[Photo source: Jeffrey James Pacres (Flickr: Creative Commons)]
We have just started celebrating Filipino American History Month. At this time, I feel that I must bring up a conversation that began a while back, as it is essential to our growth and unity as a community.
I have been mauling over the idea of writing about this subject, ever since “The Problem With Filipinos” article showed up back in June. What actually incited this desire to write about it was a counter article, “The Problem With ‘The Problem With Filipinos’”, which tried to highlight the positive things Filipinos have done for the community… only to add on to the problem of how we cannot have an open, sincere dialogue with each other.
The ultimate pitfall of #PinoyPride is that we cannot bring ourselves to open a dialogue about our community, our history, and what we can do to resolve the “problem with Filipinos”.
The main article by Sade Andria Zabala rang some bitter truths that we cannot ignore:
The problem with Filipinos is we don’t know who we are.
The problem with Filipinos is you. Is me. Is the fact we both know no matter what I say or what you say, it’s all pointless because
We cannot ignore nor deny the fact that we, as Filipinos, hold and value pride in ourselves. We assert our own Filipinoness, while at the same time, criticize others’ Filipinoness. We hold high standards and expectations of what makes one truly Filipino, but we fail to keep in check of how we are following our own standards and expectations. The complexity and nuances of our Filipino identity are what cause the tension among our community. This is because we are unaware of certain aspects of our collective history that we have yet to ask about and discover for ourselves, which I will discuss later on.
The counter article by Dr. Valerie Francisco highlights the revolutionary strides of Filipinos working for the betterment of the community. While it is wonderful to learn about the community activism and the strides in bringing social justice to areas that most deserve it, the downside of that article is that not everyone is familiar with the history of the Philippines (i.e., People Power Revolution, US relations with the Philippines) or of Filipino America (i.e., the social justice work of community leaders and advocates).
This is especially the problem of us Filipinos who were born and raised outside of the Philippines and after the time of People Power. Our image of the Philippines is mainly constructed of the stories told to us by our parents, grandparents, and relatives. No doubt that their stories are important to our understanding of the Motherland and of Filipino identity, but there are still gaps in our collective history that we need to work in piecing together.
From reading both articles, it is clear that the authors are trying to start a conversation that the community needs to have. But what seems to be missing from both articles is the invitation to open a dialogue. Zabala speaks about bitter truths, but leaves it as a list of problems. Dr. Francisco calls attention to the community efforts by Fil-Am organizations and advocates, but also implies that the author of the first article is “ignorant” of our rich history. As much as I respect the opinions expressed of both authors, I approach their pieces as a reader and as a fellow Filipino American with this question: If we have problems, what are the possible solutions?
I would like to propose a possible solution to the problem of “who we are as Filipinos”: Let us learn about our history and talk about it.
Would it have made a difference if someone had directed the author of the first article to learn about the revolutionary history before writing/posting the piece? I do not aim to play devil’s advocate, but if the first article did include historical references to what Filipinos have endured and fought for, would it still have incited us to look at ourselves and ask questions that we never thought to ask before? Should we, young Filipino Americans, have known better than to talk about our problems without first learning about our context?
How are we supposed to know better if you do not teach us?
This might be the Filipino millenial’s question. Although I dislike the label (because of its public connotation), it cannot be helped that this generation of Fil-Ams are facing millenial problems, along with the problem of finding our identities that are connected to the legacy of oppressions our ancestors faced in the Motherland.
Our history is not taught in the American curriculum. If we’re lucky, we get to learn about it in a college course on Filipino-anything OR from people who are very familiar with Philippine history.
I was lucky enough to learn about our history in my final year of college. The course I took was called Filipino-American Literature, taught by Luis H. Francia. Of course, I was mad at myself for being ignorant about this part of my existence. But was it my fault for learning about it late? Should I have thought to ask my parents about life in the Philippines when I was younger? I can blame the American education system and how it covers up certain parts of history that we may never learn about in our lifetime, for the sake of sanctifying the reputation of this country. I can blame my parents for not telling me the full story of our history, especially since they came to the United States around the time of People Power and the fall of Marcos’ regime. But I won’t stay bitter about my past ignorance or my parents’ priorities in providing for our family (to which I am ever grateful for). Now that I know some of our history, it is up to me to learn more and help spread that information to my community.
Without a doubt, the tasks of researching our collective history and opening a dialogue are difficult feats that require time and effort. We all have other concerns that are tied to sustaining and maintaining our livelihoods. But can we spare a little bit of time in our lives to engage in a discussion about our problems as Filipino/Americans? It may be too much to consider the concerns of the community as a whole, but we can approach this discussion from the personal perspective.
Another article from UniPro tries to balance the weight of the first article. The author Jashlie Melgar relates to the sentiments expressed by Zabala and adds their own observations of the community. The author also does not offer any solutions to the problems we have and face, as Filipinos, but they do point out the pitfalls of #PinoyPride that incite us to consider when we talk about our pride.
It is appropriate to bring up this thread again because October is Filipino American History Month, as well as Indigenous People’s Month in the Philippines. If we are to talk about the problems with Filipinos, then we must try to think of solutions with Filipinos. It all comes down to opening a dialogue, as a community, and being honest with ourselves and with each other. We are at a stage where information is more accessible than before, but it will take much longer for all of the information to reach everyone. The question is, where do we begin to look? What do we look for? What can we do in order to understand who we are, who we were (before outsiders interrupted our growth in identity), and who we can be, as kababayans?
To the young Fil-Ams, let’s learn to ask questions and listen carefully and attentively. Talk to our parents, grandparents, relatives, etc. about what life was like in the Philippines–what they remember, what they miss, what they hope for the future. Find people and resources that can provide more information and context to important events in our history. (Check out FANHS and their FB page for some historical facts and figures.)
To the wise Fil-Ams (the ones who came before us–trying to avoid calling this lot “old”), please tell us your stories. Talk to us about your experiences, your memories, and your thoughts about the Philippines and the United States. But I would like to ask if you could ask us “young Fil-Ams” about how we feel about being Filipino–as your children, your students, your future for this community.
Let us make this community stronger. Let us fix our problems. The solution for Filipinos is ourselves.