I think I was in the fourth grade when my teacher gave us this exercise, “Draw a Filipino house.”
Right away, I started drawing a bahay kubo fronting a ricefield, a Mayon Volcanoesque rendition of a mountain range on the background, and the picture completed with the ubiquitous carabao parked on what would be, technically, the carabao-port
I was going to this exclusive Catholic school for boys. Matriculation meant that we were all coming from, at least, upper middle class families. But as my teacher would later point out, just about everyone in class had drawn more or less the same picture as mine.
Why? We were all Filipinos. We lived in Filipino houses. Did anyone of us live in a bahay kubo?
“Anyone?” the teacher asked. No one raised his hand.
This was my rude introduction to social studies. As my teacher would go on to lecture, by the fourth grade, and in an exclusive school at that, we were all already miseducated. And not just from school, but from society as a whole.
Ferdinand Majellan did not discover the Philippines. These islands were already inhabited. People of color aren’t allowed to discover things?
Mercator maps are not accurate. It is Eurocentric, drawn by a German cartographer, primarily for European ships to get proper bearings. It is not drawn to exact scale. Southern countries look smaller in Mercator maps.
The Philippines is nowhere near the far-east. From whose perspective is the far-east “far”?
It was one of those radical eye-opening lectures that would stick with me my entire life. And ironically, I got the lesson in a traditional Catholic school run still at the time by Spanish priests.
Much later on in life, I found myself working for a Swedish boss. Nice, very polite chap. He co-owned a production house with his Filipina wife. Being the in-house editor for the company, it was not unusual for me to pull three-day non-stop stretches. “Non-stop” almost literally means just that. I get three hour sleep breaks, around 5 am to 8 am once every 24 hours. And no, there is not enough time to go home. I even time my bathroom breaks so that, at least, the computer is rendering.
My Swedish boss, out of a polite need to stay in the trenches with me, would try to stay awake and keep me company while I worked. He usually gives up after Conan O’Brien. One of my monitors has cable, a minor perk, given the tediousness of my work.
On one of those crack-of-dawn all-nighters, my boss finally commented, if we Filipinos were willing to work so hard, and he wasn’t just talking about me but the rest of our crew as well, he really just doesn’t get why the Philippines is so poor.
Sweden is almost identical in land area as the Philippines with very harsh winters, he points out. And yet Sweden is the second richest country in the world per capita. Clearly, he thought the comment through.
I quickly blamed over-population, Metro Manila alone outnumber the entire population of Sweden. He nodded in agreement.
“But population is not necessarily a negative. Human resource is capital.”
I was stumped. Clearly it was something else. Finally, the grade 4 lecture came back to me. It was our mentality. We are the products of our miseducation. Over three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule, four years of Japanese Imperial occupation, and about a hundred years of Hollywood, and we are all convinced, we are worth less than anyone with fairer skin than ours.
A Swedish boy, growing up, would ambition to top Bill Gates. Subconsciously, Filipinos would be very happy to be Bill’s assistant. Our collective psyche is damaged.
I am witness to the resilience of the Filipino. Driving through Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales, I have seen farmers re-plant rice-fields two days after being devastated by a storm for the second time in the last three weeks.
We do not cry. We will not die.
But give the same Filipino some comfort, and he is lost. It is almost as if, he accidently stumbled upon his colonial master’s private quarters. It comes from the very same place, I believe, where crab mentality is deeply rooted. There is an ugly part in us that do not believe we deserve a better life. And so we sabotage our chance for success and that of our fellow Filipinos.
Beer commercials do not help. That you’ve made an extra five-hundred pesos over budget is not enough reason to celebrate. Aim a little higher.
And what about Charice? What about Lea? Are they good because we think they are good, or are they good because they’ve earned the approval of Oprah and Broadway? Didn’t Charice lose in a local contest? And Lea, perfect pitch and all, lost in the sea of non-talents in “That’s Entertainment”?
Just a few decades ago, while we were busy aping spaghetti westerns, Hongkong was making their own spaghetti easterns – low budget martial arts movies so bad that it was unintentionally funny.
Oh, we were good. Way better than Hongkong. We had cowboys down to the last detail. Even the bad guys were completely convincing in their black hats and trench-coats. Imagine trench-coats in the heat and humidity of the Philippine countryside.
But fast-forward to the present, and even Hollywood is now adapting Hongkong style fight sequences. The Chinese just believed in themselves, when no one else would. The rest of the world just needed to catch up.
More recently, Bollywood dance sequences is gaining ground and slowly winning the same kind of worldwide recognition. Of course, we Pinoys do not want to get too far ahead of this curve. We wait for Hollywood to embrace Bollywood totally. Only then do we conclude, finally, it is not baduy.
And where are we in all of this? Right now, we are remaking Koreanovelas and feeding the same inferiority complex we grew up with to the next generation.