We’re frank, fearless, and irreverent. We’re also Filipino, and we’re here to flip the narrative on all things culture-, race-, gender-related and more in the new global-parochial world.
We’re Laura Verallo de Bertotto, Luis de Terry and Bambina Olivares, three Filipinos of mixed heritage who’ve chosen to return to the Philippines after many years away. To be honest, we’re still trying to make sense of this crazy, chaotic but beautiful country that frustrates and fascinates us every day.
Come Again? What Did You Said?
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the American occupation of the Philippines is the dominance of the English language. It is one of the country’s official languages, and most Filipinos claim to speak it, albeit with varying degrees of fluency, which automatically makes it a socio-economic marker. And then there’s the accent, which snobs like to pounce on as a further indicator of class and regionality, with the “Manila” accent and diction considered the benchmark that separates the elites from the plebs, the urbanites from the provincials. But why do we make such a big deal about accents, and look down upon those who twist and mangle the English language, not to mention the non-Tagalog speakers who can’t quite shed their Visayan accents when they converse in Filipino? We ask FEU Professor Dennis H. Pulido, who has a PhD in Linguistics, Chris Upton, president of John Robert Powers, and writer, editor and entrepreneur Apa Ongpin if accents do matter, or are we still trying to be little brown Americans?
The Happy Vagina
Filipinos have a strange relationship with sex, specifically their sexual organs. Blame our strict religious upbringing and sociocultural sense of shame that valued virginity above all for warping our views towards sex. If noted obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Theresa Henson had her way, she would urge every woman to have a happy vagina, and that starts with sincere curiosity and an open mind when it comes to all things sex-related. And a lack of guilt when it comes to seeking sexual pleasure. Forget the vagina monologues, our guest flipper says, it’s time for women to have honest-to-goodness dialogues with their vaginas.
Whose God Is It Anyway?
A particularly Philippine claim to fame is that our country is the bastion of Christianity in Asia. Indeed, over 86% of the population is Roman Catholic, and evangelical Christianity is on the rise. So is, for better or worse, atheism, and its close cousins, humanism and agnosticism. Which begs the question: how fundamental to Filipino identity is the belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, not to mention the Virgin Mary and all the saints in heaven? And what of the forgotten but no less Filipino minority, the Muslims in Mindanao? Can atheists and believers co-exist without one wanting the save the other, be it from the fires of hell, or the chokehold of irrational faith and manmade guilt? Our guest flippers, Fr. Arnold Eramiz, a Catholic priest in the Agustinian and Ignatian traditions, and Red Tani, co-president of Filipino Freethinkers, a society committed to reason, science and secularism in the Philippines, duke it out in the most civilized way. God only knows who won this round :)
To live and die in the so social class you're born into is a godsend if you happen to be at the top of the pecking order in the Philippines. For the lower classes, however, the lack of social mobility can be a curse. Sometimes you have to win a beauty contest, become a movie star, or create an app that becomes indispensable. For our flipper Xyza Cruz Bacani, seeing the world with unflinching yet compassionate eyes – with the help of a camera of course – changed the trajectory of her life from that of a second generation migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong to internationally acclaimed documentary and street photographer, with a whole slew of awards, fellowships, commissions, not to mention a book. But the caste system that defines Philippine society isn’t just a socioeconomic hindrance; it's also at the root of generational trauma. By the way, she takes her fame in stride: her b******t radar is still switched on to high.
Are We Asian Or Are We Latino?
Once upon the 16th century, say the history books, we were a collection of chiefdoms that most likely would have been absorbed into the Muslim sultanates of neighboring Borneo. But then came the conquistadores, bringing Christianity with them and changing the course of Philippine history forever. Catholicism remains Spain's most enduring legacy, but did we imbibe enough of Spanish culture to become the Latinos of Asia? Or are we really Asian with a hint of Latino in us? Flipping with us in an attempt to understand this conundrum in the Filipino psyche are architect and now restaurateur Leon Araneta, who was born in Manila and raised in Mexico, and Ivan Man Dy, a “Manila boy” of Chinese descent, who also happens to be a heritage activist, author and the man behind the thematic heritage tour Old Manila Walks. At the end of the day, the best way to describe who we are is to say that we’re halo-halo. Topped with leche flan, of course.
The Philippines, it’s been said, is where Asia wears a smile. Filipinos may be warm, but they’re also capable of being prejudiced - and unfiltered. Our favorite academics Vince Rafael, professor of History at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Lila Shahani, former UNESCO Philippines Secretary-General, flip with us and discuss how race and class are deeply intertwined in Philippine society, why race should matter to Filipinos, and and why pejorative terms against foreigners still creep into everyday conversations.