[Balikbayan Voices] Of passports and salad bowls

Mark Gerard C. Orga
[Balikbayan Voices] Of passports and salad bowls
Exposure to different cultures and cities reminded me of what being Filipino is all about

I’ve always considered myself a citizen of the world. And while I think that belief stemmed from my experience living abroad, I already had a knack for different cultures even when I was growing up.

I remember looking closely at encyclopedia pictures of tourist spots in America with its anthem playing in the background. Expedia wasn’t around back then. I also love learning new languages, even just a few phrases. I don’t even have a specific cuisine that I love because I appreciate all kinds of food. Back when I was working for a tech startup in San Francisco, our company would have different cuisines for its daily catered lunches. I also follow foreign news and current events more than national ones even to this day.

One might label me as unpatriotic, but I beg to differ. Perhaps more than those aforementioned things, I do believe that exposure to different cultures and cities reminded me of what being Filipino is all about. 

For those who even bother to look at their passports, one would notice the Philippine motto inscribed on its first few pages: Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan, at Makabansa. These are the core values we Filipinos should have, values that make up the foundation this country was and should be built on. (This is by no means a lesson on how to be patriotic, but an attempt to illustrate how my limited worldview has helped me rekindle these Filipino values.)

Maka-Diyos. I was blessed to be brought up in a devout Catholic household. I am no saint, but the fear of God and example of St Ignatius of Loyola never fail to bring out the follower in me. My time living alone in California also made my faith even stronger. I’d pass by a church on my way downtown and would hear Mass when possible. It helped me gain more perspective into God’s plan for me when the future back then was still unclear. It’s also interesting how we are similar to others when celebrating certain traditions. I can still vividly recall the Passion of the Christ reenactment I saw in Mission Dolores, located in a predominantly Latino community in the Bay Area. 

Maka-Tao. I was fortunate enough to interact with different cultures that strengthened my respect for other persons regardless of their ethnicity, faith, and orientation. I have been amazed at how some of the developed countries have their own ways of showing compassion for the needy. Singapore, for instance, has a dedicated housing area for its low-income population. This is why there are no squatters in the city-state. Moreover, living in the Bay Area exposed me to communities having the concept of a soup kitchen where homeless people and even drug dependents are welcome.

Makakalikasan. One doesn’t have to visit national parks or plant trees to help preserve nature’s wonders (though I’ve been fortunate enough to see Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon, among others). My conscious effort to protect Mother Earth was reinvigorated when I learned to clean my own table in restaurants and to segregate garbage properly. It is all about discipline and accountability in simple, everyday tasks. It has indeed been a constant struggle ever since I came back home a year and a half ago. It pains me, for instance, whenever I see receipts scattered all around ATMs.

Makabansa. Last and definitely not the least, my global experience reminded me that although we share the same goal of living harmoniously with one another, we still have our own respective identities through our nationality. I would always refer to the multicultural term “salad bowl” I encountered during my graduate studies. The term connotes how different ingredients (cultures or nationalities) preserve their own characteristics while mixing with one another to share a common goal of nourishment (global development).

It is quite ironic that it is through exposing one’s self to the world that we are able to gain perspective as to where we are and where we should be headed as a nation. We tend to confuse national pride with narrow-mindedness and that “ganyan talaga dito, wala na tayong magagawa” (that’s just how it is, we can’t do anything) attitude. We seem to be allergic to progressive thinking. I agree that it’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy, but to borrow some words from one of America’s greatest political icons, Robert F. Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'”

Sometimes, we forget how embracing diversity of knowledge and ideas has shaped what we have become this past century. It is only when we go out into the world and find our way back home that we rediscover and appreciate our distinct identity.

One, however, need not abruptly pack his or her bag. As a matter of fact, you have already started just by finishing reading this. – Rappler.com

31-year-old Mark Gerard C. Orga runs a digital marketing startup based in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Prior to that, he worked in the financial industry for almost a decade until he pursued his goal of experiencing what it’s like living independently abroad. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ateneo de Manila University and a master’s degree in international marketing from Hult International Business School in San Francisco, California. He considers himself a progressive thinker and a liberal Catholic.

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