Social Issues

(Not) Proud to be Pinoy

“Proud to be Pinoy”.

We hear this slogan all the time. The media brandishes it whenever Manny Pacquiao wins yet another boxing match, often against a Black or Latin American opponent. Or when anyone with the smallest fraction of Filipino blood in him or her makes it in Hollywood. Or when a Filipino domestic worker, seaman, or nurse overseas does Something Good.

I’ve never really bought this. It sounds like a wartime propaganda, similar to The Third Reich or Asia for Asians. It reeks of naïve nationalism. Because, really, is being Pinoy something to be proud of? Can anyone be proud of something that he was simply born into?

I find this rhetoric inconsistent. On one hand, it celebrates Filipino talent. On the other, it implies that Filipino talent is worth celebrating only when put side by side foreign ones, as if the foreign standard is the ultimate standard of excellence. So, this idea of national pride is nothing more than colonial mentality, just made more palatable for the times.

If this pervasive Proud to be Pinoy rhetoric reveals anything, it’s our collective insecurity. We feel that we are not good enough by ourselves, so we need to always compare ourselves with other countries. It’s as if we are in a contest in which we always lose. So whenever Manny Pacquiao wins a fight or a Filipino becomes famous in Hollywood or wins a beauty pageant, we scramble to our feet and crow at the whole world, We did it! We did it! We are quick to claim the glory of the individual as the glory of the nation as well, as if the country of origin is the sine qua non of the victory, when the truth is, it has not the smallest grain of relevance at all.

The concept of national pride, in itself, should not go unchecked. There is a vein of national pride that pervades mass media now which bears undercurrents of ethnocentrism. Notice how features on Philippine arts and tradition, such as those in newsmagazines the likes of Balitang K and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, never end without the reporter pontificating on how the subject reflects a particular Filipino characteristic. A story on parols, or traditional Filipino Christmas lanterns, for example, would say that the craft speaks of Filipinos’ “likas na pagkamalikhain”, or inherent creativity.

This argument sounds faulty to me. “Likas” implies the trait as naturally occurring; something a person is born with. Psychologists today are still caught in nature-or-nurture debate over creativity in a person. But creativity as a characteristic of a culture can never be said likas or natural, because in the first place, culture is not natural. It is a collective behavior of a group of people, borne out of their interaction with their physical- both natural and human-made – environment.

The problem is not improper use of words alone. These stories are often framed as to convey that Filipinos have certain qualities which are uniquely our own, hospitality and strong family ties being the frequent examples used. This is another flawed argument because hospitality and strong family ties are qualities that are present in many cultures around the world. They are not, contrary to what circulates in mass media and schools, the monopoly of Filipinos.

I understand these are well-meaning contribution of the mass media in the building of national consciousness, a project in which images and symbols are potent vectors. But then again, we should not lose sight of bigger values like diversity and equality. Naïve nationalism gives way to racism and ethnocentrism. And that is already the case now: Filipinos never run out of epithets and stereotypes for Muslims and foreigners, especially those with dark skin. For a nation that takes pride in itself as a melting pot of cultures, such cultural myopia is hardly a desirable attitude.

Naive nationalism gives way to racism and ethnocentrism. And that is already the case now: Filipinos never run out of epithets and stereotypes for Muslims and foreigners, especially those with dark skin. For a nation that takes pride in itself as a melting pot of cultures, such cultural myopia is hardly a desirable attitude.

The concept of the national pride might have been a strong social binder during the early days of the republic but globalization has proven it narrow. What we should adapt is a perspective that is wider than nationalism. We should start thinking of ourselves not only as Filipinos but as humans as well.

To think of ourselves as humans is to assert in our selves the values which we share with the rest of humanity. Freedom, happiness, creativity, love, equal opportunity are just some of the aspirations of every human being today regardless of country.

This sounds a no-brainer, but why are there people who treat others less than human? Some months ago, the news reported about a house helper whose employers – a middle-aged couple – pressed a flat iron on her face, leaving it deformed. It has also been reported that the employers forced her to eat cockroaches. The helper and her employers are all Filipinos.

Meanwhile, we continue to hear stories about cases of human trafficking, extrajudicial killings, and other forms of human rights violations happening all over the world. Should we stop caring about the victims simply because they are of different nationality?

The truth is, national pride has very little relevance in the day-to-day life of Filipinos. When you come right down to it, the struggles and aspirations of every Filipino is not at all different from anyone anywhere in the world.

Jose Rizal was among the first intellectuals to uphold common human values. In his writings, Rizal would always emphasize that no race is better or lesser than the other, that no one holds monopoly over excellent qualities. The imperfections of both Filipino and Spanish characters Rizal laid bare in his novels, never reserving criticism for a single ethnicity in favor of the other. He was criticizing a culture, a mindset, a power structure, not a race.

Rizal never called for the separation of the Philippines from Spain, a stand which Andres Bonifacio and other revolutionaries held. He instead advocated for equal rights – political, economic, and cultural – between Filipinos and Spaniards. After all, there were Spaniards who were born and raised in the colony. Jose Rizal was perhaps envisioning a multicultural society in the Philippines.

Centuries of conditioning with the idea that we are an inferior people would probably also take time to purge ourselves of. And we tend to think that puffing ourselves with such rhetorics would do the job. I don’t think it would. It would only confound our identity crisis. It is like a woman who cakes her face with heavy makeup like a Beijing opera actor when she is already beautiful with just her clean face.

Why should we be proud to be Filipino? It’s not enough to say we produced a Jose Rizal or a Manny Pacquiao or a Leah Salonga. Or say that we accommodate our guests very well, our family ties are strong, or we bounce back from defeat easily. Because these are universals and are not at all unique to us Filipinos. Instead of pride, what we should strive for is human dignity.

Being a Filipino is neither something to be proud of nor to be ashamed of. It simply is.