Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Impressing our Culture and Filipinos who have lost their Soul

While doing laundry today I find several thoughts hovering over my head.  It is fascinating how my creative mind turns on when I am washing clothes.  Anyway, the thought that hovered in my mind this morning was about the 2004 film Spanglish I viewed during the week while being alone and contemplative. What lingered on me about this film is the essay Kristina Morena wrote for her application to Princeton.  The essay is about the applicant's hero in her life and Kristina explicitly named her mother as being that person.  I also liked the line she gaved describing her mother - "She is my Mexico." With this movie, I had a flashback of certain people in my life who impressed certain things upon me about their lives.

I love how the mother here fights for her daughter's grip of her cultural heritage
 while working for a rich American family.
Let me state the positive first.  Well, there is Angel and her son Matt.  Angel was my dormmate in College.  Her familly now resides in the US, and both her kids were already born there I presume.  I do not know much about Angel and husband Ned's parenting skills since I am not that type who pries on things like this especially when your only means of communication is Facebook.  What caught my attention one day about a year back was the Facebook status posted by Angel with a picture of her Mom.  Later I found out that in her son's class, they had to make an exhbibit about who they consider as their hero in their lives.  It was a surprise to Angel that Matt had picked his lola (grandmother) as that person who he sees as his hero in his life.  When I saw that exhibit and the comment Angel gave, I knew she was honored.  I could also imagine how proud the lola was when she found out about it. As I  communicated further on this with Angel I felt that they had successfully impressed the Filipino culture on their kids which is beautiful because the kids have learned to appreciate the best of both worlds.  While they are undoubtedly grateful to the America's for now being their homeland, they also find great appreciation on their cultural heritage, the root of their identity.  This is no different with Mike Bustos who was born and raised in Canada and has become a YouTube sensation and a finalist in Canadian Idol.  Here in the Philippines he is popularly known in the commercial Mang Juan's Chicharon.  Mike owned this commercial because he made such an impact with his fascinating Filipino accent while speaking in English.  I was so fascinated with him that I watched the videos on him on Youtube to learn more about him.  I learned that he can comfortably shift to his Filipino accent because he grew up with it.  In their home in Canada he says, they speak with the Filipino accent, but when they go to school or elsewhere, they speak normal English.  It is impressive how certain families can keep their culture while residing in a foreign land.  Hats off to Filipinos (especially the half-breed ones) around the world who are not ashamed of their cultural heritage.

Here at home, I personally wanted my son to have a neutral accent.  Unfortunately it turns out that my son is very Filipino.  Much that I want him to learn English as his 2nd language because it was my first language, I figured he can learn it eventually in his own time.

Okay, back to the topic.  While there are families that have successfully impressed the Filipino culture on their kids, I also know of some families who have failed in that department.  I visited a cousin in the US years ago and it was the first time for me to see her family.  She married an American and later immigrated to the US.  She has lived there for more than 20 years now and not once did she visit the Philippines with her kids, I wonder why?  Anyway, during my visit with them, what made an impact on me was a moment I had with her eldest daughter.  I cannot recall how our conversation was propelled to the topic on bloodline, but I clearly remember how the child wildly shouted out, "I do not have Filipino blood!"  I explained to her that her mom is Filipino, though they were born and raised in the US, the blood of their mother runs in their veins which makes them half Filipino.  She completely rejected this and I kept my mouth shut the entire duration of my stay.  I think that young girl is now in her 20's and still has not seen the Philippines.  I remember an episode of Grey's Anatomy season 1 where a Hmong lady who grew up in the states was not allowed by her elders to be operated on unless an ancient ritual be conducted to find her soul.  The young lady honored her elder's wishes and the doctor's went on to assist in having a shaman fly in miles away from the hospital for the ritual.  My niece in the US is no different from this young lady, she has lost her soul, but she does not need a shaman ritual to find it.  All my niece has to do is embrace that 50% of her identity, that 50% of her genetic make-up, that 50% of WHO SHE IS!!!  In all these years I have pitying my cousin knowing this about her kids.  She had ultimately failed to show them the beauty of their true identity.  While many half breed Filipinos in the world come back to the Philippines to embrace their cultural heritage, my cousin just stays put where she is...almost turning back from where she came from.

I have several other relatives in this state actually.  I have one uncle who has lived in the US more than half his life.  He came back home twice a few years back, but this was to totally put everything behind him.  I remember him saying, "There is nothing to come back here for."  Much that I made a successful attempt to show him I was fine, what he said hurt me a lot.  He was my father's brother and I was his niece, we were his family, and here he was saying there was nothing in the Philippines to come back for.  At that moment, all I said was "alrighty then" and turned away.  He did not want to have anything to do with us, which was awfully painful.  To date, he keeps in touch with a handful of relatives, and only the ones in the US.

So there it is, I have finally gotten this piece out of my head and it is enlightening having done so.  While I am still hurting on the truth about some of my relatives, I find joy and pride in certain people who are not only very Filipino at heart but who also take great value on family. Not everyone is the same though, so I say to myself...not everyone is the same. (Stares blankly at bedroom window...) 


  1. A lot of Filipino parents in the Philippines already take the one of the rights of "Filipino-ness" from their children by using English as the first language spoken at home. Language does not entirely define one's nationality but it gives the first impression of who you are as clothes does to the one wearing it.

    I was born in the lowlands, in an Iluko speaking province from Kankana-ey native parents. I still remember clearly how conversations were held at home. I would talk in Iluko to my parents and then my Mom and Dad would answer me back in Kankana-ey. Yes, I understood them perfectly well. I was then sent to my grandparents in the Cordilleras to attend school and I would be using Iluko too to them, to my classmates and to my teachers. I went back home for a visit to my parents after a year for the long summer vacation and I finally spoke with them in our own dialect. Without thinking, I just responded in Kankana-ey. When I realized what I have just done, I felt slight awkwardness till I just got the hang of it.

    I am now working overseas and I do stammer speaking in English but I am not bothered by it because I know deep inside me that I got three Filipino dialects on my tongue, Kankana-ey, Iluko and Tagalog that I could speak fluently. My colleagues would tease me with my Filipino accent and would try to imitate me but they would sound like the Indian accent instead.

    Wherever I go, I think in any of these three dialects before I talk. I often catch myself looking for the right English words and would even just say the Filipino word with emphasize sometimes. In spite of this, I am always understood.

  2. SPANGLISH was a good movie, while the content isn't always pretty, the lessons are important. The film racks up points for stressing in eloquent ways the importance of one's own roots, even when dwarfed or demeaned by the lure of the dominant, more affluent culture.