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A question of identity(Excerpt)

By Conrado de Quiros

....There are of course pitfalls(to the study of Philippine History) that we 
must avoid. Chief of them is the temptation to romanticize the pre-colonial 
past that tends to hound propositions like this. There were two particularly 
strong varieties of this sometime ago.

One was the tendency to belittle or even scorn the Western influences, to 
see them as having had only a superficial effect on us. This particular 
viewpoint, which sparked a debate in the 1960s, said that if you scratch the 
Filipino deeply enough, you will find a pristine non-Western core inside. 
This was soundly refuted by the Institute for Philippine Culture, which 
called this the "onion skin theory of Philippine identity." The problem with 
peeling off the layers of onions -- which represented the various "external" 
influences on the Filipino -- is that you end up with nothing. There is no 
core, the onion is its layers. From another direction, which was the 
creative one, Nick Joaquin showed how deeply Spanish and American culture 
lodged in the Filipino psyche. You took them off, and there was no Filipino.
(Other experts say that using "Halo-Halo"(Filipino mixed cold dessert) as a 
metaphor instead of the "onion skin" is more appropriate because the Filipino
culture is a not a 'layered' but more of a mix or mestizo culture)

The other, though far less well known, pitfall is exaggerating the wonders 
of the pre-colonial past. That was the impression one got from reading F. 
Landa Jocanoís anthropological works. Not quite incidentally, Jocano 
entitled his foremost book on the subject "Philippine Prehistory," 
suggesting himself that what happened before the Spaniards came was largely 
a prelude -- doubtless a long one, but a prelude nonetheless -- to 
Philippine history. But clearly, our mummifying techniques and engineering 
feats such as the rice terraces notwithstanding, we had no culture or 
civilization anywhere resembling Chinaís and Japanís, or nearer home 
Thailandís and the Indochinese countriesí.

These excesses aside, the project of looking at Philippine history as 
something that stretches well beyond 1521 is eminently valid. Indeed, the 
project of looking at Philippine history resolutely from our point of view 
and not from those who colonized us is eminently necessary.

Its merits do not lie only in the difference between insurrectos and 
revolutionaries, which was the difference in the way the Katipuneros were 
seen by the American occupation force at the turn of the 20th century and 
the way they saw themselves. Though that is an incalculable merit enough as 
it is. Its true merits lie in that it allows us to understand ourselves by 
seeing ourselves from our own eyes, from the perspective of our own dreams 
and purposes, and not from the judgments and expectations of others. That is 
the stuff of which identities are made.

In the past, as Iíve said, the question of identity has been snagged by the 
problem of romanticism. But there is really no reason to idealize the past 
to see things from our point of view. We do not have to imagine a glorious 
past that was somehow devastated by the colonial horde the way Peruvian 
civilization was. We do not have to believe that Spanish and American 
colonial rule, which lasted for 400 years, did not alter our consciousness 
in a thoroughgoing way. We need only to see that we were not the savages 
that had to be delivered spiritually and physically to the light. We need 
only to see that the process by which we became "westernized" was not a 
simple one of pouring things into an empty receptacle but a complex one of 
mixing many things(resulting in a unique hybrid or mestizo Filipino culture
that is a mix of various influences)

We do this, and a lot of things become intelligible to us. We see why our 
Christianity is the way it is: It is not merely that a primitive people 
resisted a foreign influence and so made its effects incomplete. It is that 
a people who believed in anitos assimilated a different belief into their 
own. We see why our democracy is the way it is: It was not merely that a 
people who did not know the meaning of liberalism were unprepared for 
democracy. It was that a peopleís struggle to be free was aborted midstream, 
and replaced by the letter rather than spirit of freedom.

But whatís the big deal about identity? Well, look at countries like 
Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, and look at us. With nations as with 
individuals, you have no sense of self, you will never know, and do, what 
you want. You will only know, and follow, what others tell you to.

Daily Inquirer,  Mar. 20, 2002
URL: http://www.inq7.net/opi/2002/mar/20/text/opi_csdequiros-1-p.htm

NOTE: sentences in parenthesis are website owner's annotations.

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