By KERRY TINGA
What makes us Filipino? There are so many ways to answer that loaded question, and there is no better day to reflect and ponder on the essence of the Filipino than today, June 12.
When we celebrate our Independence Day, we celebrate the first of many moments in our history when the Filipino fought for country and culture against colonizers and oppressive regimes. There were the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese, and even factions within ourselves who had forgotten our place in the world. What our history has shown the world is that at every hardship and threat the Filipino faces, we unite and stand our ground to proudly wave the flag first unfurled 122 years ago today.
So what now, with an even subtler force, an unseen invader, that preys on the most vulnerable in our community and disrupts our way of life? There are so many things that rush through our heads as we come to terms with the battle we are facing as a country.
We need to take the time to properly mourn for our lost brothers and sisters, helping each other process this collective grief over the undeserved loss of Filipinos to this heartless force.
But we also need to persevere in the same way we always have, remembering to place the Filipino at the core of our mission. This crisis gives ys an opportunity to remind ourselves why our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers, and so on going back at least 122 years, have always fought to have our country and our culture back in the hands of the Filipino, to rediscover our pride in country and countrymen.
What makes us Filipino? An intricately woven tapestry of centuries of history, the culture of over 7,107 (now 7,641) islands, the hundreds of lyrical languages spoken, and the voices of more than 103 million people make a collective identity that is “Filipino.”
We know that we are Filipino not because we tick boxes off a checklist as an individual, but rather because we know deep in our hearts that we are part of the whole that is more than just the sum of its parts. Each of us is connected with each other, the inner-city businessman, the provincial farmer, the seaside fisherman, the indigenous weaver, the kind nurse, the hopeful student, the OFW, the wise nun, the learned Imam, the Philippine revolutionary, the war veteran, and so on. That is why we so often call people we meet for the first time Ate, Kuya, Tito, Tita, Lolo, Lola, or Anak.
There are no other people in the world who can compete with the emotional connection and empathy we have for each other. We literally call the entire country our family.
When we are threatened, particularly with a phantom menace like the one we are facing on unconventional battlegrounds today, we must be resolute in our belief that the Filipino spirit will somehow prevail. It can sometimes be hard to see how in the midst of it all. I am sure when my grandfather tells me stories of the war, and my parents’ stories of People Power, at the time it was hard to believe how soon it would become a story to tell, a story we lived to tell. But even we, the Filipino youth of today, realize we are living through monumental times and use our platforms and privilege to actively participate in nation building and recovery the best we can.
What makes us Filipino? It is a question that is answered not by words but by action. Because even as we are all enduring setbacks and hardships as individuals during these trying times, we instinctively seek out ways to support each other so we can come together to overcome this.
If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us, as it barred us from the rest of the world, that this is our place, that there is no country other than the Philippines in which we can shelter against a ubiquitous virus.
If anything positive emerges out of this cataclysmic times, it is our realization of our responsibility toward each other. In this country, as in other countries, no one is safe, unless we all are. It has also made us come face to face with our responsibility toward our planet, but it is in the here and now, on our street, in our neighborhood, in our city, in our province, in either Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao, in our country that we can personally make the most difference.
So yes, Filipino first, through this pandemic and beyond. It is in the Philippines, as Filipinos, and together, not apart, as a collective, not as individuals, that we can rise in the world of nations.
Support our entrepreneurs and businesses, rediscover the country when travel resumes, immerse yourself in local arts and culture, read the works of Filipino writers, learn our history even when you are not in the classroom, and engage in dialogue with other Filipinos to have a better understanding of our collective identity. Beyond this day, celebrate our independence and what it means to be Filipino.