Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Celebrating what’s good about us

Posted on June 14, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the 110th anniversary of the Philippine Republic, I began thinking about our country and its current state. The one thing that comes to mind immediately is the number of reasons why we should feel sorry for the state of affairs we find ourselves in, and I don’t have to enumerate them. We Filipinos have our common and shared disappointments, plus our own individual complaints, to be sure.

So, today, I thought I’d write about the reasons why we should celebrate our being Filipino. I do not want to discuss anything complicated. I am not talking here of some of the so-called mystical or spiritual reasons why we are special (being the only Catholic country in Asia, for example) as some people like to point out.

We have all heard the cosmic explanations of why we as a people are a cut above the rest and that we have a special mission. I do not subscribe to this easily because, according to Joseph Campbell, every nation and people believes it is the chosen race. And of course, believing this does not necessarily make it so. Having said that, it is not out of place to point out that every race has its unique qualities, and we are no different.

How we are different is what I want to talk about, and in that sense, I can talk about our being special.

The great Jesuit historian Horacio de la Costa pointed out that no people have a unique monopoly on characteristics, and that people change throughout the run of history. Qualities which may seem repulsive at one time may become endearing at another, and vice versa. Here are some qualities that, to me, still by and large serve us well at this time.

1) We are an adaptable people.

We seem to be culturally wired to absorb any culture and immerse ourselves in any language, and we can be fluent and even thrive in the new set-up. I also include here corporate and political cultures. We seem to have a knack for sensing which buttons to press in every new environment we get into. We have all heard the success stories. Go to any country and you will not find many Filipinos who are on welfare. That in itself says a lot. Of course, we can also find examples of Filipinos who do not adapt well, but they are more of an exception than the rule.

On the whole, we can also say that we are not as prone to the ghetto mentality which a lot of other nationalities resort to when they settle in a foreign country. This also underscores our ability to fit in. We do not need to physically transplant the Philippines for us to feel at home when we are abroad. We find virtue and advantage in adapting, wherever we are.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering how the runaway prices of fuel and food will affect us. Already, it has left us all reeling in shock. We are already complaining but things will still get worse. I can only hope that our vaunted adaptability, which has served us well up to now, will help us weather all this without our social fabric being torn by rioting and strife.

2) We are a talented people.

Filipinos can and do shine easily in many fields, especially in the arts and music. In every entertainment club or hotel in Asia, the top talents are Filipinos. We also have the likes of Lea Salonga and Arnel Pineda who have shown the world the caliber of talent that we can produce. Lately, we have been wowed by Charisse Pempengco. While I was impressed when I saw her display her stuff on Oprah and other American TV shows, I noticed that my reaction was prompted not so much by her talent (which, though formidable, is not so rare in the Philippines) but by the way she wowed her non-Filipino audience.

We have also seen the Filipino shine in academics, sports and science all over the world, despite the fact that the training we get at home is probably generally below world standards.

3) We have “heart”!

I am talking about how much we put our heart into what we do, so much so that the beneficiaries of our work do feel the care and passion we put into it. If you have ever been hospitalized abroad, you know what it’s like to be assigned a Filipina nurse. I met a businesswoman who owns a nursing home in New Zealand. She liked to tell the story of how her white elderly patients initially resisted the presence of non-white Pinay nurses who cared for them in the facility. But by the end of the third week, the same people who complained were whining when the Filipina caregivers took a day off.

This is not surprising since we have been trained to be respectful of older people and to serve them with tender loving care.

In the field of music, I notice we generally play with more feeling than other nationalities, who may be more adept in the technical aspects. In the ‘80s, I was able to work with some Japanese jazz artists in a recording setup, and one thing I took note of was that while the Japanese musicians may have been more technically “perfect” and were well-versed in academic theory, they lacked the emotional depth that our musicians could easily summon. They were so amazed when the Filipino musicians they hired could instantly soar into fantastic improvisations. And we do this quite naturally.

4) We have a great sense of humor.

It has been said that comedy is “tragedy plus time.” The whole meaning of this statement boils down to the fact that most of the stuff we find funny has its origins in something tragic. Humor is our coping mechanism to transform tragedy into something more palatable. Think of our endless stream of political jokes, for example. When a problem or a national crisis breaks out, it doesn’t take long for text jokes to spread in response. An Italian comic once commented that “we laugh because we do not want to cry.” More than anything else, it may be our ability to find humor in almost anything that has saved us and continues to do so. One might say that humor is our “national reset button” when things go wrong.

5) We are generally a happy people.

Many surveys have pointed out that, despite our troubles, we Filipinos rate ourselves as quite happy. Many people will argue that what seems to be a state of happiness is actually ignorance or a “Pollyanna” view of life. I believe that for the great lot of Filipinos, it takes very little to feel grateful, or to be cheerful. We can even smile while we talk about our grave problems.

Compare the images of EDSA with that of the Iranian revolution. While we indulged in a fiesta-like atmosphere, in the latter, we saw nothing but grim and determined faces and a seriousness that is very alien to us.

There are many who will not agree that some of what I have listed here are positive traits, because they see that, as a people, we may need to let go of the lightness with which we approach life and adopt a more serious mien. In addition, many will argue that we need more discipline and assertiveness in place of our willingness to readily accept a situation and fit into it. They are probably right.

But I feel that the next few years will be transformative for the Filipino. I do not believe that the way our politics is playing out now will continue to be acceptable to our people. Change will have to happen in the next few years since leaving things as they are will only make our lives more unbearable. And that means we may have to cultivate new qualities to face the new situations that lie ahead.

Once again, I know our adaptability will save us.

* * *

14 to “Celebrating what’s good about us”

  1. desertfish says:

    Jim, it was such an incisive but clear summary of our positive traits as Filipinos. While these traits facilitate us to live our Filipino lives in a more “relaxed manner,” I suspect they are also our shadows in the face of the kind of united discipline that development demands. Take for example our ability to adapt, whose shadow side is the loss of a core identity and the disintegration of a sense of nation and Filipino-hood.
    As always, I enjoy reading your thoughts. There is something that’s chastened by time and experience and the arts that invite to love unconditionally.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Dear Jim,

    I can’t help but respond regarding the adaptability of Filipinos. As life becomes more unbearable, the Filipino people may have already found a way to alleviate the worsening situation. There are more and more migrant workers going out more than ever to survive the crisis. For the middle class who can afford to transplant their families elsewhere, the local situation is the least of their worries (no offense meant). Kanya kanyang diskarte na. Just this month, two of my secretaries’ relatives flew out for the first time. With the mass exodus, who is left to lead or follow for that matter out of the darkness?

  3. jimparedes says:

    desertfish–thanks. Yes, our virtues carry shadows, definitely.

    cynthia–That is a serious problem which will only stop when we put the right government that can fix this, and a host of other problems.

  4. Emmanuel Romano Punzalan says:

    Great writing Jim. Filipino culture seems gives out such a weak “signal” to the world. Neighboring southeast asian and pacific island countries tourism are thriving. Thier cultures, arts, architecture, cuisine, and beaches of course, are splashed all over enticing holiday ads in print and tv media. And there is an awareness of them…. here in sydney at least. I admit i get occasionally guilty of being shy and coy or confused? But, more often than not my fierce pride and loyalty to my filipino heritage inspires me to work harder and give my best. Yup il try to do my bit to make the beauty of our land and people “a secret” no longer…

  5. I loved your post here Jim. I have long been an ardent admirer of some of the Filipino attributes mentioned. I know little of the politics, and would be out of my depth to comment in that regard. It is true however, that adaptability may well save us all!

    When I lived in the Philippines from 1984-86, I saw and felt the change in the people, in the country and borrow the words of others when I say “could a bloodless revolution on the scale like the People Power revolution of 1986 ever have happened in another country?” I doubt it.

    I remember Philippine Airlines changed their livery on the aircraft with the sun, and there is scarcely a time when I look at the tail or a picture of a plane and not think, I saw the new sun rise! It has left indelible footprints on my heart and on my life.

    Filipinos have much to be proud of, I was in awe of Rizal and his convictions and love for his people. It is not as Emmanuel suggests that it is a sign of weakness to others, but let me assure you it is a great strength. Somewhat akin to what you see of an iceberg, the greater part of it’s strength and worth lies hidden beneath. Mabuhay.

  6. AJ says:

    Dear Sir Jim,

    My warmest regards from here in the Gulf!

    I’m one of those who admire your work and wisdom in so many ways. I’m not a regular commenter in here, but I’ve been reading your inspirational entries for 7 months now. Im sorry, but I printed and file the previous posts that I missed so I have something intelligent and meaningful to ponder at night, and something that I could share to my family and friends. I’d love to have a copy of your published book too so I asked someone from Manila to get a copy for me..

    moreso, I’m avid fan also of APO music. Hope you three will someday perform in Dubai. (or you were here?)..

    ps: ah, 15 yrs ago when I got the chance to talk to you by phone (thru A.P.I. Office). I was pleased. 🙂

    Mabuhay ang Pilipino saan man sa mundo!

  7. Hi Jim and fellow commenters,

    Sorry if i seemed to imply in my previous comment that our culture was weak. My composition was a bit wishy washy and i was not able to make my point.

    All i wanted to convey was my obsevation that our country lags behind in promoting its culture and tourism industry and that there is a lack of awareness in Australia of our beautiful country as a tourist destination. I keep seeing Vietnam, Cambodia, Fiji in ads as popular destinations to add to Phuket, Bali, Sabah and Singapore as the Aussie’s regular favourites.

    Our beloved land and culture being unique and special in its own right, but is not adequately promoted was what i wanted to imply with my analogy to a cell phone’s weak signal which i realize now may be a poor choice of wording. Cheers kabayan!

  8. jimparedes says:

    Emanuel–no worries. No malice or meaness detected from your comment.
    Craig–I can tell that your brief stay in the Philippines made an indelible mark.

    AJ- I love visiting the middle East. I would be happy to perform there if you know anyone who wants to bring us!

  9. Marman says:

    Jim, As usual inspired writing. You have given form to those abstract notions I have about our character… that I find challenging to articulate (entirely my limitation). Much oblige.

  10. desertfish says:

    Jim, i don’t want to miss your entries so i’ll better add you up…

  11. kenjishiela says:

    Me and my wife are living here in Saudi Arabia for a few years now, she just gave birth a couple of months ago to a lovely heaven-sent baby girl, our first. Life is hard and difficult at times especially here in the Middle East but we have to, or we will be starving home and my baby’s future will be bleak.

    Anyway, I subscribe to your blog’s RSS in my mobile and I am reading it daily. I thank you for your great post. I will also add you to my favorite link in my website. Hope you can come and share a message or comments. We are engaged in several causes most especially helping poor and destitute children to earn education.

    I will be posting a few more days, I am still finishing my piece, “Can You Imagine a World without Filipinos?” Hope yu can repost or help other spread the world.
    Keep doing great!

  12. jimparedes says:

    kenjieshilea–will look forward to your post. I have been to Saudi and I know it’s not an easy place to live in. Congrats to you for making a life out there.

  13. Mrs. Naomi G. Tolentino says:

    I admired you once as a member of APO Hiking Society. Now more than ever I admire you as a versatile writer. I agree with you in your article “Celebrating what’s good about us”, Phil Star Sunday 06-15-08. Filipinos really are unique and say “exotic”, from other races. I will never exchange my being Filipino. Philippines is still the best place to live, despite its “uniqueness” in poverty and all varieties of trouble that plague the country both in high and low places.
    Your article awakens our patriotic sense and our earnest desire to the tainted image of our country.
    More Power!

    Mrs. Naomi G. Tolentino
    Retired Teacher

  14. We recently got back from our vacation to Phuket and really wish that we didn’t have to leave so soon as we absolutely loved it and will unquestionably visit again! We stayed at Bann Thai Resort and Spa which we would for certain recommend. We hired a car at $60 for 10 days, it was by far the cheapest and a convienent way to go and it was alot of fun too! The zoo is definitely worth while taking a trip. Also restaurants in Phuket Island to visit are Thai Food Heaven-romantic, delish and trendy. Book a table with your feet in the ocean!

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