Welcome to June’s #TrailingSpouseStories. This month we explore our national identity and how it shows in our day-to-day expat life. We also reflect on how our itinerant life has influenced the expression of our national identity and how we feel about it.
Last week I had a friend over. We’ve been friends since the 6th grade, sharing the same middle class, Catholic school girl, college graduate and working professionals backgrounds. We’ve gone separate ways as she left the Philippines for New York City, while I stayed behind, then later on left the country for Dubai and the US.
Here we were again, catching up in person after years of sustaining our tried and tested friendship via online channels. Apart from the usual girl talk and I-can’t-believe-we’re-all-grown up stories, the expat life crept into the conversation often, an exchange of notes on the variety of experiences in the big city and the suburbs and in different countries.
Though we’ve been away from our countries for so long, we both were still unabashedly Filipino, holding Philippine passports. We ate Filipino food often (Homemade sisig was our 1st meal) and, sadly, cannot survive too long without white rice. We read, spoke and wrote the language. We shared our expat lives with fellow Filipinos: family, roommates, friends.
But we were definitely not the same Filipinos that we were back home.
We were removed from our comfort zones, our middle class bubble and thrown into the world, where our lives are meshed with people who are not of our own, whether Filipino or not. We’ve learned that, despite the progress in these modern times, we grew up in such a class-driven society, limiting our interactions with people of like upbringing.
Living abroad has been the great equalizer. College graduates from the likes of prestigious University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle University, and high ranking professionals have found themselves taking orders from diners, bussing tables, becoming nannies, working behind the grocery counters or even housewives like myself, professions that would’ve been frowned upon for people with an expensive diploma. Despite the differences in pasts, we are all Filipinos, struggling to make a living, working towards our dreams, whether for ourselves or for people back home.
Survival has brought out the best and worst in us. Yes, we are branded, desired and lauded as hard workers – adaptable, smart, professional. But we’ve also heard behind-the-scenes stories about family members and friends duping each other or fighting over money, highly paid professionals drowning in debt just to paint the pretty picture of the prosperous overseas life we all grew up with for people back home, continuing to save face, others caught up with the neverending telenovela inspired drama of their relationships, others continue to practice “Filipino time”, constantly late for everything (maybe except for work) and more.
We thought that being abroad would make us “better”, shedding off old habits and replacing them with the new ones we’ve been exposed to. But old Filipino habits die hard; maybe these even live on forever through generations. This is part of who we are, who I am, ingrained in every fiber of my being. It is a reflection of hundreds of years of history and culture, which I can never undo. I still have my share Filipino blunders, but it is what it is.
So what is the better and improved Filipino 2.0?
In as much as I’d like to introduce the Filipino 2.0 for all, I believe that we each have a different vision of it. It is as unique as each of our 7,107 islands, of our population of millions. This is my personal vision for Filipino 2.0.
Filipino 2.0 is a confident individual. She recognizes her strengths and plays to it. She knows herself so well that she is not compelled to save face or keep up with the Juans. Nevermind that she has flaws and failures because she accepts these wholeheartedly.
Filipino 2.0 is open to constructive criticism. She has shed off her being “pikon” (i.e. touchy) because she knows this will lead nowhere.
Filipino 2.0 chooses her battles. She knows she does not live inside a telenovela, so she makes it a point stay away from the drama when unnecassary. As any true New Yorker would say “I don’t have time for this s**t” Because we all have better use for our precious time.
Speaking of time, Filipino 2.0 respects time, hers and others’. She believes that there is no such thing as Filipino time because there is only one time – being on time.
Filipino 2.0 is not afraid of mistakes. She is not afraid to show her scars, whether those made by her or inflicted by others, because these are her lessons, part of what has made her who she is today. She works hard to move forward, grow from these mistakes and avoid the of asininity of mistake repetition.
Filipino 2.0 has a sense of adventure. She is not afraid to push the boundaries of comfort zones. She is more than willing to try an unknown cuisine, visit a new place, understand another religion, get to know another gender, another race. She knows how these would expand her mind and heart to the beauty of difference and the surprise of similarity.
Filipino 2.0 understands the reason behind stereotypes. She believes that these views are based on personal individual experiences and should not be taken personally.
Filipino 2.0 is financially literate. She is not afraid to talk about money – how to earn it, how to save, how to grow it and how to spend it – because it is a fact of life, which she enters into with a clear mind and a disciplined heart.
Filipino 2.0 speaks the native language and passes it on to the next generation. Because she believes that English, though considered the language of the educated, the ruling class and the cool, knowing Filipino is even cooler.
Filipino 2.0 values history and cultural lessons. She pays attention, listens and reads because she believes that it is key to understanding herself and her people. She knows that it is her duty to properly and correctly shed light about her country to others.
Filipino 2.0 is not afraid to say “No”. Because she knows that it’s not just “Yes” that will open doors for her, but “no” can also give her better opportunities.
We were still the same girls, our pasts unchanged. And yet, our displacement has given us a chance to HOPEFULLY better Filipinos with a renewed sense of identity, rediscovering our roots one page at a time. Filipino 2.0 is a neverending work in progress. I hope that I’d live to see the day that we truly are better.
What is your Filipino 2.0?
Check out other #TrailingSpouseStories in this month’s blog crawl:
Clara of The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide says that although she has travelled extensively all her life and lived in many different countries, she has never felt anything but British through and through in Why I Have Always Felt British All My Expat Life.
Didi of D for Delicious discovered that when she lived outside the Philippines, she learned to embrace the entirety of her Filipino-ness – the good, the bad and the ugly in #TrailingSpouseStories: Embracing Filipino version 2.0.