I am a Filipino.
But, what does that really mean to me?
I mean, on the surface, I am Filipino. I was born in the Philippines to a middle-class upbringing, and I speak the standardized variety of Tagalog that is Filipino, which I guess makes me Filipino.
But in many ways, I can’t really say that I am Filipino. I speak English as a first language, having been brought up by my parents in an English-first manner, not speaking Tagalog or Filipino until I was well into my primary school years; I am definitely more comfortable expressing myself in English, even with the occasional desire to code-switch as a bilingual person.
I am sometimes more familiar with American pop culture than I am of my own country’s: in my teenage years, I even, shamefully, went to the extent of denigrating it, denying that it was worth consuming.
Does that make me any less Filipino?
Maybe being Filipino means grappling with these internal contradictions. Maybe, at this junction of history, being Filipino means fighting against the still extant demons of our colonial past: fighting the urge to put Other Cultures onto pedestals and to be ashamed of one’s own.
I was born privileged, and was fortunate to grow up privileged, to be able to consume media and pop culture from across the seas – before the Internet was a thing, there was cable TV, and what a thing it was.
I was never aware of the 80s love teams of Aga and Janice, or of Lotlot and Monching, until they entered the periphery of my awareness well into the 90s; I had never really watched a Pinoy movie until I was in my college years.
But then, in my recent excursion into OPM, I realized something. I wanted to share what I found delightful and interesting music, and a chunk of that was OPM.
And I realized that not everything I grew up with was other, not Filipino.
In so many ways, everything about us Filipinos is assimilation and adaptation. It is taking what others have, and repurposing it for our use. And you forget that what we have is uniquely ours, filtered through our own experiences as a people.
That in trying to explain Migraine by Moonstar88, you realize that there’s certain nuances in the lyrics that translate poorly into English.
In being an expatriate, I now understand how much I am now a representative of my own nation, however strange that seems. That there is a yearning to share and understand what makes me Filipino.
August is Buwan ng Wika in the Philippines – a month in celebration of the Filipino language. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’ll try my hand at writing a post here in Filipino – something I’ve not done ever: the last time I had to write anything resembling an essay in Filipino was back in college, but maybe it’ll be worth it.
Wish me luck.