Of course, that was only up until college. That was where I met a chock-full of them, and made the discovery that - surprise! They were just normal kids, who possessed the ability to seamlessly transition from one language to another with the ease of someone trying to tie their shoes. That is to say – it was completely natural, and, knowing where they came from, hardly extraordinary. It wasn’t like they tried to or anything, unlike what the stereotype had so zealously claimed. For something as everyday as that, one has to wonder where all the contempt comes from.
Fast forward to the month of August to celebrate Buwan ng Wika, and I can’t help but sense that same brand of disdain all over again. It’s that time of the year where we’ll predictably be subject to another one of those speeches. You know, those speeches. Every year, without fail, we’re told about our tendencies to be a little too fascinated with the western world, another terminal case of colonial mentality, damn the conyo kid and all that jazz.
There’s a lot to be said about that, I agree. There’s much work to be done, needless to say, before we can sort through all those internalized issues, but really – it’s not like it’s news or anything. We know this reality; we live in it. But lately I’ve been sensing a pattern, where we constantly berate ourselves past a point where it’s actually useful anymore. We’re caught in this vicious cycle of blame and shame and never once stop to think about how some things we just can’t help.
For instance: advocates of homegrown products say it is our responsibility to buy local. But while support is ideal, favoring non-Filipino products over our own isn’t a crime. Sometimes it's just about taste, or quality, and sometimes we have to swallow that we don't always make the best stuff.
We say conyo like it's an insult, but brush over the fact that kids now are taught in English, but live in Filipino spaces. It's a hybrid language, born of the experiences Filipinos are experiencing as we speak. And if language is a mere a reflection of a nation, why do we shun it? Why are we told to hide it, squash it down, lest it fester? Why tell ourselves it isn’t happening? Just because we subscribe to some patterns of the West does not necessarily mean we're degrading our cultural heritage nor is it a manifestation of our inferiority.
We need to consider that maybe, just maybe, having traces of different cultures within our own is not such a bad thing, as we all have come to believe. Nitpicking what’s on your plate won’t help you clean it off.
The way I see it – we’re our own worst enemies. We keep beating ourselves up for not being this romanticized ideal of what Filipinos should be, instead of acknowledging that we're a country in a state of constant evolution. We're dynamic, caught in a liminal state, and everywhere we look, we can see signs of that. Globalization has that effect, and it's increasingly difficult to try to hold on to that traditional view of being "truly Filipino." I mean, what is "truly Filipino"? I don't suppose even some of us know, because we keep looking for a Philippines that has long slipped through our fingers.
The real Philippines, the Philippines that exists beyond mere idealism, is the very same one we're ashamed of - the one full of "conyo kids" and "the wannabes.” It’s the hybrid nation, the one with the self-imposed identity crisis. That's the one. And I think, the moment we quit damning ourselves to a spiraling void of self-hatred and stop subjecting ourselves to a measuring stick against other Asian countries who have such a strong sense of identity – because, honestly, we just don't have the same history – and accept the nation that we have right now, as it is, is the glittering moment of clarity where we can finally start flourishing as a nation.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a call to arms against curing this country of its cultural inferiority complex. But we need to stop putting parameters on who and what we should be as Filipinos and just try to embrace the hybrid Philippines we have now – because above all, isn't it love for your country that really makes a difference?
Illustration by Chesca Serrano