|Philippine President Noynoy Aquino III|
An opinion piece by Bing Mesias
Who is a Filipino? Or rather, what is a Filipino?
Time and again, I have always wondered what makes the Filipino tick. He is an enigma to me, a study in contrast! He is a very interesting product of the East and the West - but neither that of the West nor completely of the East either.
Very prayerful, an out-and-out optimist, he believes that somewhere up there Someone takes care of him. So "bahala na" - he leaves everything to Him, never mind about tomorrow. Didn't that Someone say that He takes care even of the birds in the sky? So why not him when he is a man of so much faith? Oh, how he can philosophise, the Filipino! And yes, suffice it to say that because he believes "He" will take charge anyway, he doesn't believe in saving for the rainy day. And so he throws everything away in fiestas, splurges in birthdays and weddings and spends his last cent on a whim of the moment. God will provide!
And so it was that once in the past, I cautioned a neighbor- an ageing man who constantly ran errands for me in my farm, that the radio said there would be an El Nino ( a long drought) so it would be best for him not to gamble his last sack of corn seeds and fertilizer by planting. Seeds and fertilizer were hard to come by- he had to take a loan with a very high interest for them. To my chagrin however, he did plant. And when I chided him for it, he pointed to the sky and said, " It's Him who knows and decides, those agriculturists who predicted the drought are just men like me.
"Just men..." a thought that I carried even in my sleep. What if the rains wouldn't come? What if... so many "ifs" that I asked myself as everyday I would look at the sky for the smallest chance of a cloud that would bring rain to the village. Reason prevailed over my faith which was as small as a mustard seed anyway because I thought I was smart, because I was university schooled, because I believed in science and he only had faith - a farmer who never went beyond Grade 2.
But what could I say to him? Who was I to contradict that much trust that he showed and which I sorely lacked? Especially because yes, the following months truly showed that He up there alone decides, because He gave the village so much rain that made the flowers bloom and the birds to sing - and the farmers a very bountiful harvest not seen in so many years.
Oh, me and my little faith! But he never gloated nor said "I told you so, Inday". He just gave me a sack of sweet potatoes instead and everyday sang with the neighbors at sundown as they downed the usual Red Horse in rowdy camaraderie.
But what if it did happen- the El Nino? This Filipino will just shrug his shoulders, give a wry smile and say "God will provide. He always did, He always does."
He is prayerful, the Filipino. And yet he carries with him, despite his very deep Catholic faith, the old East as he makes the sign of the cross when he crosses a stream, murmurs "paraan po" ( I'll pass please) as he treads ever so gently the grounds where a huge balete tree grew, or returns to the house despite a pressing errand because he met a black cat on the way. A black butterfly? That surely is a bad omen, no doubt about it as he rushes to say a few words of prayer before his altar to please make his family and friends safe.
Generous to a fault and oh, so hospitable, the Filipino would give his last meal to a stranger and say "no, we still have plenty" although he has just whispered to his son to run to the nearest small-time store for a can of sardines because there's none left in the pot for the rest of the family anymore. So giving, so cheerful, so happy even in the midst of adversity all it needs is a guitar and a bottle of Red Horse before this group of men bursts into a medley. To a stranger, the boisterous laughter accompanying the songs can be grating to the ears but ask the singers - "It made our day!"
Yes, the Filipino loves to sing, and how! Singing goes with being happy and being forever the optimist. Singing is almost everywhere - in the "harana" (serenade) of old, in wakes, in birthdays and in weddings - name the occasion, there's sure to be lots of singing. Every village has its own Mario Lanza, a city its many Charisse and Sarah and Lea, and I can't help but compare how in many parties that I have attended, the Filipinos always shine in songs while the Whites just politely nod in rythm as they hold their drinks. No, they can follow the melody but though they would love to sing, the songs alas, don't love them- no pun intended. Which is a polite way of saying that they simply don't have the voice for singing that the Filipinos almost always have- no offense meant now. Just look everywhere - in almost every corner of the world a Filipino shines on stage, belting a song. There's our Lea Salonga, our Charisse, a Jessica, a..... Okay, okay, Jessica may not be a pure Filipino (if there is ever such a thing as a pure one) but mustn't we crow with so much pride and point to the fact that in the world- renowned "Miss Saigon" that toured theaters around the world, Filipinos dominated the stage? Be it in London, in New York and everywhere else where the opera was shown, the Filipinos were there. Now, point to me an opera where the roles were dominated so completely by just one nationality. It's the Filipinos, that's who!
Ah, happy people that many foreigners I met truly wonder about in awe. "They are so poor but they are always happy, ever so smiling!" they say again and again. It seems as if no adversity like a flood, a fire or a destructive typhoon can destroy the Filipinos' fighting spirit. They fall, but laugh and rise again. You hear the laughter as a walking house passes by - turns out the "bayanihan spirit" is so alive and well as brawny and not so very brawny men carry a house on their shoulders to a new site to accommodate a neighbor.
Thus far I see the Filipino in his shining moments which are a-plenty. But what of his flaws? Ah yes, the flaws!
No one tops the Filipino as a "Usi"- an usisero. There's no word to completely define the trait but let me put it this way. "Everybody's business is his business" in contrast to the westerns who mind their own affairs. So trust a Filipino to be where he shouldn't be- at a crime scene, an accident, or just plainly eavesdropping at a whispered conversation about the latest scandal in town. He knows who the pregnant daughter is even if the girl's parents think that she hasn't a boyfriend yet. And remember the infamous Luneta hostage - taking where some Chinese nationals died? It was a circus as footage of it appeared on TV. Men, women and children were there to watch the negotiation and one young man on a treetop was even grazed by a stray bullet fired by the police. He was there with all the rest, there where they shouldn't be in the first place.
He is so trusting to the point of naivete- so gullible he is very easily fooled. He is too generous for comfort when he should love himself first before he loves others, especially the white whom he idolizes because all whites are " GI Joes." Very often called the "little brown American ," he apes the Westerners in their songs, their clothes, their ways, and spends so much time and money for skin whitening and nose lifting to be just like them. He winces seeing his flat nose on the mirror, despises his chocolate brown skin and asks " WHY?"
I can go on and on about him but I would run out of space now. So what is a Filipino? Who is he - he who is a product of the marriage between the East and the West?
He defies reason and logic- the Filipino. He is one of a kind. And this I'll say of him- he is one I can truly relate with. Because I think there's no one like him. He is awesome! He is great!
And know what? Warts and all, flat nose and chocolate-brown skin, this I'm proud to say - "I AM A FILIPINO!"
(Editor's note: Bing Mesias is a resident writer of Filipino Radio Brisbane with special interests in Filipino society and identity. Your reaction about this article is appreciated through the comments link below.)