Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates and friends :
THE naivete ended long before, but somewhat defining the moment of such end (in a wanna-be dramatic life such as mine, there are always defining moments) was a short, short exchange in our smoku room (cafeteria) a month or so ago.
If you remember the intense, violent (but short-lived) typhoon that swept Northern Luzon the time, there was a picture of a house made of light materials that found itself on the sturdy branches of an obviously much stronger acacia-looking tree.
This picture spoke a thousand words more eloquently than any narrative on the storm, so the international news agencies carried it and such picture found its way to the local paper of our host city.
Whereupon one of our colleagues commented on how many Filipinos must have perished in such a short time the storm flexed its muscles, and to which another replied, “(snort), storm should’ve killed off the lot of them.”
Loose translation : dapat nga naubos na lahi nila.
I don’t know which was more outrageous at the time, that such an racist-inspired utterance was actually made, or that the same words were spoken so casually. Whether or not it was meant as a joke, the person who heard what was said (who incidentally was my supervisor) was outraged and decided to report the matter to the plant manager straightaway. (Employer has a near zero-tolerance policy against harrassment, racist and sexist situations.)
At the last moment however, for some reason, he decided to consult me and find out if I found the same offensive.
Which I initially had a hard time deciding, since (1) I wasn’t there at the time of the incident and (2) I was trying to figure out how serious the statement was since, light jokes, which from time to time include race references, are made all the time in the premises.
Eventually I realized that any grievance that would be redressed wasn’t worth the potential trouble and brouhaha it would cause, and I advised him to drop the matter.
He resolved the situation by saying (kamping-kampi talaga sa mga Pinoy) that one way or another, he and a few others would make sure any perceived slight I felt would be paid back to the alleged offender twofold. Sniff, sniff.
But seriously, by now you probably would’ve discerned the naivete of which I speak : that which assumes that every face, every voice and every smile in our adopted land is one that sincerely welcomes us as one of their own.
For every broad-minded Kiwi with a 21st-century worldview that encourages brotherhood (and sisterhood) and interdependence among countries, there will always be a counterpart xenophobe who can’t avoid feeling insecure with the rainbow of races making its appearance in NZ the last few years.
Difficult as it is to contemplate, the reality is that in this paradise of equal opportunity that respects self-reliance and hard work, there will always be people like the colleague above, and there are many more like him, in varying degrees of intensity.
It’s quite subjective, and definitely there are no hard facts to back me up, but :
(1) can anyone forget morning NZ personality Paul Henry asking the Prime Minister on his impending selection of a new Governor – General : Can we expect a Governor General who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time ?
It initally sounded as wacky as unlikely from such a respected interviewer, until most of us realized that a sizeable number of Kiwis silently supported Henry’s unspoken opinion; that is, that migrant numbers had been growing too rapidly and uncomfortably so.
(2) Among other TV ads that pass through our political correctness (PC) blood-brain barrier, two kinds of ads strike us as both amusing and slightly disturbing : the company that assures us that their customer service and helpdesk functions are performed by Kiwi-staffed call centers; and the brands that proudly proclaim themselves to be 100% Kiwi owned.
When one contemplates the first ad, the immediate problem is that talking to someone stretching his/her “e” vowel sounds, calls merienda “tea time” and pronounces “fish and chips” as “fush and chups” is no assurance that service will be provided, and the secondary problem is that, what if the caller and potential customer doesn’t require a Kiwi call center staffer, because such caller / potential customer may not be Kiwi himself/herself?
In the second, such ads that emphasize a misplaced nationalism fail to take into account the realities of an ever-growing migrant market, that foreign dollars are just as acceptable as Kiwi money, and are just as effective in wealth-generation and nation-building.
The long and short of it is, despite the altruism and good intentions of the best and the brightest in enlightened Kiwi society, there will always be the shortsighted and underachieving who inevitably blame others for their failures.
The easiest and most vulnerable targets, as you might expect, are the newcomers and outsiders.
It’s up to us to show them that we deserve the chance to live the Kiwi / Pinoy Dream as much as any of them, as long as we walk the walk, do the hard work and in true Pinoy fashion, do whatever it takes to shine.
Thanks for reading !