The concept of national identity is a tricky one. Asking what it means to be Filipino is basically the same as finding what it is that brings 94.85 million people together. Is it the fact that we share the same land? 7,107 islands beg to differ (at least when it’s low tide). Is it sharing a mother tongue? We have 185 languages between us. Is it having the same blood running through our veins? Whether we’re aware of it or not, almost all of us have a mix of Chinese, Spanish, American, or some other foreign blood.
Or it might not be the factual attributes as it is the cultural that matters, though culture itself is something continuously changing. When we once wielded bolos or wrote upon leaves and tree barks, we now dress in Western styles and use touch-screen gadgets.
Still, we have been faced over and over with the same blinding question: Does a unique Filipino identity even exist? From wading in knee-deep floodwater to our unique love for all things basketball, we delve into the rare attributes of Filipinos and their rich heritage.
Aside from the innumerable anitos they called upon and the existence of an alphabet consisting of merely 17 letters (all of which were indications of a cultured form of lifestyle), trade with the Chinese, Indians and Arabs rendered the early Filipinos quite capable. That handy umbrella you use around Taft Avenue when it rains? Thank the Chinese for that. Thinking about how numbers make your school life that much more difficult? Point your pitchforks to the Arabs. Your love for all things spicy and zesty must have been a gift from India.
The beauty of the typical pre-colonial Filipino trader is that he was branded by neighbouring countries as being an honest businessman. Moreover, courtship under the sun and stars was an extreme affair requiring patience and modesty from both sides. Although there was a lack of national unity, our ties with neighbouring countries were affirmed by our rich showcase of folk songs and mimetic dances which were, in part, attributed to them.
When God, gold and glory swooped in, Filipinos were moulded from the inside out to become Church-fearing citizens. Religion, among other things, became the center of Filipino life. Whether it’s attending Sunday mass with the family, celebrating with the townsfolk at a local fiesta or watching the never-ending debates at the Senate about a certain RH law, the influence of Catholicism has stood the test of time and thanks to our Spanish colonizers, it is here to stay.
When the Spaniards left the Philippines, the Americans came and brought a whole different culture into the ballgame. After over 300 years under Spanish rule, the Filipinos were awestruck by the different flavor of American culture. Something about it just made the masses fall in love with all things American: food, music, sports, movies, fashion, language – you name it, we adore it. To this day many of us patronize cultural products of America; the allure of American culture still shines among the Filipino people and it’s as if they never left.
As far as our own cultural identity goes, there are some things that have never changed. Despite the Filipinos being a mixture of different cultures, there are certain aspects of our cultural identity that are uniquely ours. The most formidable example would have to be the family. Family has always been (and will always be) the biggest part of any Filipino’s life. Families in the Philippines play such a big impact in society that there are laws to protect its best interest. In addition, families are seen to be the heads of different sectors. Case in point, the existence of political dynasties, and although many are opposed to this kind of setup, one cannot deny that the influential nature of the family is what keeps it very much relevant in our society.
With the modern-day Filipino having a fusion of different cultural backgrounds, the question still stands: What makes us truly Filipino? Is it the traces left behind by our forefathers? Or is it the cultural identities that we adopted from our colonizers? Perhaps it’s a mixture of both; however, these questions only seek to answer our past and not our future. As the saying goes, “The future is in our hands.” That task now is given to the youth – to our generation, to mold what exactly we, as a nation, would want to be known as and only time will tell what the true meaning of our Filipino identity is. So we ask you, what is it that makes us Filipino?