Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Rhetorical Question on Self-Identity

It is still what you do that defines you, not what you were born to be or what you think you are. That is my belief.

In our HS email group, I posed the following after lazily toying around with it in my befuddled mind:

“Please allow me to ask a rhetorical question. This came to me after hearing many long-time expats declare that they will never forget their being Filipino regardless of their long absence from the old homeland.

Here goes.

Should one still consider oneself Filipino in spite of the fact that not only is one living outside of the old homeland, but also because one has no desire at all to return and live in the old homeland?

If the answer is positive, what could be the qualifications or reasons why one would think so?”

Now I had premised that it was a rhetorical question for two reasons. Because then it would not require any answers from those who may find it uneasy or queasy to be answering such a personal question. And secondly, because a rhetorical question is also a device used or proffered as proof of the negative.

And indeed, that possible confusion surfaced as gleaned from this second reply:

“A minor point but I thought a rhetorical question is one that doesn't require an answer. Perhaps rephrase the question. Or do you actually have more than one question? “

My retort to this then revealed my latent position of trying to prove the negative. That indeed, it is difficult to continue to consider oneself a Filipino when not only does one not live in the old homeland, but one has no desire at all to live in the old homeland in the foreseeable future.

But the first response did make a qualification on the last issue:

“As for me, I belong to the second group, no desire to return to live there--under the present conditions: political, sociological, health and safety. I also have my only extended family here. But I would love to return and live there under a different set of circumstances.”
Which qualification could be interpreted as tantamount to having no desire at all to return in his lifetime, since meaningful changes on the factors enumerated could not possibly occur within that time frame.

And I promptly replied:
“That's exactly what I want to find out. What expats mean when they make that statement. Of course, it has to be with things that can change. With ethnicity, there is nothing one can do to change that so that is out of the question. Loyalty could be one, but your actions would belie its veracity if you not only not live there but have no desire either to live there. Your old memories will be Filipino because you can't dismiss those. Love for the old homeland? But how expressed?”

The following came from two of my most astute classmates, who coincidentally are also both in the medical profession and incidentally were also both valedictorian and salutatorian in our HS graduating class:

“To answer your question,” when does one cease being a Filipino or whatever & become another “is when that person actually says so when asked - for whatever reason he /she may have at the time.

BTW, granting when viewed under the microscope your genes may not change per se, your environment, experiences, interactions etc may have affected your general being in such a way that the "gene" factor no longer carries much weight in the equation because different variables have ' diluted ' you.

Further, the point of metamorphosis, if you will, occurs when the resistance to such 'dilution' reaches critical mass & gives way to quiet surrender. How's that? You confused yet?”

“Your having dual citizenship is a practical matter that I myself am considering. It doesn't make you acquire a split personality or being ambivalent about it. Our genetic makeup is always Filipino and that cannot be changed by living abroad. By coming to the US, you have widened your perspective of the different types of cultures that in turn may have caused you to lose focus on your inner self. Listen to your heart and you will get your answer.”

“OK, then you and I are like Chameleons - we change colors depending on what the situation calls for- a practical adaptive mechanism of survival. It doesn't make a Chameleon any different from a Lizard. By way of historical comparison, think of the Japanese-Americans who were interned in California during WW11 because they were considered Japanese when actually their true allegiance was to America. Their true nature was still Japanese; or for that matter, the Japanese Senator from Hawaii who fought as an American soldier in Germany, or the Tuskegee Pilots who were branded as 2nd class citizens while fighting for America. They were Afro-Americans but still their nature and culture were still Blacks and yet their loyalty was as Americans as any Whites. Like I said, what you think you are comes from your inner self, not because of the dual citizenship. Hope these examples put your mind to rest.”

But I had decided to be stubborn and tenacious and thundered forth with this reply:
“One’s actions would not jibe with one’s protestations. Re genetics, I agree we can’t change those but many African Americans have ceased to consider themselves Africans, just Americans – and they do not live in Africa and have no desires to live there. So the question is at what point does one ceases being one and becomes another.”

What do you think?