Wexistential Crises, Wayward Thoughts, Welcome Distractions and Willful Pursuits

100% mongrel and 100% Filipino

with one comment

Bayo asked, I answered.

I am the product of centuries of my archipelago’s exposure to foreign influences. I have a Spanish friar, a Chinese pirate, a Muslim prince, and an assortment of Indios Bravos in my family tree. I am conversant in Filipino but English is my first language. I do not subscribe to many so-called traditional Filipino values. I am a voracious consumer of western popular culture. My world view is heavily influenced by my travels around the world. I have had all the opportunities to leave the Philippines but I choose to stay. I feel like I have a stake in this country and I feel an affinity for my countrymen, however different I am from what might be considered the “typical” Filipino. The desire to serve my country has always been the driving force behind all my academic and professional pursuits. I continue to do my part in nation building. I am Filipino and who I am cannot be quantified in neat percentages.

The controversial ad

I think maybe Bayo was trying to make some kind of statement about celebrating racial/ethnic diversity (e.g. Benetton, Uniqlo) but failed because the copy was so terribly written. (I mean, really. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” while “its” is a possessive pronoun. So much for being world class. Bayo does not have a fighting chance in the world arena of copywriting.) If that was their intention, Bayo should’ve done away with the notion percentages and just said, whatever your mix is, you are 100% Filipino. Filipinos come in all colors, shapes, and sizes and the “mixing and matching” of cultures throughout our history makes us eclectic and interesting and unique.

I think it’s poor taste to equate the intermingling of races with the pairing of plains with prints, but I don’t have a problem with the notion of mixing and matching per se. I’d argue that the process of mixing and matching various foreign influences is precisely what makes Filipinos who they are. Some of our countrymen seem preoccupied with returning to the “uncorrupted” or “original” Filipino. The implication is the more we return to what is native and the more we abolish what is foreign, the more truly Filipino we become. To loosely quote Nick Joaquin, is culture simple addition and identity subtraction? Remove all the imposed layers and we’ll end up with the basic and true Filipino identity?

I had a short exchange about this with my former history department chair.


Of course, we should not condone poor taste, but isn’t the notion of racial or ethnic purity — whether one celebrates it, promotes it, defends it or simply gets defensive with it — the sort of thing that motivates Nazis and other would-be ethnic cleansers (?). I mean, is there even such a thing as a pure Filipino? Or a pure American or Indian for that matter? Most nations today are ethnic mosaics cobbled together by history. The chief architect of Filipino nationalism, Jose Rizal was a Tagalog – Chinese mestizo who in the course of his rather short and intellectually frenzied life learned to love and express himself in Spanish and German. One cannot imagine somebody more “mixed” than this one, although he did label himself “Indio puro”. The BAYO ad may have been in bad taste, but let’s be mindful too of the dangerous notions hiding beneath the surface of our day-to-day utterances


Most of the reactions I saw didn’t have anything to do with racial or ethnic purity. It was the way the ad was worded, which made it sound like a Filipino necessarily needed to be infused with foreign blood to be someone/produce something of value.


That’s the problem, Ice. The implied desirability of foreign mixing need not have been so offensive if people did not subscribe to notions of purity and instead embraced their own hybridity.


I don’t think it’s the implied desirability of foreign mixing per se that (some) people found offensive. I think what’s problematic is the notion that hybridity equals superiority, i.e. the greater the “percentage” of your foreign ethnicity the better you are vis a vis someone whose mix is “more Filipino.” Most of us are hybrids, some are more hybrid than others, but the greater hybrids are not better than the lesser hybrids.


Once we celebrate hybridity — to make it the starting point of all our identity projects — the controversy ought to lose steam. Talk of percentages (which is also implicit in your notion of being “more” or “less” hybrid) necessarily imply an idealized purity, 50% as quantity logically presupposes the existence of 100% (or 10% or 20%, and so on…). I think we simply should define our Filipino-ness in terms of an irreducible hybridity, and look to everyone else in similar terms.


I don’t think the notion of being “more” or “less” hybrid necessarily implies an idealized purity, at least not from a genetic standpoint. Genetic analysis can trace the geographic ancestry of a person and the degree of ancestry from the different regions of the world. (So I guess Bayo could’ve employed the use of percentages if they’d hired a geneticist to analyze their model’s DNA.) Some people are more hybrid than others, i.e. some people’s genetic heritage is more diverse than others. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. But of course one’s “Filipino-ness” is much more than one’s genetic makeup.

The first Filipinos weren’t even natives. The Creole (Philippine-born Spaniards) delegates to the Cortes, were the first to call themselves Filipinos. Though they were Spanish by blood, their affinity was to the islands, and they fought in the Cortes for what they thought was in the best interest of the archipelago and its people, both Creoles and natives. Once the idea had spread, the Creoles could no longer keep it to themselves. The Tagalog and the Pampango barons began appropriating the term Filipino for themselves. Now we’re all Filipinos.

Mainstream history doesn’t acknowledge the process that made the Filipino; it assumes the Filipino was always there. But he wasn’t, he was a product of the 16th and 17th centuries, a product of colonization. Given the diverse regional identities that make up the Philippines, it’s a marvel that we identify as one people. What do we have in common to unite us? How do you explain how we went from warring pagan tribes to a Filipino people fighting for its nationhood? The nation is an imagined community. It was the waves of colonization that forged us into one nation. We are the product of our experiences. The Filipino identity was (and continues to be) shaped by historical forces and Filipino culture is the unique way that we Filipinos have interpreted and combined our various influences and applied them to our lives.


One Response

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  1. Dear Aissa,

    Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Shelley Tuazon Guyton, and I am independently conducting a research project on social media and national identity in the Philippines. Through this research, I hope to analyze the many ways Filipinos envision themselves as a nation. This project is affiliated with the Anthropology Department at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; and, it is funded by the Fulbright Program for mutual understanding between nations.

    I enjoyed reading this post (and your other posts about Filipino identity and culture), and I find your blog relevant to my project. I would be grateful if you would consider participating in a short online survey. The survey takes about 5-7 minutes to complete. Your input would help me very much with my research. You may access the survey online here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CXLZQG8

    Please feel free to direct any questions you might have to my email, shelley[dot]guyton[at]gmail[dot]com. Also, you can find my bio and additional information about this project on my LinkedIn profile: ph.linkedin.com/in/shelleyguyton . Thank you again for your time, and your interesting blogs!

    Shelley Tuazon Guyton

    Shelley Guyton

    May 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm

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