A while back I went to a Filipino event at a large Toronto venue. It was an outdoor event and unfortunately it was raining, though luckily the venue had large open air tents to keep the people dry—but for some reason I smelled wet dog.

I was reminded of my youth when I was ashamed of being Filipino.

I was ashamed of the so-called culture that I saw: The worship of a European Jesus irritated me. The accented attempts to sing Western songs made me run—in case friends happen to see me there. So-called ‘traditional’ clothes shamed me as I saw only variations on a European theme. Worship of all things American sickened me.

Was this what it meant to be Filipino? It seemed to me only an imitation of a Spanish or American original. So I became ‘Canadian,’ at least then I didn’t have to imitate, I could be one of the creators.

But that could only last for so long.

I, like most youth, was searching for identity. Sure most just picked one and was done with it, but for some reason I really wanted to discover who and what I was. And being honest in this search, I eventually came to realize that I wasn’t ‘Canadian.’

I remember during my years in Asia I was often told by White travellers, after they finished complaining about some local cultural more that I tried to comprehend, that I should stop defending them. They smiled and said that to them I seemed more Western than Asian. I think they meant it as a complement.

Every time I heard that, and I heard it often, something inside me stirred with annoyance and, to be honest, anger. At the time I was still in the process of waking up to my identity and I didn’t quite understand why I felt that way. Today I see that this was because in their lumping me in with them, they wanted me to deny who I was, and this denial was an insult of the greatest kind.

It may say on my official documents that I am Canadian, but the mirror told me otherwise. When speaking with others I came to see that to be ‘Canadian’ was to accept ‘Canadian’ (i.e. White) values, history, and culture as one’s own—no matter one’s origin. That seemed to me to be disrespectful of those who came before me. And it reminded me of what I so hated about what I saw in mainstream Filipino culture.

And that brought me back to what it meant to be Filipino.

I looked at other cultures and I saw their pride in their history, in their traditions, in their language, and in their culture. What I saw in mine was a people proud of owning American goods, speaking with an ‘American’ accent, singing ‘American’ songs, and (if they’re lucky) having an ‘American’ spouse. I’ve heard other Asians mocking us for this, and it humiliated me because I agreed with them.

And that brings me back to that Filipino event, during that rainy day, next to Lake Ontario, and the smell of wet dog.

I looked around there and I saw men and women in so-called ‘traditional’ Filipino clothing.

I saw young Filipina ‘beauty’ pageant winners who seemed to have been chosen for their pale skin and closest approximation to a European ideal.

MCs proudly introduced a ‘traditional’ band that played ‘traditional’ Filipino songs, with ‘traditional’ instruments that were really Spanish.

On the main stage I heard American power ballads and watched a late middle aged woman, who in her introduction was supposed to introduce us to Filipino rock music, shake her hips in the ‘Elvis’ style and sing American 50s cover songs.  Later a White singer headlined the Filipino event.

I saw brown people fawning over police officer guests (a group of Filipino officers and their white commander). It was the white officer that spoke to tell the audience that they needed more such events to prevent their youth from becoming criminals.

And I heard an individual from a remittance company claim that he was an ‘advocate’ for overseas Filipino workers because he allowed Filipinos to send money to disaster areas without charge (as if to be an advocate didn’t mean advocating for something).

But most of all that rainy evening, I saw a room of wet dogs playing up to their Canadian hosts. And despite the festive atmosphere (I mean who doesn’t love to watch cute dogs do cute tricks?) I kept hoping that the pets would remember their teeth and bite the hand of their master.

I see now that the shame of my youth was borne of an innate feeling that my culture was a defeated one. Defeated by the Spanish, then defeated again by the Americans—who then dug that dagger in deeper and causing more hurt than any normal war loss, by making my people love them.

My shame left me when I realized that this culture of defeat was only in the mainstream Filipino culture, the one put in place by the Americans, and supported by their lapdogs.

Underneath it all, and in the vast majority of the population of the islands, was a greater culture. There was a culture of defiance and pride. One that fought and won against the Spanish, fought—and continued (and continues) to fight despite the odds and great suffering—against the Americans, and one that beat back the Japanese.

Filipinos are not a defeated people. Defeat only occurs when one surrenders, my people are still fighting.

But when I go to these mainstream events, I am reminded of my shame. I am reminded that the ruling powers, and those that wish to ingratiate themselves to them, still embarrass me.

These people believe they have left behind in the shackles of slavery, but gladly carry leashes in their mouths.

Mainstream Filipinos take pride in their mimicry of Whites. They pride themselves in being able to sing their songs like them, tell stories that sound like theirs, wear clothes styled like theirs, and to be able to think like them. They do this to amuse them, and hopefully gain their favour. By making Master smile they hope to be given a treat for a reward.

This all was the source of my shame. Today it is a source of my anger.

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