Monday, August 01, 2005

The Asian hoax

That old hate e-mail accusing Filipinos as spurious Asians and of often taking “credit for the ingenuity of Japanese people” or trying “to connect themselves to the Chinese” or “the great peoples of North East Asia” has been circulating again. “Nothing in Filipino Culture can be seen as Asian,” the affront went on.

Filipinos put up with just about every denigration the Asian community has been subjected to throughout their history in America. And young Filipino-Americans, the principal object of the assault, are as Asian as any other Asians although many Americans are often at a loss telling one apart from the other. The shared experience provides some insights why these younger Filipinos prefer associating with the culture of other Asians, and why in general, Asians tend to form cliques among themselves even in supposedly racially diverse school campuses where Asians by and large segregate themselves from, and interact little with, Americans—whether white, black or Hispanics. There’s obviously some common interest that all Asians, not just Filipinos, find themselves converging on, and so perhaps naturally they “connect” together.

The hate mail (once attributed to a popular radio talk show host in the US who has denied authorship of it) is apparently a hoax that could have been perpetrated by anyone. But one is constrained to expend some efforts refuting here what was said because there appear some bones of contention in it that have ruffled some feathers—much like the hoax about the memo on George W’s National Guard service that has victimized CBS and Dan Rather and yet has left some matters around the underlying contention unresolved. So, hopefully for the benefit of those who happened to have read the letter and are still bothered by it, certain thoughts about it are shared in here.

Firstly, contrary to the racist slur intoned in the letter, young Filipino-Americans are not the only Asians obsessed with “import racing” or have great “affection for Japanese cars.” Young Asian-Americans of all kinds tend to take pride in import racing and cars. To them, yes, this, among other related stuff, is an “Asian thing,” a sort of natural adhesive binding Asian together often borne out of the perception of a social or cultural burden placed on them that’s not present in such other minorities as Hispanics or African-Americans. Today, while the “hard” or “ghetto” public images of Hispanics and African-Americans draw appeal from the American youth in general, there is little in any sort of Asian culture that gets the attention of mainstream America. Bereft of role models, many Asians have adopted a sense of “Asian pride,” aware as they are of this general strike against the “Asian thing” in the overall cultural framework of American society. There is however power in numbers, and many Asians will find a stronger sense of fellowship in being proud of all things Asian. Any Asian in denial is probably not being honest especially when, for example, more often than not he roots for the Asian on those favorite game shows, beauty or talent contests.

This doesn’t translate into Asians disregarding their own individual national identities as they consider those of others as praiseworthy or deserving of emulation; hence, singling out Filipinos as the only ones embracing other Asian cultures is “trashy” to say the least. While Filipinos do not deny acknowledging the merits of other cultures, does that really make it something despicable? When Britons or Japanese imbibe the hip-hop culture of African-Americans, are they as despicable? And what about the fad among American kids in martial arts (by which ironically Asians are often stereotyped)? If Filipinos were to be reproached for taking an interest in other cultures, shouldn’t everyone else be?

Now, about the claim that Filipinos, unlike the East Asians, have yet to leave their mark and influence in America or in human history. Funny, but now that the Chinese are exporting more goods to America, the Japanese making better cars or the Koreans building more ships, the insecure and self-doubters among Americans are looking for some inferior “others” to compare themselves with. And their “little brown brothers,” whose wonderful tan skins many fair-skinned Americans would die to have, become the easy prey.

Filipinos have a long history of being the victims of cruel exploitation just like the Native Americans, the Black Americans or the Latin Americans. But the Filipinos survived the onslaught of sheer arrogance, religious fundamentalism and a false sense of racial superiority of their tormentors who colonized them. Despite deliberate attempts to dissipate it, the Filipino “culture” outlived the colonizers. Today, their language, customs and traditions are intact. The Philippines is one of the very few countries in the world which has succeeded to harmonize three great cultures—the Islamic, the Confucian, the Western—with their indigenous beginnings, make them part of the “Filipino thing,” and mold them all into a unique Filipino culture. Transcending even their peers, the Filipinos have proved themselves capable of fitting in the role of Jokers as in the game of poker, although quite naturally they are more comfortable with the same suits, as whites or blacks, or any other race are for that matter.

The whole world should not forget too that it was the Filipinos who gave democracy back to the people where it belongs not once but twice and on both historic events they succeeded peacefully. The Filipinos, not the so-called velvet revolutionists in Eastern and Central Europe or the Russians, had been the first to summon the great liberating force of People Power for the whole world to emulate. And many nations did exactly it.

The unfortunate thing is that in America, the so-called melting pot of the world, it is rare to find someone actually interested in “Third-World Filipinos” or their culture, outside of the Filipino community relative, for instance, to the “rich” Chinese or Japanese culture. Does the “prestige” other Asians hold that’s supposedly wanting in Filipinos really mean anything? Isn’t one reason for the greater attention the Chinese get in America could be due to the fact that they’re the largest Asian-American group? Indeed, the Chinese have had the most influence in American society vis-à-vis any other Asians but regrettably they are also the most stereotyped. Nonetheless, there is too little understanding in mainstream America about Chinese culture, which by any account only gets so far as such things as “Chinese” cuisine, and the exotic martial arts as already mentioned.

The bigot safely cowering in anonymity rattled on to challenge Filipinos: “You have no concept of concept of asian ideas or asian philosophy! Can you demonstrate how you use Confucianism or Taoism in your everyday life?”(sic)

The Hollywood, the Iberian and the Islamic cultures are as much a part of the Filipino identity as the Confucian. In fact the latter is so subsumed in the Filipino soul it is too hard to distinguish it from the core Malayo-Polynesian being of the Filipino. The cultivation of the self and centrality of the family as prerequisites for social order are Confucian philosophy now simply taken for granted in Philippine society. The enduring Filipino filial obedience and other familial terms of respect such as Kuya and Ate are directly traceable to Confucian values. The unwritten law Huwag mong gaw’in sa kapwa mo ang ayaw mong gaw’in saiyo (“Not to do unto others as you would not wish done unto yourself”) had been a Filipino virtue probably handed down by our Confucian ancestors before the advent of Christianity to the Islands. So is the maintenance of distance in pedagogy, the master-student relationship, the continuing disappearance of which in America is playing havoc with its educational system. Perhaps of further relevance here are such historical accounts as, that the names of certain important places in the Philippines come from Chinese characters, namely: the largest land mass, Luzon, from Liu Sung; Manila probably from Ma-yi (a place known at that time, according to Rizal, not to be inferior to that of China); Palawan from Pa-lao-yu; and Lingayen from Li-yin-tung.

The Chinese ancestors of the Filipinos, unlike the Anglo-Saxons or the Iberians counterparts, connected and blended with the “natives,” fell in love with them and brought into being the First Filipinos: Fr. Gomez, Aguinaldo, Mabini, Bonifacio, and of course Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal, whose great ancestors were all Chinese. Certainly, Filipinos are also proud of their Malay heritage, of the great warrior Lapu-lapu who routed the forces of Ferdinand Magellan in the battle of Mactan, or the proud Raja Soleiman whose descendants have never been crushed by Spain, a world power then, by GI Joe despite vicious military campaign, or the surrogate Philippine army.

On another breadth, the Japanese, in almost similar vein as the modern Filipino, have the “white” (from the aboriginal Ainus), the Mongolian and the Malay strains and were first “civilized” by the Chinese. The proud Japanese enriched the Chinese culture, studied the white man’s society and surpassed both. By contrast, the Filipinos, subjected to the same cultural assault, danced to the prevailing tune, retained their core values but have yet to gain the confidence, owing to centuries of enslavement and subjugation, to surpass the strange ways of life forced on them.

There’s a little known phenomenon in America yet quite familiar to the younger generation. It is not unusual for them to notice some young Americans, whose image of the Japanese is more childlike than borne out of mutual respect, claiming to have genuine interest in Japan but actually they are Japanese wannabes interested in acquiring certain practical knowledge about the Japanese language so that they can understand Japanese movies, videogames, anime, “manga” comics, etc. The reality is that there’s not so much respect from the Japanese (just as from the Chinese) for the American culture despite that certain young Japanese are also observed behaving like Americans, a behavior that’s reciprocated with the American perception, still engrained in tolerated hostility, of the Japanese as the same old Asian stereotypes as the Chinese, their success as economic superpower with a great history and culture to contend with notwithstanding.

What then is the real beef of one ignoramus pretending to be all Asian-knowing, when America doesn’t care to distinguish—since “they all look alike anyway”— between or among Asians? Exalting the culture or the achievements of East Asians at the expense of Filipinos hardly proves a meaningful point no more than it tells the insecurities of those Americans with a superficial interest in, or understanding of, anything Asian. A Filipino, as far as America is concerned, is also just another Asian, and as far as Asians are concerned, a Filipino is still another Asian.

Isn’t the whole matter therefore really about not falling into the trap of one Asian culture being pitted against another? If these be the case, Asians should stay the course of connecting to each other by being proud of the Asian thing irrespective of the “rich cultures” of East Asians or the “Third-World” culture of other Asians until the Asian thing, exactly as the Irish thing, the Jewish thing or the Black thing, becomes just any other American thing. For the meantime, Filipinos should remain proud of a unique amalgamation of wonderful cultures yet in the process of blossoming into full maturity.


Anonymous AntiBeast said...

The myth that Filipinos are not Asians was perpetrated by the White Christian Imperialists who invaded the beautiful islands now known as the Philippines. I would disagree with you however that Islamic and Confucian influences turned Filipinos into Asians. At their core being, Filipinos are fundamentally Southeast Asian Islanders. The family, clan and village customs are not Confucian but Malay in character. For example, "mano po", the practice of kissing the hand of elders, is practised in other Malay societies as well. You're right, however, in that East Asian nations such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam have historically been the Confucian societies of Asia. Just because you are not Confucian does not make you any less Asian. An example is Thailand which is not a Confucian society despite large numbers of Chinese immigrants who intermarried with the indigenous Thai. They are however Buddhist and as such are considered Asian. What makes Filipinos Asian? Just look at yourself in the mirror: most Filipinos have brown skin; some have Chinese eyes; a few have White noses. Next, take a look at the map of the world: the South China Sea and not the Mediterranean Sea nor the Gulf of Mexico is where the Philipines is located in. Once the islands is renamed Maharlika Islands, and the people start calling themselves Maharlika Islanders and the Catholic Church expelled from the Maharlika Islands, then you have freed yourself from the last vestiges of White Christian Imperialism.

February 12, 2008 10:39 PM  

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