I was never Filipino

By Eric Siy

In 2005, I wrote an opinion column for The LaSallian and made the case that Filipinos should stay with Filipinos. Living (in my case, teaching) in another country was heresy. The case was to give back to the community that gave to me. Almost ten years later, I’m teaching in the United States. I have also recently made the case to my recently married friends that they should move out of the country. The old wrestling match between the idealistic college student and practical working adult is raging and it’s pretty obvious who won.

The concept of Filipino identity is really elusive. Identity itself is something that is difficult to focus on. The linguist James Gee (yes, a western thinker) offers ways of thinking about identity in four different ways. The struggle of the Filipino identity can be distilled into what Gee calls a nature-identity, something innate, the mere possession of a Filipino ancestry, and an affinity-identity, a connection to a set of shared practices. Are we Filipino because of mere genetics or because we all do and value the same thing? The salient point of identity is that it’s fluid. Things I value will depend on who I’m talking to, where I am. I have been explicitly been telling non-Filipino people that I am from California (which is where I grew up) and Filipinos that I am a graduate of DLSU. In Gee’s language, I’m switching between the nature-identity and an affinity-identity. Before you crucify me and claim that I devalue my Filipino-ness (yes, I admit in some cases I do), check your Facebook news feed. Excluding rants, ramen photos, and selfies, my current Facebook feed has the following: someone reposting an animated graphic of the love story of John and Yoko, someone saying he’s currently watching Arrow, someone expressing her love for Ed Sheeran, and a meme from the 90’s Nickelodeon show, Pete & Pete—all posted by Filipinos living in the Philippines. In this microworld, I’m not living in the Philippines. I see Filipinos affiliating themselves with non-Filipino objects.

Over time, seeing what my community values may have chipped away at this Filipino-rah-rah mentality. Ultimately, living with a community that values Uniqlo, Jennifer Lawrence, and cronuts will distort the way I see the world by normalizing these objects. The Buzz, locally produced movies, and buying local are now quaint and quirky—you could make a class argument here which I will purposefully avoid. In the same year I was an editor for TLS, our Editor in Chief wanted to write his op-ed piece in Tagalog. I personally found this amusing for two reasons: he was treading on Plaridel’s territory and he seemed to be more comfortable with Tagalog. How quirky! In the same year, I was sharply criticizing a fellow TLS member for being very excited about getting his green card. Even in my own hyper-Filipino phase, I devalued hallmarks of the Filipino culture.

So, was I ever as Filipino as I perceived? I may have been awash with the political correctness of the superficial YouTube-comment-mantra, “Proud to be Pinoy!” I may have been trying to search for an identity with the Philippines or I might have just been a hypocrite. Bahala na.

What does it mean to be Filipino? What does a Filipino value? If you ask every single person who identifies as Filipino, there will not be one thing that will be common for everyone. Honoring our language seems to be an easy answer but between the two past Philippine congresses, seven bills were constructed to make English the medium of instruction and only one bill was proposed to maintain the use of the mother tongue in educational settings. In fact, some bills such as HB0036 not only advocated for English as the medium of instruction but as the medium of interaction. I think we should shift our view of our culture from a mere checklist to a statement about who we are.

I think our challenge as a group who culturally identify as Filipino is to critically examine what we value. Are the things we value productive in forming our identity as Filipinos? Although I have backtracked from what I said nine years ago, I still think my issue stands. Give back to the community and culture that made you. I think the idea of moving to another country is a more viable option for today’s student. If you’re thinking of moving, take your culture with you but I urge you to talk about it as the way they are. “Balut was on Fear Factor but Filipinos eat that everyday!” does not do anyone favors. Yes, it’s a great story but our culture is more than just a sum of its parts. Your cultural heritage is not cute, it’s who you are.

Eric Siy

Eric Siy was The LaSallian’sManaging Editor in AY 2006-2007. He is currently teaching in the United States but still works with teachers and researchers in the Philippines.


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