On being a Foreign Filipino

Born to be a citizen of the world!

Note: These are my own personal observations. There are many exceptional Filipinos who are exactly that –an exception. They inspire me.

Before I begin this entry I would like to make a disclosure. I’m a full Filipina who was born in Jakarta, Indonesia where I lived for almost seven years. My family moved back to the Philippines in 1996 where I was raised in an international school environment on a scholarship. Upon hearing about my high school background I often get asked this question: Why didn’t you study abroad?

While I got accepted to colleges I wanted in the United States with partial scholarships, I usually give two reasons for my decision to study here. Firstly, the admission was still too expensive and secondly, I wanted to get to know my Filipino roots. Given that I had lived in my home country for almost 10 years then, I know that the second sentiment might appear off. That’s why I often jokingly refer to myself as a ‘foreign Filipina,’ a pseudo existential identity crisis I apply to most third-culture kids who were raised exposed to cultures different from their own. Perhaps back then it was an empty excuse I easily gave whenever I preferred not to explain in detail why I didn’t fulfill that dream of going abroad. But even if it has taken me almost four years to, it’s finally becoming a commitment, which is why I’ve decided to speak out about my story now.

The quality of education, among other things, is always perceived to be greener beyond the Philippine archipelago. After all we are a poor developing country weathered by many man-made disasters. Agreed, that’s our present predicament, but we’re always using that as an excuse, one that ultimately blinds and prevents people from seeing opportunity and changing reality into a better one.

Why not study in the Philippines? Since college began I realized that no has ever asked me that question.

College has definitely ‘socialized’ me more into Filipino culture from appreciating our mababaw sense of humor, finding my way round Manila with our crazy commuting system, eating at street karenderias to travelling to different places around Visayas and Mindanao. Now I’m imbibed with a sense of nationalism I honestly never thought I would acquire.

With the new Department of Tourism ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ campaign, I was originally inspired to write a list of reasons why it is for a blog entry. But after reading two insightful entries written by Marion Waller and Scott Allford, which have been circling online about the negative perception of the Philippines, I feel called to write about the deeper issue propelling the campaign. The most striking sentiment shared among Filipinos online is this: How come the foreigners, who don’t have the geographical or national inclination to, see and appreciate the Philippines in a way that Filipinos didn’t.

Maybe most of us are ‘foreign Filipinos.’

“He understood only too well the compulsive attraction of totalitarianism among the intellectuals. Because he was an intellectual himself, he resisted that compulsion courageously and consistently.”

That’s an excerpt from F. Sionil Jose foreword in Max Soliven’s biography ‘The Man and the Journalist.’ I noted that quote down because it reminds me of the privilege and responsibility of being educated among the intellectuals. Indeed knowledge is power, but we shouldn’t let it get to our heads and prevent us from not only using our minds to think but of our hands and feet.

I remember that during our outreach programs in high school it was always the foreigners who readily got down on all fours to clean the dirty floors of the dinky bathrooms of public high schools, while the upper-middle class Filipinos usually hesitated. Even in immersion programs in Ateneo it’s the same problem of getting Filipino students to not only care but to act afterwards. While any college in the Philippines is probably more Filipino than my international high school it’s the same nonchalance across social class.

At first glance the excellent and exciting #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines campaign is meant to address the lack of nationalism among Filipinos. Since the overwhelming response of the campaign is obviously filled with a sense of pride, how can people criticize us for not having any? But I realized that maybe the root problem is not of apathy but of blind complacency. As the texting and social media capital of the world, the trouble is not in sparking sentiment but being perpetually stuck in it.  Maybe the Philippines has a hard time moving forward because this blindness is endemic – to what and how the Philippine’s can offer the world; to what countless of foreigners see that we Filipinos don’t. It’s striking how Filpino students eagerly want to spend a semester abroad when they need the cultural awakening in their own country.

I’ve accepted that I’m a foreign Filipina. I cannot disregard my background the way that the Philippines cannot ignore our history of colonization under the Americans and Spaniards. Indeed we are a mixed culture, but remember it’s both of ‘foreign’ and ‘Filipino’ origin.

I remember what Jim Paredes once told our class. “To be international, you have to be local.” As a country that prides itself for its English speaking capabilities, that can be our competitive edge in an age of globalization. It only means we have more access to the rest of the world to speak about who we are.

So, why not study in the Philippines? If I had never chosen to stay, then I would have nothing to say and  I’ve only just begun to open my eyes and learn. My education would go to waste if I didn’t.

5 thoughts on “On being a Foreign Filipino

  1. very good article…i’m happy to know that despite being a “foreign filipina”, you managed to see the beauty of the philippines and is now filled with a sense of pride for our country.


    :(( kakaiyak naman. Last last year lang, we shared our dreams with each other :((

    • Thank you Bien! I’m proud of both of us! It’s so weird how everything connects to what we shared during ASLA! One step closer to RFN hahaha. Let me know when the next Mauban Tanaw is. I would like to write about it!

      How are you! I haven’t seen you around in so long.

  3. Pingback: Move Manila, the Rappler’s Lecture about Social Media for Social Change « Hindi kana !

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