Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What is Filipino? What is not?

"Impressions," TV Times, 5-11 December 1977


More than a decade ago, it was fashionable to talk in terms of a "Filipino identity." Social scientists and academicians put on pained expressions on their faces and babbled endlessly about how schizophrenic the Filipino people were, and how a nation in pursuit of growth must first locate its roots and limn its spirits.

Thus began a long, searching period in our history when to speak of anything nationally relevant was to trace an agonizingly long line all the way back to those routes and bridges that made Asia, ages before us, one whole big land mass.

The search, it seems, is never really over. Every aspect of human life is open to the question of what is truly and really Filipino. So, we come up with music a la Rico J., or lyrics by Tinio to music in the can, or the fetchingly quaint airs resurrected by Armida Siguion-Reyna from some old lola's musical baul, or the catchy new tunes with soulful lyrics that sell as theme music for today's cinematic output. And everybody asks: Which is Filipino, and which is put-on?

Or take Filipino cinema, with all its inadequacies, its failures, its pretensions, its imitations. How does one draw the line between what is native and what is natural, and does one really have to go back to (taking a much-abused example) the time when Rogelio de la Rosa romanced Carmen Rosales under the mango tree? Is it possible to get the obscurity and artiness out of Bernal's Nunal sa Tubig, marry it to the lucidity of Brocka's Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Cervantes's Sakada--and all other commendable qualities of other supposedly good cinematic efforts in the past two years or so--to distill the essence of the Filipino film?

And comedy. Filipino humor, if you please. Shall we look down our convent-bred noses at the loud, deliberately off-color, vociferously sexual jokes one hears out in the slums, or even in the stage shows out there in the provinces? But even standoffish, elegant England has its bawdy common joints where reigns supreme robust, earthy British humor. And we have not heard one Englishman disown both joints and humor.

Or shall we reject the American one-liner, simply because it is American, therefore strange, therefore un-Filipino? Shall we go down the social ladder, categorize the various forms and styles of Filipino humor, and consolidate them all into an amalgam that, when analyzed, can finally pass as the essence of what makes the Filipino laugh?

For an amalgam, it certainly will be. Anything that makes you laugh and/or cry, anything that you admire, treasure, loathe, detest, must draw from as wide a frame of reference as possible. A young nation, a dislocated culture, a colonized people (one must not escape history, only purify it) must necessarily open wide its doors and refine only after it has tried and experienced.

To be righteously exclusive at any one stage of development is to be suffocatingly jejune. It is also to die.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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