Friday, June 23, 2006

The Chinese in Filipino identity

“It is the original Malay population, which has mainly undergone the influences of the East, first of all, the stream of culture and civilization and race. One stream came from China, fairly constant and unchanging through the ages, the other from India, through Indonesia, modified by Indonesia in a very significant manner, since in Indonesia itself the influx of Indian culture had become Indonesian and yet continued to undergo influences that changed as India itself changed, from Brahmanism, to Buddhism to Islam.

“It was these influences, which undoubtedly underwent modifications in the Philippines, which had already modified the original Malay way of life, which, assimilated in varying ways and degrees, constituted the way of life of these Islands, when the impact of the West was felt, an impact which has made us a people unique in the world.”
(Italics and underscoring mine)

Manuel L. Quezon, Jr.


To the bigot - first thought to be Art Bell - who had ruffled the sensibilities of many Filipinos on being challenged, among others, to “demonstrate how you use Confucianism or Taoism in your everyday life,” I reacted in the following:
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-y; 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.
In Build or Perish! I have written thus:
On his martyrdom, Rizal might have driven out the last Spaniard in the Philippines that the friar personified, and ushered in the conception of the First Filipino. And with the birth of the Filipino being, the Indio stigma was cast off in the course of time together with what today might be the equivalent of the ubiquitous hyphenated identities: Oriental-Europeans, with which Filipinos in Europe were lumped with other Asians; the appellations expatriates casually tagged themselves with, such as Tagalog-Filipino, Ilongo-Filipino, Ilokano-Filipino, Bikolano-Filipino; Malay-Tagalog by which Rizal was referred to by some of his European colleagues; or, for that matter, the still acceptable Spanish-Filipino or Chinese-Filipino.
And concluding I posed the following:
So, Tisoy, Tsinoy, Pinoy rin, Moro, Amboy, Expat or simply Pinoy, does it really matter?

Following the example of the First Filipinos, the next generation of Chinese mestizos allowed their ancestral nativism eventually to evanesce and let what had remained of its essence to regenerate upon coalescing with the identities of the peninsulares (Spaniards from Spain) and the criollos (Spaniards born in the Philippines) and the Spanish mestizos. Hence, the descendants of the pariahs and the pirates, the proselytizers and the proselytized, the conquerors and the conquered, the colonizers and the colonized founded a nation of “natives.” And with the sinews of the fiber that knitted their newly found citizenship outdoing the accidental tendril of their ancient birthright and transcending their frittered roots, they forthwith consigned themselves to preserve, secure, and fulfill the Filipino being. This generation picked up from where the original First Filipinos had left off, proudly seizing the singular honor of calling themselves “Filipinos.” Whereupon, they squandered no time to begin laying the foundation of the Filipino nation.

The native Indios have become Filipinos too with many of them absorbing the attributes of their “betters” but many more have remained unfulfilled, mainly economically, as Filipinos. Still, a few more others have simply opted out of the new arrangement of nationhood so as to continue abiding in their primeval or indigenous realms.

On the other hand, those who have chosen to remain as sangleys have preserved their hyphenated identity. Without a true “sense of country,” they have remained essentially pariahs, much like, interestingly, the increasingly stateless TNCs creating a global network of common interests and pitting one host state against another. Adrift, they are today blind-sided by some newly found ways to make a living or by certain exotic credos couched in oxymoron, like “rational self-interest” or “market democracy,” which they have freely appropriated while in select institutions of learning only they could afford to attend. Meanwhile, they, as the self-anointed “rags-to-riches” paladins of success, have yet to figure out a smarter way to deal with the lingering misery of the less fortunate ones in the land they also like to call home. It seems that when the infrastructures of societal behavior, practices and institutions are stacked to favor one, whether individuals, groups or nations, even wrongs so conspicuous, so historically certified could be turned into a glamorous success story of supposedly remarkable work ethics, industry and smarts.
In one of Pinoy-rin forums I have been asked to share my thoughts on whether the American system the Filipinos borrowed could ever work in the Philippines.

In essence, my response was that the real challenge is how to make the Western/American model work based on the Filipinos’ own distinctiveness taking into account the other civilizations or cultures that make up the Filipino essence. I explained that the Western culture, while promoting hierarchical governance, brought to us constitutional and liberal (market) democracy as well as the Christian teaching of service and humility. The new culture was introduced by the West in the midst of the “politics by consensus” our ancestral barangay folks and chieftains, and their Muslim mentors had practiced together at the community level as going concern. On another sphere, I mentioned that the proper approach toward ecological conservation for the benefit of the next generation could be explored by drawing from the wellspring of our Malayo-Polynesian respect for and love of nature.

I then noted that today, governance by consensus is being reexamined for its efficacy as an alternative to traditional governance through elected representatives (often a subterfuge for “elite governance”) in the same manner as legitimation through popular sovereignty (as opposed to the “divine right” theory) and government by example, which are essentially Confucian values of our early Chinese ancestors, are being revalued for their true worth.

“In the past, we had two powerful allies, distance and time. The jet age has nullified distance. Mass media of communications and daily contact with foreigners at all levels of society have robbed us of time, time to transform and assimilate, time to weigh—for selective acceptance or rejection—the avalanche of influences which press on us and threaten to bury us.” MLQ, Jr.

I guess I have had one occasion to grapple with MLQ, jr.’s fears as follows:
The irony is that North America, the favored expatriation of many, as well as Australia, was once a place of banishment where European labor, who couldn’t sell their skills in the market during the early phase of industrial revolution, had been ostracized to go, the better skilled craftsmen having been forced into the burgeoning factories principally in England. In recent years however, a reverse phenomenon—which is quite endemic in the Archipelago—has been taking place. More and more of the “best and the brightest” are lured to leave for the beckoning “upland” in an exodus of some kind because there are no factories, offices or hospitals in town to tap their craftsmanship and expertise with commensurate remuneration. Like other countries whose endowments are natural resources and the human constituents, the adventurism (or, perhaps, abnegation) of the latter would prove to be heroically significant in a lot ways, more particularly in keeping the struggling ship of the nation afloat. The [Filipino Diaspora] is therefore both a blessing and disguise.

Today, one of the challenges in our rapidly transforming global village could be how to create new meanings and purpose from such our state of affairs. Or, how to avail of the scientific and technological advances that are continuing to shrink both time and space, and turn our situation of physical dispersion to our favor.

In retrospect, Filipinos in exile during Rizal’s times, had taken advantage of the liberal ideas in Spain to hone their cosmopolitanism and proved that given the opportunity they could rise easily to be equals with their “masters.” It was also during this period when the conversation about which course to pursue to attain “emancipation”—either through reforms within the existing colonial relationship with Spain or by social upheaval of the French paradigm—was deepened and polarized. There are lingering questions today whether the Filipino Diaspora, generally speaking, is a reaction to some insurmountable obstacles to reaching rising expectations, such obstacles as anachronistic societal relationship, population growth, technological divide, blighted discipline, geographic fractiousness, prolonged experience of dependency and marginalization, or the ineptitude of self-seeking elites, to cite only those already recognized by some scholars, self-serving or otherwise.

As expatriates ourselves, we have the practical edge of critically looking at certain things that are occurring in our adopted countries from the perspective of our native culture and sub-cultures vis-à-vis our economic, political and demographic structures. Now, which ones do we choose to let go, or intend to preserve, capitalize on and impart? In an age of connectivity and information as wealth, there is an excellent window of opportunities to enrich our exchanges or share our social, cultural and other experiences with one another, and with our compatriots from a geographically distant town we still love to call home.
“I can think of few worse threats to a vigorous nationalism than a nation despondent over its culture. The Filipino culture is a monument to our ability through the centuries to master the influences which outwardly seemed solely to master us—for to be transformed mechanically is to be mastered, but to modify, to transform, to assimilate, and to give a distinctive character is also in the best, non-destructive sense, to master.” MLQ, Jr.

I believe one of the fundamental challenges then, to echo the opening proem from Mr. Quezon, is first and foremost how -

. . . to recognize that our country is very fortunate to have been the recipient of three great cultures - the Western, the Islamic, as well as the Confucian - and that as these cultures have imbued our evolving Filipino heritage, to enhance and secure the commonalities, respect the differences and harmonize the continuing bonds to our earlier beginnings in the hope of understanding and strengthening the true essence of Filipino identity.

14 Comments:

Blogger Karl M. Garcia said...

Sir,
I am not sure about this, but I was told that eating with the spoon and fork was taught to us by the chinese...

The golden rule may have been passsed down to nus by the Chinese but looking at other religions They have their own version of the golden rule,even christianity has its own version.

I see how the Chinese became second class citizens in Malaysia,where their superirity in numbers still make them the minority.

Thank you.

June 26, 2006 4:08 AM  
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June 29, 2006 1:00 AM  
Blogger VegasFilAmGuy said...

Hi there,

I am a Filipino born in the Philippines, raised in the the US. Sometimes, I get confused, what it means to be a Filipino. Or, what is a Filipino? Are Chinese Filipinos? What makes them Filipinos? I guess, the difference is that some are "ETHNICALLY" Filipino, and some are "NATURALIZED" Filipinos. I'm ethnically Filipino in the US, and considered naturalized American.

If the Mexicans, and Columbians, and Russians, and Japanese, and Euopeans came to the Philippines, and started adapting to the Filipino culture, would they then be called Filipinos as well, similar to the way we call the Chinese?

I'm just curious...who is the Filipino?

Carlos Bulosan said "Filipino is in the Heart." Therefore, I know that Chinese, Korean, or anyone for that matter can be Filipino...but "in the heart". How about Filipino ethically?

August 24, 2006 3:02 AM  
Blogger Joyfatima said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 21, 2010 3:43 AM  
Blogger Joyfatima said...

good day sir Abe Margallo.. I am about to make Build or Perish! a book Review. I was looking for your biography and I can't find any..:( I hope you can help me.. thank you..

September 21, 2010 3:44 AM  
Blogger Shelley said...

Dear Abe N. Margallo,

Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Shelley Tuazon Guyton, and I am independently conducting a research project on social media and national identity in the Philippines. Through this research, I hope to analyze the many ways people might envision themselves as a nation. This project is affiliated with the Anthropology Department at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; and, it is funded by the Fulbright Program for mutual understanding between nations.

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Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have. My email address is shelley[dot]guyton[at]gmail[dot]com. Also, you can access my bio and additional information about this project on my LinkedIn profile: ph.linkedin.com/in/shelleyguyton . Thank you again for your time.

Cordially,
Shelley Tuazon Guyton

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