I proudly admit that i learned to speak Filipino playing with neighborhood kids on K 2nd street in Kamuning, and the first words i learned were probably “laro tayo,“(let’s play) “tito bili mo ko ng balut” (uncle can you buy me balut, which is a Filipino delicacy) and “manang pabili po ng ice buko” (miss, can i buy some ice buko, ice cream on a stick with coconut gratings.)
i was raised as a kid to speak in English, heck i even have tapes of myself as a 3 year old reading children’s stories written in English, Goldilocks And The Three Bears was my favorite story, not Ibong Adarna. i learned my ABC’s and 123’s on Sesame street but i learned the meaning of “po” and “opo” (words of respect) on the streets, as these are terms that are uniquely and proudly Filipino, that Bert and Ernie would never use.
When i was of age, i was sent to study in Ifugao, where my mom came from and yet again i learned about another part of my heritage. From listening to my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and extended family. I learned to speak the Ifugao language, which was just so beautiful to listen to. Unfortunately, tagalog, once again took a back seat as mostly, people from the north would either speak the native dialects or speak in English which was the primary language used by Belgian and American missionaries, or if you go further back, Spanish and Latin as my grandma would recount when she would tell me her childhood stories.
I will agree to a point with something a now infamous columnist wrote down, that learning Filipino grammar in school was something tiresome, but not for the reasons he put out. I considered it tiresome because it felt a bit odd, a bit boring. somehow in my mind, i wanted to know about things i haven’t heard before, things i haven’t seen before, not the conjugation of verbs of a language i can learn to speak by conversing with just about anyone; maybe i was being naive or not really giving it a chance but seriously, who among us would say with all honesty that Filipino was his/her favorite subject growing up?
College was where the ideals of being a Filipino started to take shape for me. In UP i learned to fully embrace my Ethnicity as more than just wearing an Ifugao g-string to choral competitions as a kid. I joined a regional organization called UP ANIDO, which literally means, an assemblage by the fire, whose aspirations were to uphold ancestral heritage and foster a progressive Cordillera culture. Although my stay in UP was short lived, meeting these people and seeing how passionate they were about where they came from and their take on Philippine politics and national affairs taught me more about being Filipino than all those Filipino subject in elementary and high school. These guys were more involved than most of my classmates who grew up in Manila.
i started to read more, become more engaged and immersed in the state of Philippine politics and Filipino life, though not as politically involved or knowledgeable as my friends.Not that i didn’t want to, it’s just that living with a protective mom while studying in College, i kinda had a shorter leash that i had to keep tugging against. but i learned and did what i could. I remember participating in my first SONA rally, and the rallies against deregulation, “these were real issues!” i’d argue with my mom when she wouldn’t allow me to go for fear that something would happen to her only son. so i’d just sneak out and go anyway.
The last decade and a half was bookmarked by events like EDSA Dos that made you proud to be Filipino, and proud to say you were there to participate in it, not just be a spectator; and events that made you want to cry out and say “what the fuck just happened?!” like the hostage bus massacre. yet there has been growth, you can see a new level of maturity and nationalistic pride in the everyday Filipino. and not just in them, but in the arts as well. minimized were the slapstick comedies and tearjerker Filipino movies with flimsy to non existent plots that catered to commercial success only, these were replaced by thought provoking and well crafted Filipino Independent movies that are on proud display during Cinemalaya. Musical taste too, took on a more patriotic vibe with the Eheads, rivermaya and Bamboo. even kids are now gaining a new appreciation for the music of artists like Noel Cabangon. online, a lot of people are engaged everyday in discussions and debates about what Filipino is. Just recently, an article on the Filipino language has ignited a firestorm of opinion on social networking sites the world over. an awakening of Filipino consciousness is now in full swing
there have been people who from out of nowhere gave birth to a whole new reason to be proud of our Filipino heritage Yet for every FrancisM, Noel Cabangon, Efren Penaflorida and every member of the Philippine dragonboat team, there will always be a Mike and Gloria Arroyo, an Erap, and others who under the banner of nationalism just ultimately crap on advances and inroads we as a people, have been trying to blaze for future Filipinos.
Which brings me to now, and what all this means to me; a Filipino transplanted in Europe. sometimes it irks me when people seem to think i shouldn’t be commenting on issues in the Philippines because I am not there. Am i less of a Filipino because i am not back home? should that mean that my opinion doesn’t matter? Am i less of a Filipino because i express my opinions better in English than in tagalog to the point that just recently in trying to write a short story i had to google the translation of the word “gate”?
no, i do not believe so. i believe that being Filipino is not just about language. Tagalog is the national language, but how many Filipinos in the provinces or far flung barrios really bother to learn it or speak it? as long as they know they are living honestly and with integrity as Filipinos, should it bother them that they cannot speak Filipino? does that make them anything less?
having the three stars and a sun tattooed on my chest and running a half marathon in the middle of Europe dressed in Ifugao attire, does not constitute my being Filipino. How proudly i wear the colors, how i try to live my life and how i try to raise consciousness to change other nationalities’ perceptions and preconceived notions on what a Filipino is and what the Philippines is all about, does.
Being Filipino is not about how well you speak the language, how learned you are, or your proximity to your country.it’s about finding your voice, and living by the ideals of previous generations who lived, fought, bled and died three stars and a sun. I’m not just talking about heralded Filipinos who have monuments erected in their honor; but rather, all those unsung masses who eke out a living under the direst of conditions, i’m talking about your personal heroes, parents, grand parents, teachers, friends everyone who helped you realize, just how proud you are to be Filipino.
Sa Isip, Sa Salita, at Sa Gawa.