Monday, August 8, 2011

Filipino Culture and Authenticity

Filipino Culture and Authenticity
by Richard Arce Herrera

There seems to be a lot of confusion about Filipino culture and the fact that it's so mixed. But in reality, all cultures are mixed and have influences from other cultures, because human beings are complex and have migrated and expanded, traded, and intermarried with different peoples since the beginning of time. So in the sense that every culture in itself is an amalgamation of a lot of different cultures, it upsets me when Filipinos and non-Filipinos say that Filipino culture is not authentic or bastardized just because it has Spanish, Chinese, and Indian influences in the national culture.

First, let's dissect what the word Filipino means. 'Filipino' is originally a caste term during the Spanish colonial period to refer to Spaniards born in Filipinas (the Spanish and original name for the country now known in English as the Philippines). The native Malays were called Indios, those of Spanish-Malay descent called Mestizos, those of Chinese descent called Sangleys, those of Chinese-Malay descent called Mestizos de Sangley, and those of Spanish-Chinese-Malay descent called Tornatras. After the revolution against Spain, when Filipinas became it's own country, the word 'Filipino' was appropiated by nationalists to refer to the entire population of the country regardless of race or ethnic background.

At this time in 1898, there were two national languages officialized: Español (Spanish) and the native Malay language of Tagalog, which the government named 'Filipino', essentially sealing the viewpoint for generations to come that anything 'Filipino' should be native Malay in nature and ancestry-wise, which was detrimental in my opinion in retrospect, because that meant that anything that is not "Malay" is not "Filipino", meaning that the Spanish, Chinese, and Indian influences would mistakenly be not considered as "authentically" Filipino, ignoring centuries and centuries of cultural development and influences from the aforementioned cultures. In fact, Filipino is often misused as a racial term in place of Malay, and now means the exact opposite of what it meant a few centuries ago, as it now refers to only those of supposed pure Malay descent. Of course, as it is, the Philippine population, like Latin America and the whole world basically, is mixed, and has been mixed for centuries, and this is historically documented, and evident in our people's faces and family histories and wide range of skin tones and facial features, so the notion that there is such a thing as a "pure Filipino" or a "half Filipino" makes no sense at all if you really think about it.

A Filipino's openness or rejection of the Spanish language or culture of the Philippines often has to do with an individual Filipino's upbringing. For example, if they had a positive experience with the Spanish language growing up and they were encultured into it; their family occasionally spoke to them in Spanish or spoke to each other in Spanish, sang Spanish songs, and had an upbringing where delicadeza reigns supreme in everything you do and say, then they wouldn't be so strongly against it. The same holds true for the Chinese and Indian cultural influences that are part of the national culture of the Philippines.

But if a Filipino perhaps grew up in an entirely different perspective where Spanish wasn't spoken at all, or grew up overseas where the influences are instead American or Australian or British, or just perhaps just had nothing in their immediate lives growing up that would endear them to the culture, then of course it wouldn't have such a positive effect on them today in their lives, and they have no emotional connection to it like other Filipinos, so they don't feel a strong need to incorporate it as part of their lives, and don't feel it's part of their identity, especially since it had very little to do with their own upbringing. But I don't think it's right to say that just because a Filipino speaks Spanish or wants to learn to speak Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, or because a Filipino says that they have Spanish or Chinese ancestry that they're automatically suffering from an identity crisis, like that ridiculous and racist Wikipedia article called "IMSCF Syndrome", that has since been taken down and rightfully so, or are not being authentic to Filipino culture, because what exactly is authentic Filipino culture? It's not just one thing, and it's not the same thing for everybody. And mixed people are exactly that: mixed. Who is anyone to say what a mixed person is supposed to look like? Are all people of European ancestry supposed to look Caucasian?

I also feel that sadly, a lot of Filipinos who have grown up in communities with a racist climate against Filipinos and other people of color have internalized that racism unto themselves, which is why a lot of Filipinos tend to lack a lot of pride in their culture, and tend to view it with shame, which then affects their own self-esteem in general, which is a shame in and of itself. Of course, internalized racism and racism itself are not uncommon phenomenons, but it doesn't make it them any less noteworthy or important as they're still issues that plague the world that we live in to this day in 2011.

A culture is the amalgamation of its history, there is no one single influence to any culture in the world, and the same thing can certainly be said about the Filipino culture. This is something that needs to be taught to Filipinos so they don't feel like their culture is not authentic or bastardized because it has Spanish, Chinese, and Indian influences like many unfortunate young Filipinos do.

A lot of different worlds in the Philippines (and among Filipinos overseas) exist side by side with each other, and they cross paths, but they're not always from the same place. What is right for one Filipino is not necessarily right for another, because not everybody always has the same upbringing or views on things in life, even those among the same culture. In conclusion, there really isn't just one single Filipino identity. I believe people should be able choose what they want to do in their life and have the freedom to carve their own identity.

I also believe that while it's good to be educated about and have a positive view of your own culture and country, nationalism in itself is detrimental to all human beings, because in the end, we are all essentially just that, human beings, and all essentially part of just one race, the human race.

(C)opyright 2011 by Richard Arce Herrera

Images are courtesy of New York University's Sheer Realities Exhibition.


john arthur said...

there are lots of things to cater about filipino cultures..this page is amazing!

Mané said...

Hola Richard, me gustaria contactar contigo para ver si me puedes ayudar en una traducción de una canción que tengo en tagalo
Muchas gracias de antemano y un abrazo desde España.

Mané said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Martinez said...

It is true that Filipino Culture is mixed with a lot of cultures coming form its past ancestors but lets not take away the fact that these cultures are obtained and highly maintained for the past decades. We as being Filipinos standardize and live well it's true essence even being colonized by other countries. Even so, we must live, act, and contribute to the preservation of our ancestral treasure which is our culture.
- Timothy Jake D. Martinez, Contributor at