Monday, July 9, 2012

Disconnect between old and young

Celebrating Philippine Independence Day in Toronto, or perhaps elsewhere in today’s Filipino diaspora, brings about an obvious disconnect between two main groups in our immigrant Filipino community: the older and traditional groups, led and composed by and large of the older and more established folks, on one hand, and the more engaged and activist-oriented youth, on the other. The focus and way of celebrating Philippine independence by these two groups are quite asymmetrical, although not necessarily opposed to each other. They’re not opposed in the sense that neither one aims to spoil or junk the other.
Diwa ng Kasarinlan (Spirit of Independence) 2012, an alternative celebration
by Anakbayan Toronto on July 7, 2012 at the Ryerson University Students
Union. To see more about the event, click  link to Anakbayan Toronto FB page,

At the forefront of this group of elders is the Philippine Independence Day Celebration (PIDC), an umbrella of Filipino community organizations dedicated to the commemoration of Philippine Independence Day every year. PIDC is also holding the Mabuhay Festival and Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on July 28. Hosting the annual Pistahan sa Toronto which is the focal point of the celebration of Independence Day is the Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT), another organization led by community elders and successful Filipino professionals.

This more traditional group—first-generation immigrants who brought the values and traditions they learned while growing up in the Philippines—focuses their celebration of Independence Day around the idea of festivals and merry-making. These festivals have their root in the native town fiesta, complete with the Santacruzan, singing and dance contests, beauty pageants, and even a parade of lechons (roasted pigs). While they usually start their celebration with the raising of the Philippine flag at the Nathan Phillips Square, this only visual and perhaps relevant connection to Independence Day is fleeting and easily drowned by the festive atmosphere that surrounds the presentation of beauty queens, the song and dance performances, and most importantly, by a gala celebration where the movers and shakers of the community are invited and honoured. By day’s end, everything about the significance of independence is only a distant memory; nothing much remembered and learned, except for a superficial recollection of the gowns and attire worn by the gala celebrants.

Even the Santacruzan, which has a deeply religious and historical meaning to Filipinos back home, is somehow scandalized by the emphasis of the organizers on the beauty queens that make up the parade. Otherwise known as “Flores de Mayo,” (Flowers of May), the Santacruzan celebrates the finding of the Cross and in many Philippine towns, this event is celebrated with praying of the rosary, offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary, sharing of homemade delicacies and treats, and welcoming the rains that will water the new crops. But in cosmopolitan Toronto, the older leaders of the Filipino diaspora have transformed it into something akin to a bacchanalian festivity, minus the drunken revelry.

On the other hand, the other group composed of young people and mostly university students, who came to Canada with their parents when they were very young or those born and bred in Canada, points their celebration of Philippine independence to a continuing struggle for national self-determination. To them, independence has not been fully achieved because the Philippines is not yet fully free from American control and influence. Protest against the traditional celebration of Philippine Independence Day runs deep in these young people’s minds as they offer an alternative form of memorial. ANAKBAYAN Toronto represents this militant group that seeks to achieve true national liberation for their motherland.

This group’s celebration of the spirit of independence, Diwa ng Kasarinlan, coincides with the founding of the Katipunan which led the Philippine revolution against colonial Spain on July 7, 1896, instead of the ceremonial independence day of June 12, 1898. Disenchantment typifies the ambience of their celebration, as they conduct workshops to discuss the history of our heroes’ struggle, particularly about the engagement of Filipino youth revolutionaries during the Spanish colonial period. Their riveting performances of songs, whether hip-hop, rap or jazz, and spoken word all invoke their collective angst toward their adopted community and the Philippine society back home. Their spare but powerful dances portray their pride in their heritage and culture and the drama of the ongoing struggle for liberation of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines. Their music not only utilizes digital technology but also traditional Filipino instruments such as the kulintang.

Set against each other, both groups’ celebrations are equally entertaining but the younger group adds a feature with a more lasting impact: not only is the presentation highly informative, it also raises the participants’ awareness of the significance of the event they are celebrating. Both utilize artistic and talented performers but the younger group features home-grown talents who are also intellectually grounded on the issues their performances harp on, so unlike the washed-up entertainers or stars from the past imported by the older group from the Philippines. Thus, while the older group’s celebration puts the accent on the superficial, the younger group focuses on relevance and substance.

Why the big disconnect?

The youth and students comprising the more activist-oriented group are all descended from immigrant parents who have likewise undergone the immigrant’s experience of displacement and loss sometime in their earlier years in Canada. Somehow the same tensions, ambiguities of desire, contradictions and struggles that typify the immigrant experience would have been expected to be transferred on the young, yet the quest of the young for their genuine identity and cultural affinity with their parents’ land of birth seems so far off. Why they would begin questioning the traditions and values that previously gave order and meaning to their immigrant parents’ lives is rather perplexing than what could be most naturally expected from immigrants’ children, particularly with Filipino children who are normally raised under strict rules of parenting.

It is quite plausible to understand that when immigrants leave one place for another, they find themselves dislocated not only in terms of space but also in terms of meaning, time, and values. Early on, they may find their past not so easily accessible and their future uncertain. Inevitably, tensions between the old world and the new build up. As immigrant parents continue to struggle in their newly adopted home, they gradually reconnect with their past by bringing in some facets of their culture that could soothe their feelings of nostalgia. But for the most part, they have become selective, allowing them to be pulled backward toward the values of the past that they deem practical, safe or convenient, such as beauty pageants or music festivals that are largely entertaining, ascribing to these festive activities a simulacra of the culture they left behind.

But the children are pulled differently, much forward into the dynamic vortex of the larger society they have become a part of. Most of the time, they abstain from participating in their parents’ celebrations of culture. After all, culture is more than the way immigrants do things, dress or eat. It is also more than art, ritual or language. It encompasses beliefs and systems of meaning that create community, dignify individual lives and make them significant. These children are looking for more than what their parents’ notion of culture can give, something more than Filipino dishes or festivals can offer. This search for identity beyond their parents’ traditional culture has created a schism between them, a search for answers that cannot be found at home.

So these children embrace an activist orientation which, to their parents, unfortunately, denotes something negative and destructive. This orientation provides them with a way of organizing their world perspective and realizing their full dignity, thanks to the freedom they have, but which now stirs them to question why people in their homeland have no access to the same type of freedom. Although militant and confrontational, these young people take the burning issues of the day seriously as distinguished from the hands-off attitude of their elders.

They would question and oppose American intervention in the affairs of their native land, or why the Philippine government continues to allow the U.S. military to conduct military exercises on Philippine soil and waters when these are obviously not to defend Filipino interests. They would demand that the U.S. stop making the terrorist wars in Mindanao as a laboratory in preparing their troops for military offensives in the Middle East and everywhere the U.S. government sends  its troops in the guise of waging a war against terror and restoring democracy. They would expose the mining practices of Canadian companies in the Philippines that harm the lives of the folks living in the mining grounds: the adverse health effects of mining operations on their environment, particularly on the water they drink, and the human rights abuses committed by paramilitary groups employed by these mining companies when people protest to seek redress for their grievances.
Cultural groups in the Philippines performed a series of street plays to commemorate
the founding of the Katipunan which led the Philippine revolution of 1896. Photo
courtesy of
Not many of their elders would agree to the demands of these young people and the manner by which they show their discontent. Most of the parents reject their children’s activism and militancy, and that contradiction permeates the gaping divide between the old and the young in the Filipino diaspora in Toronto.

Perhaps, this is the easiest way to understand the schisms between immigrant parents and their children, the gaps that divide generations. However, the divide between these aforementioned older and younger groups is not simply a generational or a cultural gap. These immigrant parents left the Philippines to find a better place for their children to grow and fulfill their dreams, and some were also fed up with the socio-political and economic system they left behind. It is the great tidal pull of a better homeland that motivated these parents and, for the sake of their children, further boosted their belief that immigration was the best decision they made. But their immigrant struggles have also dulled any residue of anger and hopes they nursed before, making them seek simpler and safer entertainment forms from their culture at home, a balm for their longings and despair. Rather than venting their rage against the inequalities and discrimination they have experienced in the workplace in their adopted country, the older generation has chosen to silently seek refuge in the trappings that a materialist society can offer: abundant feasts, the garish display of clothes, possessions, and entertainment.

We should not fault the immigrant parents for their decision to come to Canada. In the same vein, however, we should also not blame their children for taking up an activist stance in trying to shape their true identity as Filipinos, as opposed to what their parents have traditionally accepted. A happy medium could be struck by reconciling our youth’s struggle for identity and their continuing aspiration for a genuinely free and independent homeland with their immigrant parents’ hopeless resignation to the old ways of the past. And the recent Diwa ng Kasarinlan 2012 has shown the way: there is room for optimism that this ideal balance is achievable.

This reconciliation can be realized faster if only Filipino immigrant parents would fully embrace the causes of their children, for the future rightfully belongs to them. And it is only in pushing and driving our children to actively engage in the larger political arena, whether here or at home, can we be assured that the future is within their reach.

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