Keynote Speech delivered on Saturday, October 27, 2001 at City College of San Francisco in the Conference on "The Filipino Family in the 21st Century: Issues and Challenges"

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Thank you also for being here today. I know many of you would rather sleep late on a Saturday morning like I would.. So I will try my best to make this an interesting talk. I must confess that what I thought would be an easy topic to talk about turned out to be more complicated than I expected.

Bernard Shaw said, "If you cannot get rid of the family skeletons, you may as well make it dance." This morning, let's go back quickly into the past to understand why Filipino families are what they are, and then let's venture into the future to see what we can do as a family for the good of our own families and communities, to learn how to make our own skeletons dance, especially the tinikling.

The Filipino people have a reputation for being cultural hybrids. The population of the Philippines reflects the great variety of external influences which have blended with the original Malay culture: Arabian, Chinese, Indo-Chinese, Hindo-Indonesian, Spanish--Catholic and American-Protestant. Author Tomas Andres writes in Understanding Filipino Values: "The Filipino is the Christian formed by Spain who has a centralized government, the Roman law and Latin alphabet. The Filipino is the Chinese who knows the art of mining, metallurgy gun-powder making, porcelain and pottery production. The Filipino is the American who drinks beer, plays basketball, has democratic temperament and public school system, speaks English, and sees Hollywood films. Yet prior to all these, the Filipino is the Malay who had a village government ruled by oral and written laws promulgated by the datu, recognized a supreme being and lesser deities in his anima-deist religion, used juices, herbs and oils for medicinal purposes and was an expert in carvings and handicrafts. Today the Filipino is the Filipino who is himself a Malay-Indonesian negrito distilled with European and American cultures and races; an individual well gifted in friendship, understanding, letters, arts and sciences, sports and pursuit of excellence; a Christian gentleman; an avid lover of democracy; and a personality gradually discovering his identity." Now do you wonder why the Filipino is so complex? There's more.

Tomas further says that we are ambivalent in our convictions and distrustful of our competence. "The Filipino is Asian by birth and geographic setting but matured within a western matrix." Our value orientation is more outer-directed than inner-directed, he adds. This means that we prefer foreign models to structure our thinking, our management style, our decision making and problem-solving process to establish our confidence and justify our competence. This indicates an inner inferiority complex. This sense of inferiority wrought in the Filipino mind by the Spaniards is the 400-year old suspicion developing into certainty that because one is native and brown and small-nosed and Asian, he is not as good as the white man. Indeed, we carry this mindset when we migrate to America and other countries dominated by the white man.

What other cultural baggage do we bring with us to America? I have listed here several cultural traits taken from the book, The Pinoy Parent by Ting Pantoja-Manalac that I think affect how we raise our children, how these differences may cause gaps in our relationships with them and with others, and how these affect how we progress as a minority community in our adopted country. Many of us are already familiar with these traits out of habit, but perhaps we haven't stepped back to evaluate how they affect our family and community psyches.

Pakikisama is a desire to blend in, to be part of a group, not to buck the existing system but to become part of it. This quality promotes cooperation, and in a family, it can sustain team effort. But it also makes for parents who are conformists, people who prefer not to stand out and to want their children to be like most everyone else. Among young people, the barkada or gang can exert unwanted pressure.

Hiya or shame can be positive or negative. It can be a deterrent to misbehavior because the young person may fear losing face. It can also prevent us from trying to succeed at something because failure is nakakahiya (shameful). Parents who also fear losing face tend to become overprotective of their own image in the community and may put unnecessary pressures on their children as a result.

Tiyaga or perseverance is a virtue in any relationship. There are always obstacles to overcome, and parents who persevere in spite of the obstacles reap the rewards of a better relationship. Sometimes however, too much of a good thing can hamper constructive change. Remember the saying, Kahit hirap na hirap na, nagtiyatiyaga pa rin? (Even how difficult it is, one will still persevere.) It's now the age of reality TV, folks.

Utang ng loob does not usually refer to money or goods, but goes deeper to an intangible quality, a debt of the spirit. We hear people talk grudgingly about other people na "walang utang na loob" (no gratitude). It is a cause for hiya, often a precursor to fights, rarely forgiven if atonement is not made. Parents expect this virtue to somehow be part of their children's nature. But parents must also show gratitude to them for the caring things they do for us.

Ganyan talaga ang buhay (Life is really like that) is fatalism that prevents parents from pursuing their goals in the face of failure, an attitude that almost always rubs off on children who then become willing victims to life's disappointments. Fatalism stunts a child's emotional growth and encourages him/her to settle for less then his/her due. Corollary to this trait is the bahala na attitude. Parents should teach their children how to prioritize rather than procrastinate. Many Filipinos are lackadaisical about producing results, leaving much to chance and the winds of fate. Children tend to take the easy way out anyway, and will not benefit from the bahala na attitude.

Bayanihan, community spirit or togetherness in a family is a good thing. Cohesiveness of a group and team-building are good leadership concepts. The danger is in limiting the child's development as a creative individual, perhaps sacrificing that child's good for the good of the many.

Porma or image is so important in a Filipino family. What the neighbors think. What the barkada will say. Hayop ang dating is something to be admired. What about substance? What about the good qualities inside a person? Our children absorb everything around them, the comments that you make about your friend, the brand name on your jeans, the decision to take a trip abroad even if you cannot afford it.

The bata system is the system of favoritism. Children learn early that being somebody's bata means you get somewhere, whether it's as teacher's pet, political appointee or employee hired because of inside connections. Sometimes it means you don't have to be smart, well educated or efficient, just well-connected. Advocates of this system see it as a lesson in fostering good relationships.

I chose religion as another cultural trait of the Filipino as our faith permeates almost every aspect of our daily lives. Understanding our religious identity is an important step in our children's search for their own personal identity.

Querida system. Some Filipino husbands keep a #2 (and #3 and #4) wife or mistress. Maybe here in America, they stop at #2 because it is very expensive to have others. The younger the better. Men in our culture enjoy greater sexual freedom, and young men learn early to expect tolerance from their girlfriends and then their wives for these so -called indiscretions. Mothers unwittingly perpetuate the practice by advising their daughters and daughter-in-law to ignore the situation since babalik rin iyan sa iyo (he will return to you). Our culture continues to value "machismo" and condone sexist attitudes. We need to be aware of this so we can guard against prejudice to our female children.

I'd like to digress slightly at this juncture to discuss the gender-role expectations in Philippine society. Growing up in the Philippines increased my awareness and sensitivity to the marked biases between sons and daughters. Unfortunately, we bring these notions also with us wherever we go. Femininity in the Filipino context is associated with being mahinhin (modest), pino ang kilos (refined) and mabini (demure), while masculinity is associated with being malakas (strong), matipuno (brawny) and malusog (healthy). The family, being the primary socialization agent, perpetuates this disparity. Filipino fathers and mothers hold themselves up rigidly to societal prescriptions of what is proper maternal (feminine) and paternal (masculine) role and behaviors. Consequently, the children they raise internalize and perpetuate these seld-same expectations. With the bias that women are essentially perceived as wives, mothers and homemakers, the Filipino girl-child is expected to learn to manage a household and fulfill domestic obligations and responsibilities in the future.

Other findings by UNICEF and Ateneo in a study conducted in 1999, "How We Raise Our Daughters and Sons: Child-Rearing and Gender Socialization in the Philippines," revealed the following:
Studies on society's expectations agree that in Filipino culture, women are expected to be the main source of care and nurturance for her children: Men, on the other hand, are expected to be the family's primary source of financial support. .
In general, Filipino parents have expressed preferences for daughter or sons for various reasons. Daughters are preferred to they can help in household chores and provide assistance even when they are already married.
Parents want their daughters to help in the house, be demure, obedient and friendly, while sons are expected to be able to defend themselves in a fight, as well as endure physical pain.
It was found that boys are given more freedom while girls are more restricted in terms of rules for social activities.
Parents are also more permissive towards male children when it comes to handling aggression.
Most parents believe girls can be more easily disciplined, obey more readily, and learn faster from their mistakes.
  There were differences in assigned tasks between genders when it came to housework and economic activities of their parents. Girls' tasks are domestic, indoors and nurturant; boys' tasks require physical strength, father from the home, and hardly any emotional skills.
  It is more acceptable for girls to express her emotions while boys are trained not to cry and to "suffer in silence."
  Both genders agree that being a male in Philippine society means having more privileges, freedom and power.

As parents we should develop an attitude that children should be valued equally, regardless of their gender and functional contributions to the family. Both sons and daughters should be encouraged to aspire for the highest of their potentials in their study, work and abilities. Both mothers and fathers should be role models of nurturance and assertiveness.

For Filipinos, the family remains central throughout life, They maintain close contact, loyalty and mutual support throughout their lives. The family is the ultimate place of security and as the individual matures, the family group remains bedrock and serves as a model for the development of their friendships and associations. It stands to reason therefore, that if you take care of the family, your future is protected, at least majority of the time.

It is valid to argue that there are no negative Filipino values, as some writers say. There are only wrong uses of the values because our models for value-analysis are western - particularly those used by former colonizers and foreign observers. We must have new ways of looking at our traditional values, of re-understanding them so that we can harness them to work for us. To do this, we need to free our minds from the biases of the old colonial value-models and to build new ones that reflect the best in us. We need to set our value paradigms - to recast out mindsets and to redefine our perspectives from one which sees our traditional values as sources of social ills to another which sees them as sources of inner strength and moral will to survive and excel. To do this, author F. Landa Jocano of "Filipino Value System" says we have to "romance our culture." This means, "we have to re-inquire into the nature of our traditional values and to re-emphasize their original and functional meaning in our daily lives so that we can appreciate the nuances of our experiences and bring our analysis of the logic of Filipino behavior closer to Filipino grounds."

The sooner we understand what our culture is all about, the easier it is for our children to embrace our culture too. Relationship gaps between parents and children occur because immigrant parents have a system of values derived from the Philippines while their children are trying to assimilate into mainstream and acquiring a different set of values. And the sooner our children accept who they are, the more chances our community will have in achieving empowerment. For the Filipino American youth, he/she must negotiate among family, peer and societal expectations to resolve the question, "who am I?" Studies of ethnic adolescents reveal self-depreciation and low self-worth that appear to be related to conflicts between the values and roles of the old and new culture.

Patricia Heras, a practicing psychologist in San Diego who has done many studies with Filipino American youth, says: "It is during adolescence that the need to develop an identity becomes more pronounced. In their search for developing a sense of self, Filipino American teens will question family, customs, challenge cultural values and try out new behaviors. In doing so, they will come into conflict with their parents' core values. It is during this phase of development that the differences between Filipino and American cultural values become most apparent. Filipino core values that call for obedience, closeness to the family, respect for elders, will often come into conflict with American values of equality, individualism, self-assertion, and independence .... It is often confusing for the teenager to know how they should behave when they receive opposing messages. If they are not in a family where they can openly talk about these differences, the Filipino American teen will experience isolation and confusion ... .For the Filipino American parents, the whole situation is just as baffling. They are trying their best to provide opportunities for their children,  adjust to the demands of their environment (acculturation and separation from extended family, underemployment, discrimination and racism) and keep the family close. Many of them have never dealt with the issues their children face. It's a big job for the parents to do with little social support.

What about our community? What are some of the issues and challenges that face our families and community in the 21" century? Let's first look at where we are today. The recent Census lists Filipino Americans at 1.8 million. It was a disappointment for most of us who were expecting the number to be 3 million or to be the biggest Asian group in the country today. But be that as it may, there is strength in numbers and our continued growth is reason enough to take stock of ourselves and reassess our various missions and roles in helping form multicultural America. Our median household income continues to be high so we are not economically marginalized As a community we are highly educated and as a group we do have a considerable amount of money. We also tend to naturalize rapidly (71%). The numbers may not be significant to a politician, but if you combine it with our household income, Filipino Americans suddenly become politically and economically important. If Filipino Americans, acting as a community, use their votes and money as a weapon, then they will have clout. But until we put our money where our mouth is, we will remain on the margins of power, we will continue to have assimilation without representation.

How can. we gear up for the challenges of the new millennium?
1. We must strengthen our ethnic pride to increase our self-esteem. Let's get rid of
 the colonial mentality, self-blame, submissiveness and passivity. Community
 advocates must find opportunities and means to build pride in Filipino culture and
 heritage. At the same time, Filipino American media should highlight important
 historical events and project role models as well as the best of Filipino culture and
 traditions as a way to lessen nostalgia and homesickness among first generation
 immigrants.

We should utilize the Independence Day parade as an occasion to show mainstream American society how solid and culturally united we are. We must also encourage our children to enter fields that interest them instead of pressuring them to professions that promote quick wealth. How much presence in American life do you think we'll have without our intellectual and cultural representations, without our Jessica. Hagedorns and Lea Salongas? It's one way to break the barrier to visibility and show one of our pride.

2. It's about time we accepted "lack of unity" as a natural state rather than dream about organizing the community under a single federation. Regional associations, professional groups, religious circles, etc. will always be around and should be expected to promote their own agendas. What is more important is for organizations and leaders to cooperate and to develop the ability to band together in coalitions for important issues. We should reexamine our values and priorities, discover those areas were we agree most and build on them and settle our disagreements peaceably. We should get past petty and unproductive activities towards substantial involvement in socio-political issues, local and mainstream. Once we do this, perhaps we can resolve our image problem. There are too many fundraising dinners that do not raise out social, cultural or political consciousness.

3. To ease the pressured of assimilation, more stable and active immigrants need to orient many of their activities toward assisting recent arrivals by advocating for publicly or privately funded programs that facilitate adjustment, acculturation, job search, etc. Politically, the more assimilated sectors must get involved in issues that will affect the community - immigration backlash, language rights, affirmative action, hate crimes, workplace and educational policies.

4. We must also grasp the significance not only of a generational gap, but also of a cultural divide between immigrants and the American-born. Many immigrants tend to resent the "Americanization" of U.S. born Filipinos, their apparent lack of concern for the homeland, their seeming disrespect for elders and traditional Filipino values and their brash, if not business-like attitude toward community concerns. U.S. born Filipinos on the other hand, tend to disdain the immigrants' rowdy political culture, their attachment to homeland affairs (even its popular culture), their apparent lack of "American" savvy and even their thickly accented English. U. S. born Filipinos tend to be alienated from initiatives dominated by immigrants. For now, both will respond to "Filipino identity" but this will be challenged as the community continues to grow, develops more stratification and differentiation. A conscious effort to maintain an internal coalition between immigrants and U.S. born Filipinos could prevent or offset the negative impact of spontaneous cultural schism.

5. Building coalitions with other minorities and bridges to mainstream institutions is crucial in offsetting the community's modest size and financial means. We can be strong on our own, but be even stronger by coalescing with a much broader grouping of allies like the Asian American, Hispanic or African American movements and at the same time helping them. Bill Tamayao, the civil rights lawyer in San Francisco writes: "Immigrants, especially non-white immigrants, must remember that they owe their success and opportunities in part to the vision, sacrifices and commitment of the Civil Rights Movement. If Immigrants are to share in these civil rights gains, they must also play a role in this Movement and help address the plight of the African American community. They must develop the compassion to understand historical conditions which have shaped the present." The most forward looking Filipinos have come to realize that aspiring for progress or political empowerment requires them to hitch their wagons to the Asian American movement, be it in the scramble for social services, Democratic Party politics or anti-discrimination battles. We must focus on common goals and needs. Similarly, we must also build coalitions within the Filipino community, between bath kinds of Filipino Americans, the immigrant and the U.S. born.

We must provide our youth with role models, the value of political visibility and activism, and our cultural heritage. They will be the ones to carry the Filipino American torch into the next millennium and it is important that we equip them with the necessary tools to inherit and represent our community. Although U. S. born Filipinos invariably experience a crisis of cultural identity, by and large, they have a natural sense of entitlement and do not have the same ambivalence about their claim on American that tend to inhibit recent immigrants.

We must let our children understand that, while we aspire to become part of the mainstream to achieve political visibility, this does not oblige us to compromise our heritage or our expectations. Striving to be part of American society requires from us political and social involvement in the affairs of the state, not a surrender of our roots and aspirations. As immigrant parents who have had to overcome cultural and economic obstacles of every sort. We realize that our experiences must be used to heighten our children's desire to excel in education, This is one of the ways to guarantee and increase the social and intellectual prestige of the next generation.

Filipino Americans desire a strong ethnic presence in America, but this is dependent on the resolution of the ethnic identity issue. In her essay entitled, "The Cultural Identity of Third-Wave Filipino Americans," Leny Mendoza Strobel writes: "If and when colonial mentality no longer undermines the identity of Filipino Americans, they can become effective participants capable of influencing the transformation of social structures and cultural values in the dominant culture. They can work towards the empowerment of the Filipino American community, working in coalition with their minority groups against racism, injustice and all forms of oppression. This requires no less than a transformation of consciousness not only at the cultural level but at the psychological level. This study found that the students who have had access to their cultural history; who traveled to the Philippines `to connect with their roots'; who are learning or-relearning the Pilipino language; who are proud of their indigenous heritage are also the students who are working within the Filipino

American community to empower others; who are reaching out to their parents. They are involved not because it is the `politically correct thing to do' or because it is part of their social support, but because they have undergone a transforming process of decolonization. They are also aware of their identities as Filipino Americans, a viable, multicultural identity that allows them to be truly Filipino and American at the same time."

6. The rich among us should enable our community to flex its financial muscle when it must. Our doctors, lawyers, nurses and other high-income earners can lead the way in building our community into a power block that makes decision makers pay attention. Those who cannot be financial backers, can volunteer their time. The choice is whether we remain as powerless individuals or be a community with muscle.

Someone said, "Filipinos abroad are like Rodney Dangerfield: they don't get no respect." This statement was made in reference to how Filipinos in American go overboard in "welcoming" the Philippine president, an American politician or anybody else who needs our support, and yet we do not get anything in return. Are we ever credited with bringing in the needed votes, or our billions of dollars in remittances that have kept the Philippines afloat? Perhaps it's time for us to be more discriminating so that we will not be taken for granted. We should not be afraid to "rock the boat" in demanding that we be treated as equals. We should not be ashamed of our ethnicity. We are thankful that American has opened the immigration gates for us, but in return we have given American our knowledge and skills to help run their businesses, classrooms, hospitals and governments. The gratitude should flow both ways.

We, the first generation immigrants, are an aging sector. Ultimately, the U.S. -born Filipino Americans will bear the responsibility of attaining greater political power and boosting the community's visibility and cultural impact on American society. We must all therefore, pay careful attention to the strengthening of Filipino American identity, the development of community spirit and the accumulation of political experience among the American-born. And of course, we need to rear our children to proudly take on this responsibility. Let us be reminded that there is more to our culture than the tinikling and the lumpia. And most of all, remember, anything we do for our community sets an example for our children on what values they should be fighting for.

Maraming salamat po. I hope I have not wasted your Saturday morning.

MLY
October 25, 2001
 
 

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