MANILA, Philippines - In the Philippine college setting, we’re familiar with the frequent judgments made on that classmate who speaks better English than most.
Adults say that looking up to them is tantamount to colonial mentality. More deprecating comments dismiss them as “nosebleed” – because exerting effort to speak English the way they do or simply understanding what they say demands too much effort and causes tremendous strain.
As a “foreign Filipino” born in Jakarta and raised in an international high school, the only thing more worthy of judgment than speaking primarily in English throughout college here is, when it’s done with a twang.
While I can be judged for speaking “good English,” other Filipinos fear being judged for not speaking English well enough.
The divide became clearer to me recently when a friend from Davao revealed his insecurity about speaking in English. Because his provincial accent makes him sound different, he’s sometimes embarrassed to speak up, so he doesn’t. This is such a waste because he has a lot of wonderful things to say.
My friend and I are Filipinos of entirely different backgrounds – I’m a so-called sosyal city dweller while he’s a provinciano from the provinces – yet we both relate to a similar kind of “nosebleed.”
Who’s a Filipino?
It’s the double standard that clouds judgments and bleeds issues of identity in our country, both personal and national in nature. It’s the insecurity that prevents people from being loud and proud of who they are wherever they are from.
Does language alone make a Filipino? Who is the Filipino – the one who speaks English or Tagalog fluently?
Last March we saw a trace of this issue in the Azkals-Arnold Clavio controversy where two Filipino football players with foreign roots were accused of pretending to be “kayumanggi” or brown-skinned.
Other mixed or “tisoy” athletes and artists face similar discrimination and rejection despite sacrificing time and putting in hard work to represent their country.
It’s also ironic how a country that profits from its English-speaking abilities in call centers and celebrates Filipino pride in part-blooded American Idol contestants criticizes others for not being Filipino enough.
Yet British author David Irving once described Manila as the first cosmopolitan city. Because of the Galleon trade, we were a transnational meeting place for travelers from distant lands who met and exchanged goods.
I love the idea that the Philippines was globalized even before we put a name to the phenomenon, and before the rest of the world started opening their doors.
This is why the delusion that only brown-skinned Filipinos who speak Tagalog fluently are genuinely Filipino has become more than a pet peeve of mine. I used to avoid or ignore it (whichever came first!) but now it fuels a passion to challenge the backward and misguided idea of what a “tunay na Pinoy” is.
To me the derogatory “nosebleed” tag simply means we’re not trying hard enough to understand and that we’re being close-minded about who we are, most especially in the globalized 21st century.
It’s precisely the reason why I think national identity is complex and should not be limited to trivialities such as skin color or accent, but defined in terms of attitude.
Understanding our roots
What I’ve noticed about the multicultural Filipinos I’ve met is that they make more of an effort to understand their roots, unafraid to walk among their people, to take jeeps and buses, and strike up a conversation to learn more about their history.
On the other hand, many of my privileged Filipinos classmates, who have lived here since birth, already sweat or raise an eyebrow at the mention of a commute. Many have not travelled around the Philippines. Their blood, despite being pure, is anemic. It lacks the spirit to discover the Philippines beyond their comfort zone, level of thinking, and degree of exposure.
Let me cite a few nights ago -- when I was walking the streets of Marikina with some French exchange students -- as an example. What a ridiculous sight we were.
The French were accompanying the Filipinos to protect us in the streets of our own country. They said that while most of their Filipino classmates are surprised and afraid to hear about and visit where they live, they always end up reassuring them, “It’s not as dangerous as everyone thinks.” It’s the bane of the bigot that produces these kinds of “nosebleeds.”
To paraphrase Filipino author Ninotchka Rosca in her political novel about the Philippines, “Not beautiful gestures, not beautiful words spelled the difference between whether or not one did or did not belong to the seven thousand one hundred islands except the willingness, indeed the capability, sir, to take risks on the archipelago's behalf.”
In the last 4 years of college, I’ve learned that being a Filipino isn’t a birth right. Neither does it run through the blood in our veins.
What personifies nationalism is the beautiful attempt to understand our culture, notwithstanding the language barrier and social class that paralyzes a rich and complex country like the Philippines. It’s the attempt to speak up and challenge the “nosebleed” tag attached to an accent that might accompany a Filipino’s brown, yellow, or white skin. – Rappler.com