America, Janina, and Just What Is Going On In The Philippines?

The Filipino cultural identity is an interesting beast. You have to have both a sense of inflated, mostly-serious pride, and a little bit of self-deprecating intent. Moving up and down this country's social classes reveals steady, inversely proportional growth between the two - until you get to the point where the highest echelons of society run off to the grand old U S of A, while weather-beaten public school students dream of Jose Rizal as they recite: "Panunumpa sa Watawat..."

Of course, there is a baseline. No Filipino will take to being mocked by outsiders for his or her ethnicity or culture. It's important to note "outsiders," as Filipinos have no qualms with making fun of the very issues that - put mildly - don't endear us to other nations. It's partly the colonial mentality, and partly cynicism with our country's inability to progress from bold-faced corruption and 1950s-era standards of education. We've had a revolution and all of the necessary accoutrements of independence, but part of us still took works like The Filipino's First Bath to heart after the Americans left. We implicate ourselves, and are implicated as inferiors to the Great White Foreigner.

It offends us to be told that, yet we acknowledge it ourselves. In the background of The Filipino’s First Bath, there are two monkey-like Filipinos playing dress-up with President McKinley’s shed star-spangled outfit. It’s as if to say: “They may take on the mantle of civilization, but they will be too ignorant to wear it with competence!” Can we really say that we have proven the Americans wrong? That we have recreated ourselves as an independent, competent people? Those who are truly proud of this country cannot receive the education to lead it, while those who have the privilege of status grow content with corruption, Westernization, and self-serving business. The latter has two choices: escape, or stay here only for the wealth you get. Rarely is there someone who genuinely wants to bring the best out of his country, and when he appears he is silenced and reviled. My own grandfather knew this. After cracking down on illicit passport-making - for international criminals, no less! - within the DFA, he was thanked with a splash of acid onto his prized car. We say “Pinoy Pride!” and screw the Philippines over.

This isn’t to say that the middle and working classes aren’t affected by the colonial mentality. They may be more culturally Filipino and proud of it, but part of them still longs to escape to somewhere white and Anglophonic. Many times, it’s quite similar to the feelings that the rich face. They love their country, they are outspoken about local politics, but as soon as they meet a white man they come running for marriage. The same students who recite the pledge of allegiance with honesty in their eyes will aim for scholarships to US colleges. They will wear American-style clothes that are a decade out of fashion, and will pay more (if they even get the chance) for American brand names. They will make fun of each other for espekeng (a)Engless layk dihs.

Aside from being wonderful and American, English is the language of wealth and globalization. Few here can learn it, and even fewer can learn it well. If you’re not part of either, you’re one of the many poor souls whose education funding has gone to a Congressman’s wife’s new Prada bag. Take the reactions to Janina San Miguel's infamous Binibining Pilipinas gaffe, for instance. As she struggled with English syntax and vocabulary, the crowd laughed and jeered. The incident became an internet meme, and Janina hasn’t been in the public eye much since. Yet, looking at the people who made fun of her, they aren’t much better off English-wise. “In a world full of criticisms this must be a responsibility to those who wanted to be an ambassadress (sic?) of goodwill.”, says one commenter, displaying a tell-tale Pinoy grammatical tense error. (Note: this is a case of primary language syntax imprinting itself onto a secondary language. The prefix for the future tense in Filipino also denotes the infinitive. It also sounds a lot like the past tense, “nag-”.) Do we dislike ourselves too much to see that we’re subject to the same things she was? We’re Filipinos, after all, and we’ve at some point been in a situation where English was taught more like a cant than an academic tool.

Of course, not all of it (or even most of it) was real self-loathing. The Irish make fun of themselves, the Jews make fun of themselves, and even mixed-blooded white Americans make fun of themselves. All nations and peoples without a neurotically huge sense of deference to their in-groups (a la Japan) can look at their shortcomings lightly. Yet if one looks at the more globalized sectors of Philippine society, they will find a very bitter disdain for “vulgar” Filipino-ness. If your parents regularly attend exhibitions at Rockwell and dress in Rajo Laurel, then you’re probably more comfortable with foreign things and cultures than the stuff you can find on the street. And why not? You’re shown how much this country is NOT doing for its citizens. Though morally questionable, it might just be easier to pack up your things and leave for Switzerland. Sure, you’ve got the money and compassion to make a difference, but why bother when you’ve got a decent life as it is?

That is the true reason. We are too comfortable, too apathetic, too unlucky to care about picking ourselves up. The US, Saudi Arabia, and Northern Europe are our Jerusalems, and the English Dictionary is our bible. Why bother making the effort to fix something that’s broken on a grand scale? Ay, bahala na si Diyos. Let’s watch TV and laugh at our own shortcomings, as they wait patiently for someone who doesn’t want to come.