ALTHOUGH THERE IS one other Asian on our work site now (an Indian, in the engineering team), and maybe because the latter is still quite new, at work I’m usually the subject of Asian jokes and slightly race-related remarks, a fact of life I’ve openly embraced since I started working in New Zealand. Because of this, and also due to my good-natured friendliness and approachability, I get along with everybody at work. it wouldn’t be an exaggeration for me to say i’m probably the most popular staff member on site.
I wear my being Filipino on my sleeve, broach my “Pinoyness” as a subject every time an opportunity presents, and always take time to ask about any kind of personal interaction my colleagues might have with other Filipinos, and ask if it reflects positively on us. It usually ends up in a joke or anecdote, which I laugh at, in an easy attempt to make fun of myself. It nearly always lets others know they can laugh with me instead of laughing at me, which is alright in any case.
What most of my workmates don’t always realize is that like any other race in the human community, Filipinos have a good side and a bad side. We like to show our “presentable” face to the rest of the world, while naively pretending our warts and zits are invisible. Yes we are likeable, we like to think, but there are annoying aspects of our character that have become so predictable that they are just a part of our Pinoyness as our food, our skin pigment and our facility in English. These are just a few that we’re not proud of, but which our non-Pinoy neighbors are slowly beginning to discern:
Pinoys are notorious gossips. We are so gossipy and loose-lipped about our fellowmen (and women) that we hardly use the term chismoso (and chismosa) anymore, it’s such a natural thing to talk about the personal lives of other people, under the dismissive phrase napag-uusapan lang naman (we’re just discussing it in passing, or “by the way”). It’s almost as if we as Filipinos are kind and decent in every other away except in the way we trash other people who have the misfortune of not being around, and therefore unable to defend themselves when their personal lives are being discussed.
I’m no saint or angel just because I condemn this very Pinoy behavior. In fact, when I don’t watch myself, I do it without even realizing it, until I sit back after a conversation and think about, now what if instead of talking about Person A with Person B (in the most graphic detail possible) without a second thought, Person B was discussing with A about me? How would I feel?
I’m also not saying that people from other countries don’t do it, especially since the people I enjoy gossipy talk with are New Zealanders, Brits, fellow Asians, etc. But because I know my own kind, I know we are above the norm in shaming our kabayan behind their backs. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.
“Keeping up with the Joneses”. The Urban Dictionary defines this phrase as “to strive beyond one’s means to keep up socially and financially with others in one’s social circle or neighborhood.” It can cover any object, trivial or massive, from buying a Fitbit sports watch to starting an entire property makeover just to show your neighbors, friends and colleagues that whatever they do, you can do just as well or better.
If you use this to do better in life, improve your situation or help you reach goals in your career, relationships and community, why not, diba? An example is to take out a student loan to join your friends enrolling in a masteral or postgraduate course. Trouble is many of us Filipinos , upon discovering the travel, purchase or party plans of their peers, borrow money or overextend themselves just to keep up with the same. Maxing out the credit line during family weddings, town fiestas and holidays are nothing new to us, but we always have to outdo ourselves from previous gastusan (spending sprees) just to comply with the saying, para wala silang masabi (so they can’t complain). We would rather cope with material hardship and eternal debt than not keep up with appearances. Recently, Filipinos have matured in this respect, but old habits die hard.
Crab mentality. This is subject of much debate and discussion, but in my experience Pinoys do not support each other whenever one of their own is on the fast track towards success and achievement, as compared to other nationalities (in my very limited perspective, of course). Hindi naman ito strictly crab mentality, but when you’re not happy for kabayan, what are you then? Hardly any room for being neutral here.
Among Chinese, when a member of their community is running for office, being recognized for special achievement in their profession, in the arts, or civic duty, the whole universe of ethnic Chinese (whether from the mainland, Taiwan or Hongkong) rallies behind him as a brother or sister. When a Thai, Vietnamese or Southeast Asian opens a business, you can be sure it will receive the patronage of their countrymen. I’m not so sure about parallels in the Filipino community. More so in the international sphere, when Pinoys up for high positions, awards and recognition get less than the support they so richly deserve, from kabayan and the kabayan community.
I may be generalizing, but would you disagree with my stinging assessments? On the whole, Pinoys are appreciated, across the board, by different races. It’s time that we start, on the one hand, taking a long hard look at ourselves, and on the other, start appreciating ourselves.
Thanks for reading, mabuhay!