I’ve always felt extremely fortunate that I was born into a family that had already established itself abroad. I always knew from a very young age that I would not completely grow up in the Philippines, and for that I have always been grateful especially knowing how hard life can be there. What I am even more thankful for is the fact that I spent my formative years in the Philippines in a somewhat provincial setting that allowed me to witness the real, true reality of this country.
Speaking with friends, even family, who have only merely visited the Philippines, I find that there is this misconception of what the country is. American Born Filipinos (ABFs), those who have never lived through what their parents’ or grandparents’ have seen, frankly have no clue what it is like there. I sometimes hear them utter stereotypes, especially for places they’ve never seen.
Most of the time it’s about Manila:
Manila is dirty and all of the bad stuff happens there.
I wouldn’t visit Manila unless I had a death wish.
Sometimes it’s about the provinces:
Everyone is poor.
Everyone is a farmer.
It is soooo ghetto!
I guess it is just human nature to generalize something we’ve only slightly wiped our hands over. I guess it’s fair for someone stepping foot in the Philippines for the first time to be stunned by the great contradictions that live in this country. You’ve got your fast-paced, higher class, higher everything part of the Philippines and then there’s the [stereotypical] “retro,” “dirty,” “slum-dog,” “country” Philippines. Either way, I find them both to be beautiful and representative of the Filipino spirit in its essence — completely aware and driven to be more than where and what they came from.
For me, where I came from wasn’t necessarily difficult but I did see it firsthand. I saw the older women down the hills who were struggling with selling their crops. I saw street children taking their breaks from selling goods and playing at the communal water pumps while I crossed the street in my school uniform. I heard the pan de sal man every morning urging people to buy from him as I sat in the back of the car waiting for our driver to take my brother, cousin, and I to wherever we needed to be. My family, although I thought we still didn’t have a lot, was privileged.
Still, with that privilege, I learned to never feel entitled. I was whipped into shape by my parents whenever I exuded that kind of “spoiled brat” attitude. As much as I was afforded “the good life,” as my Dad puts it, that lifestyle was from hard work that is a complete contrast to the easy-going life we had in the Philippines. My father, his entire family, worked hard from the distance. They lived in apartments so we could live in houses. They halted their schooling and went to work so we could become educated. It was an insult to him and everyone in my family to feel entitled. We were supposed to learn to work hard also. We weren’t supposed to feel like luxury was just a fact of life.
It irks me to hear ABFs talk about vacationing in the Philippines and saying how much they’d only go to “Americanized Philippines” because “it’s cleaner” or that they “trust it more.” It’s the same feeling of entitlement that I have spent all my life trying to steer clear from. Sure, you’re entitled to treat yourself and find a place to stay that is to your standard. I’ll give you that. But it’s the ABFs who tell me that they are going to the Philippines to experience the culture for the first time that frustrates me most. They claim to want to become in touch, yet they want to stay away from the realities of Philippines — the increasingly large wealth inequality, the massive number of displaced people, the (simply put) hard life. You can’t expect to understand where you come from if you choose to ignore its truths.
Maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on ABFs. Maybe I’m just being too harsh because, to this very day, I call the Philippines home. But, when someone talks about where you come from and tries to tear down your home with their misguided views on what it actually is, you fight for it. You can’t put a place so rich in history and culture in a box. You can’t stereotype, essentially, who you are. You have to let go of what you think is true and search for the real truth altogether.