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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for June 14th, 2008


Celebrating what’s good about us 14

Posted on June 14, 2008 by jimparedes


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
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.

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