Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Yes, we can wow the world 14

Posted on April 26, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Consider that almost nine million Filipinos are now living abroad in practically every continent, in every region under every climate known to man, and under different types of political systems. Filipinos have invested their lives, established residence, intermarried with locals, begotten children, put up businesses and built futures in different countries and cultures all over the world. And more will be doing so.

There are more Filipinos living outside the Philippines than all of the people in New Zealand. The number of overseas Filipinos equals half of Australia’s population. It is not hard to imagine that our recent history of massive diaspora should have made some kind of impact on the different cultures of the world.

The Chinese, for example, have made their presence felt in many countries not only through its citizens, but through Chinese restaurants, temples, religion, culture and the numerous Chinatowns that can be found in most great cities. The Indians, on the other hand, have spread their arts, places of worship, food and Bollywood movies which have become recognized, enjoyed and admired everywhere.

But what do we Filipinos have to show for ourselves?

While it seems we may have settled outside our homeland in quieter ways than the Chinese, Indians, Americans and Brits, I am sure that we are also somehow impacting on the world.

Take the world maritime industry. The best, most plentiful and in-demand seamen in the world are our kababayan. Through the years, we have built our reputation in this field, and the world has recognized our competence. Also, consider that during the 1950s and 1960s, many Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians and Iranians were studying architecture, engineering and other professional courses in Manila. It is also a little known secret that the banking industry in Indonesia was professionalized by Filipino expats during the ‘70s.  One only needs to go to these countries to see how well they have learned their lessons. In fact, they learned it so well they have outpaced us in many ways.

In many parts in Asia, the best musicians are Filipinos. Take a look at the nightspots and symphony orchestras in our neighboring countries and you’ll find our kababayan ranked among the best.

In world events, it is hard to imagine that despite our severely flawed politics, our people power experience in 1986 became the template for countries like East Germany, Romania, Ukraine, etc. that moved out of dictatorship into democracy.

But one really has to wonder why it is that despite our numerical presence in many countries, our influence is not as overt as that of other nationalities. There is a dearth of things Filipino anywhere outside the Philippines, such as clear cultural influences, save for a few restaurants, and the crowds of kababayan who get together on Sundays in places where there are Filipino Masses, and Statue Square in Hong Kong that make our presence noticeable.

I venture to say that we have not contributed to the world the stuff that speaks of who we really are. Sure, we have shared our brawn, brains and technology, but we have not given of ourselves except what we have learned from other cultures. We pride ourselves in speaking English well. We have sent our teachers, doctors, nurses, our best and brightest, to other countries and they have done us proud with the universally applicable knowledge they have mastered.

In effect, we have adapted well and blended with different cultures. But we have not, in any big, concerted way like other peoples have done, shared our own original music, cuisine, books and ideas, movies, dances, and our stories for them world to assimilate, enjoy and learn from. When we think of Japan, China, Africa and America, for example, we are bombarded with visual themes that speak of what their people and culture are like. But rarely has the world seen the true face of the Filipino.

When we migrate to any place, we like to blend in quietly, to fit in without fuss and to be “one of them.” That’s not bad in itself. In fact, one can say this formula has worked for us most of the time.

But if we want to move out of the limited image the world has of us, including the derogatory ones like “mail-order brides,” domestic helpers, “Japayuki,” corrupt people, dog-eaters, the “sick man of Asia” and other unsavory epithets, we may have to speak louder and tell our stories with our own voice and walk with a little more swagger and assertiveness.

After all, we do have movies that have won in film festivals all over the world. We do have first-class performers, sportsmen and talents in every field. If we were computers, the Filipino as “hardware” is certainly more than capable. It is our software (culture) that we need to tweak and make available for free download for the world to appreciate.

By “software,” I mean all the good things our culture can offer to the world. All we need is to look at what are  good about us and present these in a bigger way than we normally do. Years ago, the King of Thailand decided to open the palace kitchen and share the official royal recipes with his people, thus setting the national standard that has made Thai cuisine impact on the world in a big way. 

Some of the things Filipino we have wowed the world with tell a lot about who we are as a people — our folk dances through the Bayanihan Dance Company, people power, OPM, the countless choirs that win contests every year in Europe, our cuisine, our hospitality.

But before we can share more of these and become a major cultural force in the world, there is something that we must do: we have to believe in ourselves. We must believe that we have something to share, as other cultures have. We can’t show our stuff to the world if we have not learned to take pride in ourselves.

For starters, we have to be more accepting of who we are as we are. We need not seek approval from others. We must stop bad-mouthing ourselves and our culture, and accept that there is greatness in us. No more bashing ourselves and doubting our capabilities. Let’s start dreaming big. We CAN do it.

Nine million Filipinos abroad have shown their resilience, persistence and determination competing in the even playing fields of the world, and many have won! We just have to apply the same winning attitude in asserting ourselves and showing the world our uniqueness. It’s time to give our bigger contribution to the world which may turn out to be more valuable than our skills and talents, and this our Filipino-ness.

Nick Joaquin liked to chide us Pinoys for our preference for and obsession with small things. An example is we cut our provinces and cities into smaller parts each time they become economically successful. It’s time to think in global terms.

As much as we have been looking outward, let us also look inward and rediscover our literature, music, arts, theater, cuisine, stories, and proudly share these with the rest of the world. We’ve been trying to fit into other cultures for too long. Let us now invite those cultures to our celebration of ourselves.

When we start taking ourselves more seriously, the world will take notice.

* * *

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