we deal with the mistakes of our loved ones, especially our children. We point out their shortcomings to give them feedback and suggest solutions but we don’t dwell on their weaknesses or announce them to the whole world. This is why I’m not very fond of condescending “Only in the Philippines” jokes, especially when told to foreigners visiting our country. If you are a caring family member do you dwell and make fun of your loved ones’ weaknesses? No, you focus on their strengths and good qualities and those are the things you broadcast to the world.
In the spirit of broadcasting our good points as a nation and as a people, let me enumerate why “I TGIF” – i.e. why I Thank God I’m Filipino:
1. Thank God for the strong support system in the Filipino family. We can really count on each other for help. Our parents will always be our parents, always eager to help. During my early years as a mother, my mom was my co-caregiver when the boys got sick and she would calm me down before I got into panic mode. My mom and dad were there to be with our children when my husband and I had to be away from home. They continue to be a part of our life and my children are lucky to have this gift of having a relationship with their grandparents. The same goes for the support we get from our siblings. Despite the quarrels we’ve had growing up, there is always this loyalty among us that we’re willing to put out a limb for each other.
2.Thank God for trusted helpers available in the Philippines. We are able to have a more comfortable life, to pursue careers even when the babies start coming. Because of this blessing, married Filipino couples need not delay having babies once they’ve decided that they’re ready. You don’t only have lola to count on, you can also hire a trusted yaya.
3.Thank God for our tropical weather. Everyone complains about our weather. Too hot, too humid, too much rain. As I grew older (and wiser I believe), I began to appreciate and be thankful for our climate. Let me tell you why. The humidity or banas that makes us feel uncomfortable is what makes our skin younger looking. Humidity is water in vapor form so since our air is not dry the moisture in our skin is not sucked up, leaving us with more supple skin. I’m not kidding, when in Western countries, I’m always mistaken to be decades younger than my age and I know this happens to most Filipinos. A couple of years ago, when I was in Europe, a lady was so surprised to hear my age that she looked closely at my face and asked, “Where are your wrinkles, what do you put on your face?” I answered, “Oh that’s because our air is humid.” Moreover, because our temperature is always high, we cannot bear staying under the sun for a prolonged period of time. So we are always under a shade. But when you live in a cold place you tend to go out and stay under the sun. Some even become sun worshipers. And as you know, too much sun exposure ages the skin. So the next time you feel the discomfort, just think of the wrinkles this hot and humid country is saving you from!
4. Thank God for the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people. This is something that we take for granted when we’re home but we miss when we’re in other countries. I remember when we were in Italy, I noticed that the Italians seem to have a very low threshold for answering questions from tourists, even hotel personnel. When we asked about directions, they could only be nice up to our second question. On our third question, we could sense the impatience in their voice. And we were their hotel guests! My brother’s friend tried to use his newly learned Italian words to give his order to an Italian waiter. In the Philippines, a tourist trying his best to speak in Filipino is adored and appreciated but the Italian waiter rudely blurted out, “Speak in English, I’m in a hurry!” These are definitely unheard of in the Philippines where service providers tend to give a little bit more than what’s expected. Do you know that this is where the idea of It’s More Fun In The Philippines came from? According to David Guerrero (chairman of BBDO) he was in a diving trip with his son and other tourists here in the Philippines. When they were getting out of the boat with their gears, the service providers volunteered to carry their stuff as they flashed their big smiles and did the chore with the usual Filipino warmth and friendliness. And he thought, this would not be the case had he been diving in another place.
5. Thank God for the Filipino’s respect for parents, elders and people in authority. I still get shocked when I hear children call their parents with their first names or answer them without po, or at least Mom/Dad. This is something unheard of in the Philippines where we still give utmost respect to elders. When I saw the movie Iron Lady (watch this best actress performance by Meryl Streep, probably the world’s the greatest actress), I was shocked at how the British conducted their dialogues at the Parliament. They spoke and yelled at the same time, not waiting for the current speaker to finish his/her turn. I checked You Tube to see speeches of the real Margaret Thatcher and was appalled to see a video where she was the guest of a talk show while she was the Education Secretary. People from the audience were asking her questions and the manner they did was without respect. Even with unpopular politicians, we never speak to them like that because doing so would show that we ourselves are not respectful. And I think this is the reason why one lady senator, who was once popular, lost a lot of her admirers who saw how she conducted herself in the televised Impeachment Trial of the Chief Justice.
6. Thank God for our delicious and nutritious fruits. We have the best tasting mangoes in the world. According to Wikipedia we are the world’s top producer of the ever so popular coconut. Then we have rambutan, durian, papaya, pakwan, chico, duhat, pineapple, strawberry, magosteen, lanzones, banana, avocado, sineguelas, kaimito, balimbing, kamias, langka, atis, santol and many more. (I better stop as I’m beginning to salivate.)
7. Thank God for our beautiful beaches, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife, orchids and other rich natural resources.
8. Thank God for the Filipino ingenuity. We are such a creative bunch of people. And we are good at making do with what we have. Do you know that the florescent light was invented by a Filipino named Agapito Flores? Do you know that the chips and motherboards of most computers were the invention of Dado Banatao that we can actually say Pinoy invention inside? The karaoke was also invented by a Filipino named Roberto Del Rosario. Then of course we all know that we have great artists. Our singers, actors, furniture makers, couturiers, sculptors, painters are world class.
9. Thank God for the happy Filipinos who are ready to flash their smiles and are quick to hold parties to celebrate all the occasions one can think of – aside from having the longest running Christmas season with endless parties, we celebrate baptism, anniversaries (why even monthsaries), graduation (pre-school to college, or even graduate school), first sueldo, despedida, bienvenida, after finals, house warming, confirmation, and many more! These are occasions we use to gather our loved ones around to form stronger bonds and celebrate thanksgiving.
10. Thank God for our mixed culture. We’re truly a combination of East and West, which enables us to get along well with both cultures. This also enables us to pick up the good points from both sides to come up with the best Pinoy blend.
So instead of quarreling about what our mix is, let’s focus on our strengths and diligently work on our weaknesses to be the best Filipino nation we can be – a country whose people are ready to take on the world and contribute to humanity. That, to me, is the truly global Pinoy!
‘Yan ang tunay na Pinoy para sa buong mundo! Pinoy sa isip, salita at gawa; hindi sa tirahan, kulay ng balat at hugis ng ilong!