Thursday, February 27, 2014

Trials and Tribulations though Talented in Talking Tagalog
When being able to "blend in" doesn't save you from trouble

During My Adjustment Period, December 2006

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: Recalling events from 7 years ago which happened in the Philippines, aided by notes from back then.
Previous Post: Discussing Citizenship

I don't know if it was my inflection, but I more than once managed to offend while speaking in Tagalog, even though intentionally being offensive was, and always is, the last thing on my mind.,_early_1800s.jpg
Ye Olde Tagalog People. Source: Wikipedia.
In one particular instance, it came about after being asked how my adjustment was going.

So I answered honestly, in Tagalog, "Medyo may culture shock. Maraming bagay na hindi na ako sanay, maraming bagay na ngayon ko lang na e engkwentro, at maraming bagay na hindi ko na kaya. Halimbawa na lang yung patayan sa balita: Isang araw lang, kasing dami siguro ang napapatay dito sa isang taon sa Canada."        ["I am somewhat in culture shock, for sure. There are things I'm just not used to anymore, things I am only encountering just now, and many things (I used to be fine with as a kid), but cannot now stomach. For instance, the murder rate is ridiculous: The body count in one day, probably equals one year in Canada."]

I don't know how or why, but the group I was with seemed to take offense to it. I actually felt like I was tag teamed, each one taking turns on a retort. One guy invoked school shootings as a measure of how "we" here in North America are also violent. Another called me out as probably a "pussy" - like you gotta be tough to live "here in the Philippines", man! I even heard someone emphasize that "they" in the table are not murderers, so how dare I suggest all Filipinos are murderers.

Dude... wait, what? 


As I mentioned, I said what I said in Tagalog. I thought I did it right. I thought I expressed that observation devoid of malice or any kind of suggestion, negative or otherwise. I was simply answering the question: How was my adjustment going?

With this experience, I learned to walk on eggshells. I also very likely sanitized my posts here in this blog, to specifically only praise the Philippines. Or phrase its shortcomings in a way that comes off as a cool, quirky novelty to me, as the "foreigner".

I knew this was a disservice to myself, the purpose of my trip, and to Filipinos and the Philippines in general, glossing over or completely ignoring these biting observations. But I was in my honeymoon phase of my stay anyway, so I didn't really mind. Just like the other topics (here, here, and here), I either excused it, wrote it off as simple cultural misunderstanding of sorts, or simply just filed it away for later. I also was short for time whenever I composed my first few posts in Santa Maria's Bayan or Poblacion, so I focused on what was most important - and most important for me at the time was how excited I really felt about everything. 

But now that I am seven years removed from these events, I'm more comfortable talking about it all. Also, I now have time.

So now I wonder, why was that particular comment received so poorly? Well, let's break it down shall we?

Invoking School shootings and protesting how they are portrayed as all violent murderers: We here in the "West" are seen by them as residing in prosperous countries, run by well functioning democracies, with law abiding citizens. Yes, it is very flattering to us. But the problem is, what is still reported to them as international news are only those seen as newsworthy: Bickering in the U.S. upper and lower chambers; Terrorist attacks and the War on Terror (still big news in 2006); and of course, violent crime such as school shootings, killing sprees, rape, murder and armed robberies.

Whenever they watch, read, or hear about such news concerning us, I feel as though they think it occurs a lot more commonly than it really does. Or that they forget about per-capita count. Or that they forget I am from Canada, and what they are really thinking about is the U.S.A.!  (Lowest to highest intentional homicide rates/100,000 [2004]: Canada 1.6, U.S.A. 4.7, Philippines 5.4)

Whatever the case, I get the feeling that, for them, this is proof that no matter how peaceful, rich, and well run a country may be, the same violent human tendencies still exist. And that's probably true! There's a certain wisdom about that conclusion which I happen to agree with.

However, in practice, an outsider like me, pointing out the violence in the Philippines comes off as a kind of prejudice - as though I were labeling them as worse human beings than us, while at the same time denying our own capacity for similar grotesqueries.

I guess that's fair...

This then brings me to the other point brought up: You gotta be tough to live in the Philippines.

With over Ten Million people scattered throughout the world who identify themselves as part of the Filipino Diaspora, be they emigres, OFW (OCW), or even those engaged in international business dealings and even the occasional diplomat, almost everyone in the Philippines knows a Filipino from abroad. Because of this, many Filipinos in the Philippines have at one time or another played "babysitter" to visiting family, friends, and acquaintances from abroad.

Yes, "babysit", with all the accompanying baggage of the term - as in to handhold a clueless visitor who cannot exist in a country that is all about matira matibay ("only the strong survive"). It's a dog-eat-dog place and some people who actually take some sort of twisted pride in this label, subscribe to the notion that we "foreigners" as maselan or too fragile, picky, finicky, and would perhaps be unable to cope once left to our own devices in that oh-so confusing and dangerous nation of theirs!! Oh noes!1

...especially if they take away the privilege they accord us.

I may have pointed out "White Privilege in the Philippines", twice already, but if I am to be honest, I - as a member of the Filipino Diaspora - usually come in at a close second in terms of receiving such special treatment.

Which then is the perfect segue to the final point: This is a perfect example of the perils of navigating the insecurities still prevalent in the Philippines.

The privilege Filipinos give to foreigners is a double edged sword. The Colonial Mentality, which elevates white skin, foreign pedigree, or perhaps foreign experience and schooling, also produces a kind of resentment which runs deep in Philippine society. After all, they both stem from the same inferiority complex.

Praise their culture, their food, their ingenuity, their creativity, and their kindness, and your opinion - seeing as it matters more than the average Pinoy - is going to be elevated, celebrated, and even oft repeated above all. But be a bit critical, or be so much as perceived as being critical, and watch everyone erupt in protest. Suddenly, you're the arrogant visitor who's throwing their weight around. You might even hear things like "go back to where you came from" - which I, as an immigrant to Canada, have NEVER ever seriously heard said to me in here.

"But wait, Randy!" you say. "How come they thought of you as an outsider? Where you not speaking in Tagalog?"

Why, yes, dear imaginary reader who is helping advance my litany by asking all the right questions! I was indeed speaking in Tagalog. But, apparently, it was not enough to save me from trouble.

If anything - and this is the point of my entire argument in here - being a Tagalog speaker is no guarantee of being saved from the cliché label of "arrogant visitor", should you ever stick your nose on the wrong topic.

So why was it that the homicide rate was a sore topic? Or is anything not a sore topic in there for a non-insider?

I honestly don't know.

Next Post: Nothing, just some notes on webpage layout...

Related Post: White Privilege in the Philippines

Further Reading: Wielding the Filipino Ego, Joe America
                                The Philippines: A Culture of Criticism, Joe America

1 = Yes, I'm kind of being sarcastic. While they certainly believe we "westerners" are maselan or picky, finicky, and unable to cope with any hardship, I obviously disagree with this. Subsequently, there will be a future post about this. Something along the lines of how they, in the Philippines, seriously incorrectly perceive what we "westerners" are after, when traveling to a developing world.

* westerners = A super loaded term in the Philippines.

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