An identity, independently!

by Evans Yonson

In a gathering of foreign students here in Spain, I once heard a young Filipina university graduate say that the Filipinos don’t have an identity that can be called unique or one-of-a-kind. I was completely appalled by the way she said that line with great confidence and conviction. Later that night, it made me think and I asked myself, “is it really true that I don’t have that Filipino identity?”

What is an identity? How does one create an identity? How about a national collective identity?

Long before the Spaniards rediscovered the islands collectively now known as the Philippines, the natives were already trading with China and other nearby countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. We already had a language then. We may have not worn what they called decent clothings then but we already had a political system. We travelled between islands in our balanghais. Islam was already practiced in urban centers like Manila while the rest of the country was animist.

We have a very colorful history from the pre-colonial period came our writing system, our languages can be traced back to Formosa, to the arrival of the conquistadores in 1521 with the cross and the swords, then the British came albeit for a short time, then the Americans in 1898 with their schools and their democratic form of government, then Japanese occupation with the Mickey Mouse money,  the post-World War II period, the Martial Law years, then the post-EDSA revolution, then tobacco government, then showbiz government, then fraudulent government, and the present 21st century. And because ours is an archipelago, local legends, our folklore and tales, songs, dances, music, food, taste, and even our sense of being is different from one another.  We have national heroes but we also have local heroes that people from the other islands may not have known or heard of. We belong to the ring of fire. We are a people with a strong tradition of migration. We move a lot. We assimilate easily. We are warm. We can speak and adapt the local language immediately wherever we may be in this world.

No two persons are the same. Not even twins. In difference we find the unique and true identity of what it takes to be a Filipino in the modern times.

I am brown. My sister’s fair. My grandfather has a prominent nose. I don’t have it. My cousins are petite. We are tall. I am loud. My brothers are not. Jeans and a cotton shirt are fine with me. My bestfriends go for more. I hear mass religiously. My bestfriends don’t. I have stopped smoking. My friends are getting more sick every year. I move a lot. My neighbors don’t. I speak Binisaya-Cagayan de Oro branch. My bestfriend speaks Ilokano with an Itawis accent. I love fish cooked in vinegar. My superfriends go for the medium-rare beef steak. I take less photographs of myself. But my friends do more. I always run in the rain. My friends find it funny. I love Italian films. They don’t.

It is in this indifference that we find our own unique identity. As a nation, we are a microcosm of the bigger world out there. We may be different but we are the same in more ways than we could ever think about. The world has broken down its barriers and everyone has become a citizen of the world without losing his/her own identity as a person belonging to a certain region/continent/country.

We stand proud when we hear the Philippine National Anthem. We nod at each other in the streets even though we are all strangers to each other. We party a lot. We sing videoke/karaoke at the slightest chance of provocation. We cook spaghetti or pancit every year to celebrate our birthday. We always bring home pasalubong. We are warm. We welcome strangers to our homes during fiestas. We adore Manny Pacquiao. We easily forget when others wronged us.

In a group of foreign nationals, the difference is easily lost when one gets the feeling of acceptance and understanding. How is it more different among fellow nationals? Is it really hard to see an identity in numerous similarities?

I am a Filipino, unique and beautiful, no matter what they tell me. I have an identity. I can distinguish myself amidst a crowd of foreign nationals. I can stand proud to say that we are so different in our country. But the realization of this difference leads to an identity that is truly Filipino.

Malipayong Adlaw sa Kagawasan alang sa Tanang Filipino! Happy Independence Day to all Filipinos!