Contributed by Cesar Mesina
Filipinos are brown. Their color is at the center of human racial strains. This point is not an attempt at racism, but just for many Filipinos to realize that our color should not be a source of or reason for an inferiority complex. While we pine for a fair complexion, white people are religiously tanning themselves, under the sun or artificial light, to approximate the Filipino complexion.
Filipinos are a touching people. We have lots of love and are not afraid to show it. We almost inevitably create human chains with our perennial akbay (putting an arm around another’s shoulder), hawak (hold), yakap (embrace), himas (caressing stroke), kalabit (touching with the tip of the finger), kalong (sitting on someone else’s lap), etc. We are always reaching out, always seeking interconnection.
Filipinos are linguists. Put a Filipino in any city, any town around the world. Give him a few months or even weeks and he will speak the local language there. Filipinos are adept at learning and speaking languages. In fact, it is not uncommon for Filipinos to speak at least three: his own local dialect, Filipino, and English. Of course, a lot speak an added language, be it Chinese, Spanish or, if he works abroad, the language of his host country. In addition, Tagalog is not ‘sexist.’ While many ‘conscious’ and ‘enlightened’ people of today are just by now striving to be ‘politically correct’ with their language and, in the process, bend to absurd depths in coining ‘gender sensitive’ words, Tagalog has, since time immemorial, evolved gender-neutral words like asawa (husband or wife), anak (son or daughter), magulang (father or mother), kapatid (brother or sister), biyenan (father-in-law or mother-in-law) , manugang (son or daughter-in-law), bayani (hero or heroine), etc. Our languages and dialects are advanced and, indeed, sophisticated!
Filipinos are groupists. We love human interaction and company. We always surround ourselves with people and we hover over them, too. According to Dr. Patricia Licuanan, a psychologist from Ateneo and Miriam College , an average Filipino would have and know at least 300 relatives. At work, we live bayanihan (mutual help); at play, we want a kalaro (playmate) more than laruan (toy). At socials, our invitations are open and it is more common even for guests to invite and bring in other guests. In transit, we do not want to be separated from our group. So what do we do when there is no more space in a vehicle? Kalung-kalong! (Sitting on one another). No one would ever suggest splitting a group and wait for another vehicle with more space!
Filipinos are weavers. One look at our baskets, mats, clothes, and other crafts will reveal the skill of the Filipino weaver and his inclination to weaving. This art is a metaphor of the Filipino trait. We are social weavers. We weave theirs into ours that we all become parts of one another. We place a lot of premium on pakikisama (getting along) and pakikipagkapwa (relating). Two of the worst labels, walang pakikipagkapwa (inability to relate), will be avoided by the Filipino at almost any cost. We love to blend and harmonize with people, we like to include them in our ‘tribe,’ our ‘family’- and we like to be included in other people’s families, too. Therefore we call our friend’s mother nanay or mommy; we call a friend’s sister ate (eldest sister), and so on. We even call strangers tia/tita (aunt) or tio/tito (uncle), tatang (grandfather), etc. So extensive is our social openness and interrelations that we have specific title for extended relations like hipag (sister-in-law’s spouse), balae (child-in-law’ s parents), inaanak (godchild), ninong/ninang (godparents) kinakapatid (godparent’s child), etc.
In addition, we have the profound ‘ka’ institution, loosely translated as ‘equal to the same kind’ as in kasama (of the same company), kaisa (of the same cause), kapanalig (of the same belief), etc. In our social fiber, we treat other people as co-equals. Filipinos, because of their social ‘weaving’ traditions, make for excellent team workers.
Filipinos are adventurers. We have a tradition of separation. Our myths and legends speak of heroes and heroines who almost always get separated from their families and loved ones and are taken by circumstances to far-away lands where they find wealth or power. Our Spanish colonial history is filled with separations caused by the reduccion (hamleting), and the forced migration to build towns, churches, fortresses or galleons. American occupation enlarged the space of Filipino wandering, including America , and there is documented evidence of Filipino presence in America as far back as 1587. Now, Filipinos compose the world’s largest population of overseas workers, populating and sometimes ‘threshing’ major capitals, minor towns and even remote villages around the world. Filipino adventurism has made us today’s citizens of the world, bringing the bagoong (salty shrimp paste), pansit (sautéed noodles), siopao (meat-filled dough), kare-kare (peanut-flavored dish), balut (unhatched duck egg), and adobo (meat vinaigrette), including the tabo (ladle) and tsinelas (slippers) all over the world.
Filipinos are excellent at adjustments and improvisation, managing to recreate their home, or to feel at home anywhere.. Filipinos have pakiramdam (deep feeling/discernment ) . We know how to feel what others feel, sometimes even anticipate what they will feel. Being manhid (dense) is one of the worst labels anyone could get and will therefore, avoid at all cost. We know when a guest is hungry though the insistence on being full is assured. We can tell if people are lovers even if they are miles apart. We know if a person is offended though he may purposely smile. We know because we feel. In our pakikipagkapwa (relating), we get not only to wear another man’s shoe but also his heart.
We have a superbly developed and honored gift of discernment, making us excellent leaders, counselors, and go-betweens. Filipinos are very spiritual. We are transcendent. We transcend the physical world, see the unseen and hear the unheard. We have a deep sense of kaba (premonition) and kutob (hunch). A Filipino wife will instinctively feel her husband or child is going astray, whether or not telltale signs present themselves. Filipino spirituality makes him invoke divine presence or intervention at nearly every bend of his journey. Rightly or wrongly, Filipinos are almost always acknowledging, invoking or driving away spirits into and from their lives. Seemingly trivial or even incoherent events can take on spiritual significance and will be given such space or consideration.
The Filipino has a sophisticated, developed pakiramdam. The Filipino, though becoming more and more modern (hence, materialistic) is still very spiritual in essence. This inherent and deep spirituality makes the Filipino, once correctly Christianized, a major exponent of the faith.
Filipinos are timeless. Despite the nearly half-a-millennium encroachment of the western clock into our lives, Filipinos-unless on very formal or official functions-still measure time not with hours and minutes but with feeling. This style is ingrained deep in our psyche. Our time is diffused, not framed. Our appointments are defined by umaga (morning), tanghali ( noon ), hapon (afternoon), or gabi (evening). Our most exact time reference is probably katanghaliang- tapat (high noon), which still allows many minutes of leeway. That is how Filipino meetings and occasions are timed: there is really no definite time. A Filipino event has no clear-cut beginning nor ending. We have a fiesta , but there is visperas (eve), a day after the fiesta is still considered a good time to visit. The Filipino Christmas is not confined to December 25th; it somehow begins months before December and extends up to the first days of January.
Filipinos say good-bye to guests first at the head of the stairs, then down to the descanso (landing), to the entresuelo (mezanine), to the pintuan (doorway), to the trangkahan (gate), and if the departing persons are to take public transportation, up to the bus stop or bus station. In a way, other people’s tardiness and extended stays can really be annoying, but this peculiarity is the same charm of Filipinos who, being governed by timelessness, can show how to find more time to be nice, kind, and accommodating than his prompt and exact brothers elsewhere.
Filipinos are Spaceless. As in the concept of time, the Filipino concept of space is not numerical. We will not usually express expanse of space with miles or kilometers but with feelings in how we say malayo (far)or malapit (near). Alongside with numberlessness, Filipino space is also boundless. Indigenous culture did not divide land into private lots but kept it open for all to partake of its abundance. The Filipino has avidly remained ‘spaceless’ in many ways. The interior of the bahay-kubo (hut) can easily become receiving room, sleeping room, kitchen, dining room, chapel, wake parlor, etc. Depending on the time of the day or the needs of the moment. The same is true with the bahay na bato (stone house). Space just flows into the next space that the divisions between the sala, caida, comedor, or vilada may only be faintly suggested by overhead arches of filigree. In much the same way, Filipino concept of space can be so diffused that one ‘s party may creep into and actually expropriate the street! A family business like a sari-sari store or talyer may extend to the sidewalk and street. Provincial folks dry palayan (rice grain) on the highways!
Religious groups of various persuasions habitually and matter-of-factly commandeer streets for processions and parades. It is not uncommon to close a street to accommodate private functions, Filipinos eat. sleep, chat, socialize, quarrel, even urinate, or nearly everywhere or just anywhere! ‘Spacelessness, ‘ in the face of modern, especially urban life, can be unlawful and may really be counter-productive. On the other hand, Filipino spacelessness, when viewed from his context, is just another manifestation of his spiritually and communal values. Adapted well to today’s context, which may mean unstoppable urbanization, Filipino spacelessness may even be the answer and counter balance to humanity’s greed, selfishness and isolation.
So what makes the Filipino special? Brown, spiritual, timeless, spaceless, linguists, groupists, weavers, adventurers; seldom do all these profound qualities find personification in a people. Filipinos should allow – and should be allowed to contribute their special traits to the world-wide community of men – ah. . . but first, they should know, like & love themselves.