Friday, July 4, 2014

What is Filipino?

A friend I met during the Pinoy Fiesta & Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last June 28 shared with me an interesting story about this Canadian whom he invited to the same event last year. After watching with quite subdued interest the song-and-dance routines of young Filipino talents on stage, and of course, the highlight of the event, the Santacruzan, a parade of beauty queens from across the ages (from Miss Little Philippines to Miss Philippines to Mrs. Philippines), his Canadian friend asked him: So, what is Filipino here?
Naturally my friend was surprised for he didn’t have an appropriate response to his friend’s question. This Canadian interloper, if we can call him that for being a stranger to our so-called traditional festivals, thought he would have a front-seat lesson in understanding our culture. To his amazement, he was clueless and didn’t have a faint idea of what he was watching. True enough, it had the atmosphere of an extravaganza, but emptied of the variety of cultures and ethnicities of similar festivals he had watched and participated in before, either here in Toronto or during his travels abroad.

Pinoy Fiesta & Trade Show, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 2014.
Even the food didn’t appeal to him as very inviting. He even heard people complaining about how expensive the food was. He thought of the Mexican migas he ate while visiting the town of Tepito in Mexico. Migas was a simple dish of garlic soup thickened with sliced day-old bolillos, left-over bread baked in a stone oven, and flavoured with pork shanks, ham bones, epazote (an herb native to southern Mexico), oregano and different types of chilies. A raw egg is usually added to each plate when served. It has become a very popular dish in fondas around downtown Mexico City. As simple as the migas is, it reminded him of Mexican culture, of the succulent food and other dishes Mexicans like to eat, which he was looking to sample during the Pinoy Fiesta.
My friend thought of the pondahan that we have back home, but the food there would not be as great compared to what his Canadian friend had experienced in Mexico. All he could offer his friend was a taste of Max’s Chicken, but even this fried bird was not an authentic Filipino dish.
If this was the best the organizers of the Pinoy Fiesta & Trade Show could offer as some glimpse into Philippine culture but enough to leave a lasting imprint of our DNA, then the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF) is on the wrong side of history. The PCCF, led by the first Filipino senator in the Canadian parliament and his self-promoting and public attention-starved wife, is indeed a sad example of a community organization that will never help Filipinos in Canada break the glass barrier. Not even as a vehicle for promoting Filipino unity as their own festival was conceived to rival the original Mabuhay Festival, yet another example of a poorly-conceived effort to promote Filipino culture in the diaspora.
Year after year, the PCCF and other like Filipino community organizations stage their annual festivals right after the celebration of Philippine Independence Day. One would think such festivals would enrich and promote Filipino culture, customs and traditions so that non-Filipinos here in Canada would appreciate our rich heritage. But every year their template for celebration of our culture has not changed. It is the same, old, and worn out variety shows which most of us have grown accustomed to from the old days of vaudeville or “bodabil” entertainment in the Philippines since the coming of the Americans.
The formula for these so-called community leaders is simple: invite a few entertainment personalities from back home, introduce some up-and-coming young local talents, and hold a beauty pageant show. Then gather some local businesses to exhibit their products and services in booths that will generate revenues for the organizers. Finally, invite some friendly federal members of parliament and local elected officials to drop by and endorse the celebration and don’t forget to ask them to exhort the dependable and hospitable character of Filipinos, which will guarantee them some votes during elections.
Somewhat lost in the din of the Pinoy Fiesta last Saturday was an exhibit of T’boli arts and crafts, like bead-based jewellery, handcrafted ladies’ bags and purses, and indigenous musical instruments such as the wood two-stringed lute called hegelung. A local arts collective in Toronto invited some members of the T’boli indigenous tribe from Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, to showcase their handiwork, the reason why they were participating in the fiesta. We were told that they also performed their native musical instruments during one of their engagements which we missed. The aesthetic beauty of the T’boli people reflected well in their arts, crafts and music. At least to us, the rowdier and more popular Santacruzan parade that went by the T’boli booth failed to quiet it down.  
T'boli arts and crafts. Click link to view "Preserving
culture, the T'boli people."
The T’boli booth was Pinoy Fiesta’s saving grace, that in the hubbub of the festivities and despite being relegated to a very inconspicuous spot in the Metro Toronto Convention hall, it stood out as an interesting facet of the Philippines’ ancestral roots which are currently being destroyed by the market economy and foreign mining companies. They do not represent today’s image and culture of lowland Filipinos but their continuing struggle to live by their ancestral lands and indigenous culture only shows how much our native traditions have survived the inroads of time and progress.
This is not to suggest that we should only showcase our past. But there is something in our connection to the past that makes the present more interesting. Our historical links to our ancestral traditions make our culture more alluring not just because they are exotic to the eyes, but more so because they bring our distant past to the present, that we have our native traditions and customs even before we were colonized by the West.

This is why the celebration of our home country’s Independence Day and other so-called fiestas lacks any meaningful substance or content which our children who were born and raised abroad and non-Filipinos can understand and appreciate. Filipinos here in Toronto or most probably elsewhere in the diaspora, lack a sense of history. There is so much in our past that we should celebrate and share with the rest of the world, yet we insist on exhibiting the shallowness of our progress as a people, in rehashing the tricks of a former colonizer to keep its conquered masses in complete obeisance. Yes, still quick to gawp in the pomp and circumstance of parading beauty queens and their ladies-in-waiting. That we could only find delight in what we have become—skin-deep and no deeper—this to us seems to be the final destination in our collective journey.
As a people, we tend to give less importance to our past and a minor role for history in our lives as a community. Every race, or nation for that matter, is a work in progress. We would not be where we are now if not for our cultural past.
We have many remarkable achievements, but only individually. Our fashion designers and models are on demand, just as our song-and dance-talents, musicians and artists have been competing with the best in the business. The same goes with our athletes, our boxing champions of the world. Our children can also compete with the best students in foreign schools of higher learning.
Yet, as a society, we continue to lag behind. The leaders we select to run our government are some of the most inept and corrupt in the world. There is little empowerment that our chosen leaders allow the common masses, that the people in general are not harnessed in the shaping and making of public policies and programs. It is the elite that continue to determine the progress of our society, and in all probability, only what is good for them becomes the full yardstick of public and private intentions.
We carry this kind of mentality when we live overseas. The people we entrust to lead our communities are the mirror image of leaders at home. What is good for this few people is good for everybody, so it seems.
If the objective of the Pinoy Fiesta & Trade Show and other like Filipino festivals is to ensure the self-promotion of their leaders and in providing them a venue to grab the mike and hug the stage in order to satisfy their insatiable desire for attention, then probably the fault is also in our community for allowing them the opportunity. It’s also just a waste of time and newspaper space that one Filipino so-called journalist in the community devotes so much of his energy in mudslinging and destroying the personalities behind these festivals, rather than criticizing their celebrations for lack of content and historical and cultural relevance to our collective identity as Filipinos.
The next time your Canadian friends ask you what or where is the Filipino in our fiestas and other celebrations, tell them that the Filipino has been lost on the way here. Filipinos abroad are a lost soul, wandering in their new surroundings without a sense of history and oblivious of their origins.

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