Identity and Heritage: A Confession of a Culturally Insecure Filipino
By: Sebastian Cruz
London, United Kingdom
27 December 2011
Living in Europe, more so living in London, posed one significant challenge that I need to face with every single person I meet – describing the Philippines and explaining what a Filipino is.
It is not like French, Brazilian nor Chinese. It’s not like one of these “mega brands” that has a strong visual image and identity that one word can generate a rush of images in one’s mind. Moreover, it doesn’t even fit in to the visual image of the big umbrella word: “Asian”.
Growing up in Asia, I’ve always been confused and insecure about the Filipino identity.
Asia is comprised of three cultural ‘superpowers’: Confucian, Hindu, and Arab/Islamic. Three big clusters that have distinct languages, architecture, and even religion – cultural buckets that a “Malay Catholic Filipino like me with a Spanish Name but can’t speak Spanish” doesn’t fit in.
I’ve always felt this sense of cultural misfit ever since: from competing with Chinese Filipinos in Math competitions when I was young, participating in international conferences back in uni, and travelling/doing business around Asia while working for Procter. It’s as if the only Asian thing about us is that most of us look Malay and we eat loads of rice.
Living in London though allowed me to meet Latinos from Latin America and Españoles from Spain and I can’t help but be surprised. I felt that sense of sameness in culture that I never feel when I meet a Japanese, a Thai, or a Chinese.
We are mostly Catholics who do the novena and rosario, greet with kamusta(como esta), use the words kubyertos, mesa, kama, silya, etc., count/tell the time/petsa(fecha) in the same way, and yes, celebrate the Nochebuena. Only and unfortunately, we can’t speak fluent Spanish.
La Lengua Castellano, Spain, and that Hispanic identity have long been demonized in our history –an oppressive part of our nationhood that should be forgotten; consistent with what the Americans pounded in our heads when they seized the country right after our forefathers fought for independence.
Our forefathers resisted this perspective. Look it up, American occupation of the Philippines was also the Golden Age of Spanish Literature in the Philippines. And that Filipinos who resisted this perspective were those who perished when the Americans and Japanese obliterated our cities during the Second World War. However today, a lot of Filipinos still embrace this mindset oblivious to the fact that the country was a Spanish colony for 333 years, longer than the entire history of the United States (235 years).
Further, being so far away from the Latin American world, Filipinos’ perception of Latinos today are mostly distorted by what the media of the United States project – taxi drivers/drug dealers/illegal immigrants with broken English. A pathetic generalization of a superpower that grew to believe that it’s the center of the universe.
We, however, should embrace the fact that our Hispanic identity defines a lot of who we are.
Filipinas after all was not just a colony of Spain for 333 years, but was the gateway of the Hispanic world to the great cultures of the Far East.
It is not by accident that Intramuros and the Old Hispanic Manila is situated side by side the oldest Chinatown in the world. Two worlds in one city separated only by a river and connected by the Bridge of Spain (Puente España) and is by the port of Manila – then port of the Manila Galleon, and the then only direct ship route between the Americas and Asia.
It is not by accident that our first constitution, Noli and El Fili were written in Spanish and that the original Spanish version of our national anthem – Himno Nacional Filipino was banned by the Americans and still banned to be sung publicly to this day. Our founding fathers like Rizal envisioned a free Hispanic Filipinas not the culturally basterdized and forcibly Anglicized Philippines that we have today.
The world is shifting to the East of Europe and South of the United States. It is the most opportune time to be true to who we are, true to what make us unique and be what we have always been – the Hispanics of the Orient and the bridge between the Hispanic World and the Far East.