June 27, 2007

Authentic Though not Exotic

I finally finished Fernando Nakpil Zialcita's book Authentic Though not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity.... I started reading this last year when I was in the Philippines but I didn't finish (senior year got in the way).

I liked the author's approach in defending his argument. He used food, art, history, anthropology and others to prove the existence of an authentic Filipino culture/identity. In the end, I was convinced, and I had a better appreciation for my Filipino-ness.

general sentiment
Usually when you're in a culture/ you belong to a culture, there are biases and prejudices you accept/don't question--- then you grow up, get your education and you started to see paradox/hypocrisy. You can rebel and go against this hypocrisy and be an outcast, you can accept it and prolong its existence, you can ignore it etc., you can do nothing or something, or you can try to understand it so you can better face it/handle it...

I went through all of these possibilities growing up as a Filipino, a Filipino abroad, and in a mild sense I'm still experiencing these possibilities as a Filipino American.

Here are the questions that Zialcita tackled:
How do you categorized Filipinos and Philippines as a nation?
Because of the Eastern and Western influence, Is the Filipino culture confused/bastardized?
How can Philippines be authentic when she is imitative?

1. How do you categorized Filipinos...?
If I remember right, Zialcita compared Filipino culture to Latino culture in a sense that blood, facial features,looks and other biological factors do not unite the Philippines... because of centuries of mixing- Spanish/European mearchants mingling with the natives, Chinese/Asian merchants doing business, marrying for money/alliances etc. ...

there is not one "Filipino look"- a Filipino can look Chinese, Japanese, African, European, Pacific Islander- maybe mannerism, habits, beliefs/ideals, and likes/dislikes may somewhat link the Filipinos together- of course there's the ideal- light skin (sign of purity/ high social status, not tanned by the sun during manual labor), "matangos na ilong (literally translated to sharp nose)" ... this is a bad ideal people still strive for, it's not as bad as in the colonial/ancient days... (you'll be surpirsed how some people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin)... usually if you have the smarts or the talents or the money the color of your skin is overlooked... the light skinned Filipinos still continue to have advantages today (even if it's not written in a lawful stone) especially in the Entertainment business (F-ollywood).

the irony is that the "true" Filipinoes (in a sense that they were the first to settle in the islands before it was discovered by Europe or other explorers) might not even call themselves Filipinoes... they might even have a different tribe name (if they believe in the concept of tribes)... and if they exist, they're probably hidden from the influence of today's globalization...

2. Because of the Eastern and Western influence, Is the Filipino culture confused/bastardized?
-when I was in third grade, I got mistaken for a Chinese kid because of my black, bowl-cut hair and somewhat chinky eyes...
-around sixth grade, my nose became more "prominent" /wider, texture of my hair changed growing more upward and coarse (not so flat and silky)... social study lessons made me and my classmates more aware of the world... their curiosity noticed the incongruity in my last name and my somewhat chinky eyes.. some thought I was Mexican with Indian/Aztec blood
-in highschool, my Spanish teacher commended me for rolling my "R's" ever so effortlessly and she questioned my Spanish-sounding last name... I told her that Spanish colonization influenced Philippines and its national language, Tagalog.
-a funny story, in college one of my friends couldn't tell what nationality/ethnicity I am. so he thought I could have the perfect spy career (because I can have different disguises)...

I eat white, plain rice (very Asian)... for the most part, I'm obedient to my parents/authority (Confucious teachings of filial duty and respect for authority- very Chinese), I like siestas, fiestas, I'm Catholic (even if not practising) [very Spanish], yay for extended family (Tribal influences?), I like to be an individual, I believe in freedom/liberty/justice (Western), even though I'm Catholic in a land which became a haven for Puritans, I'm still interested in Japanese transcience and buddhist enlightenment (American freedom of choice/of religion)... even though these are superficial listing of what I like and some of my personality, I think one of the Filipino traits that I've hold on to/retained is being able to adapt and integrate/take the best traits and make it my own... this is one of the main things I still remember...

when I was in the Philippines, there were instances when I was labeled an arrogant/headstrong American and sometimes in the U.S. I'm perceived as "meek" and spineless because I don't have the American bravado/effrontery... I'm not a schizo, but I always have to be aware of my environment and be able to adapt to the different cultural norms...

3. How can Philippines be authentic when she is imitative?
Zialcita might have said that colonization was sort of a good influence on the Philippines (not in the sense that Zialcita was pro-discrimination/slavery/imperialism and other bad connotation of colonialism). He decided to highlight the good side of colonization, such as public education (even if it's the Western system), the arts and culture, cuisine, ideal sense of justice in courts and trails (not arbitrarily ruled by the chief/ forest spirits etc.)....

colonization is sort of like a catalyst for unification/awareness of a bigger world outside the island/ maybe of physical evil not merely spiritual- petty tribal warfares maybe ceased, people focused on a "bigger" enemy... if they didn't unite, they allied themselves with the "enemy"--- just some ponderings

the Philippines is like a microcosm of the world... if you traveled around the Philippines, you'll see Chinatowns, copies of the Great Wall of China, Buddhist temples, Chinese cemetaries... Spanish churches, indigenous folk art and housing, native cleverness of land architecture (rice terraces), Islamic mosque and minarets, Arabian dressings, Western clothes/franchise such as McDonalds, towns named after famous U.S. cities such as New York, ... a long time ago it was labeled as the Gateway to the Orient (especially Manila), a great stop for Merchants looking for bargains... every culture/country/nationality that went to the Philippines/colonized it/ransacked it/helped it, every one of them or at least most of them left their impressions on Philippines (or at least her people adapted what they liked from these un/friendly visitors/rulers)

at first this may appear simply as imitation HOWEVER Zialcita pointed out that people in general wouldn't imitate/borrow something they don't believe in or can relate to. Why would they adapt something against their nature? (or something offensive to them). He also pointed out that other older civilization, such as French, Japanese, Roman etc., did the same thing as the Philippines. They borrowed from their predecessors and made it their own.. what the Philippines is doing is perfectly legitimate to the eyes of written history. Philippines is evolving but still pretty young, only around 100 years old; now contrast this nation to Cnina and its history and civilization)


***In spite of the anthropological jargon, I still understood this book and I enjoyed reading it; for me it had a different and novel perspective/approach on Filipino identity. A while ago I was so proud of my Spanish blood (my dad always tells me we had Spanish blood). Then I learned about the evils of colonization, I wasn't proud of my Spanish heritage. I tried embracing my indigenous roots; this was going to the other extreme because my ideas of indigenous were the people who lived in the mountains of the Philippines- of course this was wrong on my part, because my ancestors were from the lowland region of the Philippines, where they were most likely directly exposed to the Spanish... now I'm somewhat at peace, I'm just happy that I exist, I don't doubt my dad about our Spanish blood/heritage even if I only have .002% of it left flowing in my bloodstream ( I just don't think that that knowledge will be passed on to the next generation and risk life to die/beheaded for lying- misrepresentation)

Posted by Michael Diezmos at June 27, 2007 4:19 PM
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