Philippine Daily Inquirer

Who are we?

- mtan@inquirer.com.ph MICHAEL L. TAN

Vibal Publishing is probably better known for its excellent and innovative textbooks. Less known are its Academica Filipina series with intriguing titles: “More Hispanic Than We Admit” (volume 1 already out of print, with a volume 2 out now), “More Tsinoy Than We Admit” (Tsinoy being Chinesefil­ipino), “More Islamic Than We Admit” and “More Pinay Than We Admit.”

Except for the “Pinay” book, which concentrat­es on gender, all the others are useful reads as we ask ourselves: Who are we?

We are still a people in search of ourselves, a relatively young nation going back to our declaratio­n of independen­ce in 1898, with interrupti­ons because of the

American and Japanese colonial occupation­s.

In the 19th century, following European scholars, we thought of our origins mainly in racial terms.

Rizal was among those searching for racial origins, although he was actually quite inclusive when he and others first expropriat­ed the term “filipino” from its original meaning of Spaniards born in the Philippine­s, to apply to more people —Spaniards born in the Philippine­s, Spanish mestizos, Chinese mestizos and, most importantl­y, the indios (“natives,” who formed the majority).

As we fought to regain our independen­ce from the Americans, we began to use identity tags like the “Malay race,” and sometimes even the “Filipino race.” It did not help that H. Otley Beyer, one of the pioneer anthropolo­gists in the Philippine­s, popularize­d a 19th-century theory that talked of waves of migration to the Philippine­s of the Negritos, Indonesian­s and Malays.

It is a theory now debunked, because the archaeolog­ical evidence does not support these so-called migratory waves. The terms used tend to be racial, suggesting Negritos were the first to arrive in the islands, with connotatio­ns of their being the most “primitive,” followed by supposedly more advanced Indonesian­s and Malays. The terms are inaccurate, “Indonesian” being a Western geographer’s name for the region, adopted only later in the 20th century by nationalis­ts creating a new nation.

In more recent times, we have seen the emergence of what is sometimes called ethnonatio­nalism, the creation of some kind of ethnicity (“Filipino”) but often defined as being “anti”: antiameric­an, anti-japanese, anti-chinese.

Let me be clear here: There is good reason to protest against the economic and social injustices propagated by any nationalit­y, whether visiting tourists or big businesses, but we cannot continue to define ourselves in these “anti” terms. That, then, becomes xenophobia or an irrational fear of foreigners. It also becomes scapegoati­ng, blaming all our problems on foreigners.

There have been many instances of this ethnonatio­nalism, from trying to rename the Philippine­s (because we were named after a Spanish king) to purging our Filipino language of any word of foreign vintage, a movement in the 1960s. There have been also all kinds of discrimina­tory laws; for example, it was practicall­y impossible before 1973 for ethnic Chinese, even those born and raised in the Philippine­s, to become Filipino citizens.

Vibal’s publicatio­ns remind us there is so much more to discover and celebrate in what makes the Filipino: a lively, if not sometimes chaotic, blend of cultures that is reflected in the most basic aspects of our lives, such as what we eat, what we wear, even what we think.

Think of the diversity even in terms of religion. As we move toward the 500th anniversar­y of Christiani­ty in the Philippine­s, we might think of that Christiani­ty as Hispanic. And so it is, but we find, too, in this so-called Hispanic religion the imprints of other cultures, including Islam, because Spain was heavily influenced by Islamic culture, particular­ly in architectu­re and music.

I hope Vibal comes up with more volumes in the “more than we admit” series. Might a “More American” volume(s) be in the works? There’s more, too, than World War II if we want a “More Japanese” volume.

Definitely, we need a “More Austronesi­an” title, which could take more than one volume, to understand our being part of an Austronesi­an world—from our precolonia­l past and extending to the present, with affinities to cultures in present-day Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of the Asia-pacific.

A plug to end today’s column: Catch the 2019 Sikat Pinoy National Arts and Crafts Fair on Oct. 24-27 at Megatrade Hall, SM Megamall in Mandaluyon­g. Started a few years ago by Rep. Loren Legarda, the fair is now a big event attracting small- and medium-scale businesses from all over the country. They don’t just sell but project with pride our crafts to help us realize we are more, much more, than we admit!

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