FILIPINOS have a love-hate relationship with their countrymen in other climes. It’s a relationship defined by class boundaries, in that most Filipinos love them while some don’t, and even despise them.

Those professionals and middle class folk — including, perhaps especially, journalists still with enough brains to think about such matters — who’ve either decided to stick it out in this country despite the political instability, economic stagnation, and the chaos of daily existence; or who have no choice but to stay, are more likely to thumb their noses at their fellow professionals who’re residents or citizens in other countries.

Poorer folk are less concerned with professionals abroad. They’re more aware and appreciative of the OFW phenomenon, many of them being likely to have a relative looking after someone else’s children in Singapore or Hong Kong whom they openly envy, or to at least have heard of someone who has such kin, who, during their visits to the Philippines, bear goodies like CD players and TV sets, or the money with which to buy them.

But those on either side of the class divide do share at least one thing: they tend towards the generalizations many Filipinos routinely make about themselves and each other (Filipinos are a religious people. Filipinos love to sing. Filipinos are peace-loving. Etc., etc.)

It’s common for editorial writers and columnists — the presumptive elite of the journalism world — to put down immigrants in general as people who’re merely after more money and who couldn’t care less about the country of their birth. Some immigrants do fall in that category. But the generalization forgets that others are driven by a quest for the order and predictability that the Philippines lacks, or by the limited opportunities for employment and social mobility in their country of origin.

OFWs are on the other hand officially the country’s heroes by virtue of the billions of dollars in annual remittances they send that help keep the economy going. They’re also the people who lend the desperate the money they need to keep their children in school, or who contribute the money that build basketball courts — or, who, by simply spending money in the communities, help boost the local economy.

Inevitable that these two views of a continuing and ever growing phenomenon should clash, and that the clash should express itself in a debate over “Filipino-ness.”

There’s the view that anyone who’s decided to move to another country, and that includes their children, no longer has any claim to being Filipino. The argument is that, having abandoned the country of their birth and pledged loyalty to another, they’ve lost the right to even complain about how the country’s being run, much less participate in the effort to change it.

On the other hand, there’s the view that they’re all Filipino nevertheless, and their progeny equally Filipino, residence or citizenship in another country being a mere formality. It’s a belief lived in practice among some immigrants who speak a Philippine language with each other and the children, observe the Philippine holidays, and teach their children such traditions of the home country as kissing the hand of older folk. At the core of either view are certain assumptions about who or what is the Filipino.

GMA-7 TV’s Arnold Clavio defined being Filipino in a recent on-the-air rant against the Philippine Football Team Azkals in terms of being “kayumanggi,” or brown-skinned. TV host Clavio’s contention was that, for the fairness of their skins, the bi-racial members of the team, two of whom have been accused of sexual harassment, are only pretending to be Filipino.

The rant was relatively rare, more praise rather than criticism being heaped on the Azkals, for, among other reasons, certain of its members’ being mestizo, or of mixed blood, fairness being such a premium in the Philippines there’s a whole industry devoted to whitening skin in these isles of contradictions. But as rare as it was, it also demonstrated the secret contempt with which, in certain middle class circles, the bi-racial or even multi-racial Filipino, the inevitable result of migration and intermarriage, is held. Clavio’s rant predictably provoked accusations of racism.

Filipino racism is among the bizarre offspring of the colonial experience. Many Filipinos stereotype and ridicule the darker-hued. Students from Africa, for example, complain about being subjected to racial slurs, usually by ordinary folk including their fellow students in the schools they attend. The other side of this racist coin is the affirmation that being brown-skinned puts one in a category superior to darker people, though a notch or two below whites. But Clavio went a step further: brown’s not only fine, it’s also better than fair.

And yet being Filipino is hardly determined by “brownness,” millions of Filipino men and women whether at home or abroad being multi-hued as well as multi-cultural. Among those known as “Filipino Americans” (note the absence of a hyphen) in the United States, for example, are Filipinos of Chinese, Japanese, (Asian) Indian, and Spanish origins, among others, of which varieties of nationals the Philippines, from La Union to Jolo, has plenty.

Neither is brownness uniquely Filipino, that attribute being shared across the planet among many races. Centuries of interaction with other countries and cultures have changed the definition of “Filipino-ness” from that of “being brown,” which might have served during less cosmopolitan and more parochial times, to something far more complex.

Though its bases are historical and unalterable, “Filipino-ness” is at the same time a continuing process, a work in progress shaped by, among other factors, the continuing Filipino interface with the many cultures and nations all over the planet.

It’s a truth Philippine media practitioners and journalists must recognize and understand, but usually don’t, despite their perennial lip service to the “global Filipino,” and their celebration of the triumphs of Filipinos of mixed parentage in beauty contests, or in theater, academia, music, film, business, medicine and the sciences in their countries of residence or citizenship abroad. Primarily it’s because too many media people have neither the interest, curiosity nor intellectual drive to examine issues other than what’s currently in the news or in fashion, which they usually look at superficially, anyway.

“Filipino-ness” in the time of globalization is among those phenomena Filipinos themselves must intelligently address. The media must help them do so, but are failing to provide the information, and much less the insight, they need.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter. Some parts of this column are adapted from the author’s piece, “Hyphenated, ” in the CMFR In Medias Res blog.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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