Having been raised as an expat Filipino most of my life, my love of country has always been a little detached. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when my parents relocated back to the Philippines, that I really got to know my country of birth and cultural heritage. Initially I kept comparing everything to Mexico and the Mexican culture I grew up with, until I landed in a language class called “Filipino for Foreigners” at the international school I was enrolled in. (To backtrack a bit, I was not enrolled in any of the local private schools because I did not meet the language requirement for Pilipino and would have been sent back two years!). The teacher looked at me funnily and wondered what I was doing in her class since my passport clearly stated I was Filipino since birth. Imagine my embarrassment and humiliation when my Sri Lankan, Australian, and American classmates could sing the national anthem better than I could and recite the pledge of allegiance without looking at their notes!
My first step of “re-filipinizing” myself was learning the national anthem – not just to pass the class, but to understand the honor and duty due to the flag. It was a long and arduous process that drew out a lot of conflict and identity crisis within me, to the point that when I joined the Model UN as a student delegate, I couldn’t bring myself to be the Philippine Representative, which again earned me strange looks at the Regional Model UN in Singapore.
The turning point for me came in 1986 during the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. Yes, I was there. And never felt prouder to be a Filipino than that moment. I may harbor an inherent fear of crowds that I will never overcome, but those days were different, life-changing and meaningful.
High School years in an international school in the Philippines sparked the national pride within me but not nearly as strong as my university years at the Ateneo de Manila. The confrontation with a pure Filipino student body was a cultural shock to me, let alone the idea of having to take more than one subject in the vernacular. Combined with a deep Jesuit spirituality and strong sense of community service that allowed me to explore my roots at a completely different level, I was inspired to take up the challenge of preferential option for the poor and inculcate the Ateneo motto of being “men and women for others” in my life.
Proud to be an Atenean? Yes.
Proud to be Filipino? Absolutely!
In the years that followed, I left the Philippines again to pursue life abroad and eventually raise my daughter in a multi-cultural setting. As a mother, I became keenly aware of the need to preserve and promote certain cultural traditions that the Filipino community holds near and dear to its heart. I learned from the other families who also struggled to uphold the Filipino values and passed on what I felt were the more important ones to my daughter, which was no easy feat since they sometimes (often) clashed with the German side of the family.
Being in the Asian minority among Europeans can have one of two consequences – either you step over “to the dark side” and turn your back on your heritage (as the case tends to be with many Filipino migrants) or you stand your ground and wave that Filipino flag under everyone else’s nose (which is easy since I am always the shortest one in the room). I took the second option and chose to be a beacon of national and Asian pride. This was my chance to teach others about Asian values and the Asian way, something that found its way into my work and lifestyle. So for the next decade it became a process of standing up to being Asian and being proud of my Filipino heritage regardless of the political turmoil back home. No, I never considered adopting a different citizenship, even for convenience.
As an expat child it was never a problem what to wear or contribute during international fairs, it was always the Philippines by default. This was not the case for my daughter who had to choose between being Filipino or German every year during such fairs. For me as an expat wife the dilemma of being recruited by both the Filipino and German circles also created an identity issue (which I solved by not joining either one!) but remained faithful to my Filipino core.
Then I moved back to the Philippines in June of this year.
The Philippine recent national elections and current administration have cast a blanket of shame that have me re-thinking my national pride. I will always remain loyal to the flag, no doubt about that, but I cannot, for the life of me, bring myself to feel one iota of national pride with the current commander-in-chief. What took me 49 years to achieve has been viciously ruined in less than three months.