Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Random Thoughts From An Ex-Pat

This was the hot topic this week, ignited by the plaintive musings of an “adopted” son of Lupang Hinirang. It was all that was needed, an “outside” spark to ignite our collective “engine” of thought and comment. Quite expectedly, the quick discernible reactions came from us, the expatriates. Personally, I was quite willing to hold my peace, since I was convinced that everything I had in mind had already been very eloquently brought out by other members. Not until, I read the piece of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, presenting the entire country and culture as one abundant “cornucopia” of ironies.

The points at issue, as subtly laid out and bared by the adopted son, centered on the following issues. The national pride, or lack thereof, of the Filipino with regard to his country and culture. The Filipino’s measure of his self-worth. His love of country and its rich history(?), democracy, and freedom. His awareness of his identity.

And without reservations, we did, and should, give positive remarks about the issues raised by the “foreigner’s” innocent and sincere call for awareness and change. But adding to and validating Nakpil’s collection of ironies, the early and timely defense came from us, expatriates. It came from those of us who had decided to leave the country to live and earn a livelihood away from the Philippines, and not from those who continue to exercise their inborn rights to live, to love, to be happy, and to prosper in the country of their birth. Is it maybe because uncomplimentary comments made by “foreigners” who regard themselves as adopted citizens have become so passé to the resident Filipino that they do not elicit any more response than a dismissive wave of the hand? So why have we instead, the expatriates, become very keen and responsive to the issues about the old country as presented above?

Anyway, going back to the points raised above. I, myself, can also irrefutably declare my love and pride for my old country and its culture. I can also declare without debate that the Filipino’s identity is closely tied up with its tumultuous history of countless years of colonization and subjugation. And its self-worth is derived from the tight and neatly-bundled product of all these factors. And since these are judgment calls, nobody should be able to effectively challenge these assertions.

But the proof of the pudding still is or are the consequent actions/deeds brought to bear as testimony/ies. When we became American citizens, for example, we declared under oath our sole allegiance to the USA, carrying with it sole fidelity, loyalty, and obedience to the exclusion of any other state (the Philippines included). As a matter of fact, should the two countries be on opposite sides of a war, we are counted upon to bear arms in defense of our new country.

Additionally, being physically detached from the old country, our abilities to express our love and pride for it are extremely limited. The giving of oneself which is the supreme expression of love and pride unfortunately cannot be easily given either remotely or vicariously. Unless, of course, if our plan within our lifetime is to eventually go back there and replant our stakes for good - for ourselves and/or our progeny.

Other side issues were also expressed. Like, what exactly do we mean when we say love of country? Or, the distinction between the Filipino poor wanting to be Americans and the rich wanting to be seen as Spaniards. Or, the seemingly national Filipino traits of acceptable bribery, falsifying documents, etc.

Let me venture my own guesses. I have a deep feeling that when we, expatriates and first-generation Filipino immigrants, declare our love for the home country we unknowingly refer to the collective baggage of nostalgia and countless childhood/adolescent/adult memories we lugged with us coming here. A way to test this is to ask our kids, who still “pure” Filipinos are with regard their bloodline, what they think of the old country. Especially kids who were born here or were brought here at very tender ages. In all likelihood, they will not be able to associate anything there that they can like or love. Love presupposes knowledge of something or somebody before love can blossom. Also, we may continue to love that old country since it is still the place where most of our dear relatives and friends are.

The Spaniards impressed upon us a social structure that was very steeped in the caste system, with the “illustrados” and the “indios” delineating the lines between the Spaniards, the mestizos, and the Filipinos; and even amongst themselves, isolating those born in Spain from those born in the islands (the insulares). Since the indios were kept in ignorance and penury, the rest prospered and became the rich elite. It is not a great stretch to understand why the present remnants of the rich elite pine for their storied past, the grandeur of imperial Spain. And to live comfortably there with their acquired wealth.

And the poor can only look up to the next colonizer who initiated its arduous task toward enlightenment. Thus, the axiom sounds true. It is also Monarchy versus Democracy. Lastly, if you are a poor and struggling Filipino, why would you choose Spain over America, where the opportunities for improving your lot are much more open and available in the latter?

Aside from Nakpil reporting it in her piece, I also have my own anecdotal evidences to show its truth. And it is that any aptly educated, sufficiently motivated, and young Filipino if given the opportunity would like to come to the States or similar country to work and reside at least for a time, or a lifetime.

It seems from personal contacts and stories that every family in the Philippines has a member living here in the States, or if not, planning to come and live here. From almost every person I spoke to on this last trip I made, the first piece of conversation topic was about his/her child or relative living here in the States. When I left, 5 young nephews/nieces of mine had eagerly asked about their chances of working here in the States. This definitely is more than just about economic reasons. We may have to factor in issues about one’s personal identity, national pride and honor, and even self-worth within the milieu one is born in.

With regard to bribery and falsifying documents, these are either due to a cumulative breakdown in moral values, and/or a misperception of morality and moral values. I cannot accept a premise that as a people, Filipinos are just so calloused as to continue to allow this to happen, knowing it is a grave moral wrong. I cannot imagine a whole country collectively losing sleep every night, feeling the gnawing pangs of remorse of conscience. But then, again, some say, that callousness can and does deaden the pangs of conscience if an act is repeated one time too many.

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