Arts Awake: A Heritage of well-being: The connectivity of the Filipino (Part 1)

NCCA Chairperson Felipe M. de Leon, aside from leading the country’s prime government agency for culture and the arts, is an active figure in promoting and preserving indigenous culture as well as an advocate of culture and human development issues.

De Leon believes that culture plays an integral role in national development. As stated in the Commission’s vision “Filipino culture as the wellspring of national and global well being” and the emblem Alab ng Haraya, the Fire of Filipino Imagination, culture plays an integral role in national development.

In his paper A Heritage of Well Being: The Connectivity of the Filipino, Chairman de Leon shares his take on the factors and aspects of Filipinos connectivity.

Un-Filipino Perspective

The moment we began to view ourselves through Western eyes, what we held sacred suddenly became worthless, our virtues turned into vices, and our strengths began to be seen as weaknesses. Anything indigenous became a source of embarrassment and uneasiness. We would hide whatever is native sounding or native in origin. Centuries of being regarded as backward and inferior by the white colonizers engendered in us this collective self-contempt, a psychic malady that afflicts all of us but most especially the elites.

Filipinos, especially the elite, became afflicted with three social pathologies which are characteristic of colonized psyches. The negative programming of colonial experience resulted in these social neuroses which Filipinos have yet to come to terms with: Cult of smallness, Celebration of Defeat, and the Doña Victorina Syndrome

The Cult of Smallness

Representations of the Filipino seemingly encouraged by the American colonial regime were of the smallest kind. The bahay kubo became “very small.” The little rice bird, the maya, became the national bird. The tiny sampaguita was declared the national flower by American Governor General Frank Murphy in 1934.

Could this be an important reason why until recently many Filipino school children were expected to memorize the Latin name of, and even to be proud of having in Bikol, the smallest fish in the world? Most Filipinos then were not aware that we also have the biggest fish in the world in the same province.

Could this also be one of the psychological reasons why many Filipinos think small? Rather than become innovators, entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, producers and manufacturers, Filipinos, including graduates of elite schools, are just too happy to find employment, especially overseas.

In 1954 our government enacted a retail trade nationalization law, which took effect in 1964, preventing the Chinese from doing tingi, so the Chinese simply shifted from retail to the much bigger and more lucrative business of wholesale.

The “Dona Victoriña” Syndrome: Low Self-Esteem Bordering on Self-Contempt

Characteristic symptoms of this “syndrome” are doubt in the Filipino capacity for achievement; perverse delight among Filipinos to constantly belittle themselves; serious lack of respect or contempt for each other; and wallowing in a negative self-image that is tantamount to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Filipinos are perhaps the worst self-bashers in the world. We are blind to our own capacities and idolize those of others, especially Westerners. If something is poorly made it must be Filipino. If it is well made it must be foreign. Even negative qualities that are universal human failings are claimed by Filipinos as distinctly Filipino, e.g., crab mentality, graft and corruption, greed, lack of discipline, etc.

The underdevelopment of Philippine society is fundamentally rooted in this chronic loss of Filipino self-esteem due to centuries of colonization and miseducation.

Yet we do not have a monopoly of human faults. Other nations, even those nations Filipinos tend to idolize, are equally, if not more stuck with negative traits that we mistakenly think to be ours alone.

American Crab Mentality

As an instance, among the poor and middle-class suburbs of Boston, like those who live on the narrow streets of Dorchester, hope is a dream, not a goal. The crab mentality pulls back on those who try to climb their way out. Crime is the realm of the Irish, who are much like their Italian counterparts in New York but without the qualms. (From Boston, Massachusets, A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane, published by Harper Torch; Reissue edition, April 2003)

Celebration of Defeat

The second social malady of the Filipinos is the tendency to celebrate defeats, like the Fall of Bataan, Fall of Corregidor, Fall of Tirad Pass, Capture of Aguinaldo, and Death of Rizal. Why not celebrate, instead, triumphs like The Siege of Baler, The Bells of Balanginga, Cinco de Noviembre in Bago, and other victories by the Filipino revolutionaries?

A People can Only be United by the Things They Love, and Divided by the Things They Hate

Generations of contempt for Filipinos by the colonizers have been imbibed by many Filipinos themselves, especially by the ruling elites, who were most exposed to Western rule. Actually, as a research of SWS has indicated, it is this class who have the lowest regard for themselves as Filipinos, having been the most conditioned to idolize Western ways. Their low regard for Filipinos is in reality an expression of self-contempt.

Anything Positive about Themselves Always Unites a People
If we are to become one nation, we have to begin deconstructing the very negative self-images that have been ingrained in us by centuries of colonial misrule and miseducation, especially among the elites who are the power wielders and thus have the greatest responsibility to serve and be one with our people. We can never erect a viable nation if we continue to denigrate ourselves, even in the presence of foreigners.

(To be continued)

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