Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blame the Spaniards for the Discrimination

In the words of the great Filipino, Jose Rizal:
"He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination."

This saying will be the basis of this blog, which will attempt to clarify the origins of the discrimination existing within Filipinos for the purpose of dowsing the flames of ignorance about my people: the Igorots.  After posting my previous blog, "A True Proud Filipino," I came to an understanding and acceptance that discrimination and derogated outlooks toward Igorots still exist in today's multi-cultural-friendly world.  It is bad enough that discrimination exists between different ethnic races, but it is even worse to see it within the same people; in this case: Filipinos.

In following with Rizal's quote above, I chose to use a wonderful source to point out that the origins of today's discrimination are NOT from Filipinos, but from Spaniards.  This source is a book titled, "The Discovery of the Igorots," written by William Henry Scott.  Mr. Scott is not only a well known scholar of Igorot culture, but he also used very credible sources to write this book.  In the Introduction, Scott writes on page 7:

"The results of the Spanish occupation of the Cordillera were grim.  Where they established effective military control, it is true, they built horse trails and made it possible for Igorot travellers, lowland soldiers, and Spanish missionaries to move freely through former enemy territory; they introduced coffee, cacao, and citrus fruits which made Igorot dining less monotonous and added Vitamin-C to their diet but mainly profited lowland and Spanish settlers; they increased the power of a handful of Igorot leaders, taught a few hundred how to read and write, intentionally or unintentionally caused thousands to migrate to the lowlands, and left 8,000 baptized Christians when they departed.  But they also seized Igorot pigs, chickens, and rice or purchased them at unfair prices; they helped reduce the poor to debt peonage by demanding the same tribute from everybody while exempting the rich and powerful from forced labor; they punished one village by leading their enemies against them from another; and they burned houses, cut crops, pulled down walls - and introduced smallpox - in no less than 75 expeditions in the 19th century alone.  But the grimmest result of the discovery of the Igorots was subtler, more tragic and longer lasting - the creation of a distinction between lowland and highland Filipinos which contrasted submission, conversion, and civilization on the one hand with independence, paganism, and savagery on the other."

So there, now that we know the Spaniards created the discrimination; let's just say, "Blame it on the Spaniards," and move on as Filipinos.  For those who choose to disregard this and continue spreading ignorant comments of Igorots; to them I will speak at their level and refer to a wise person who once said:
"Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A True Proud Filipino?

On September 12th, a person calling him/herself “A True Proud Filipino” commented on my blog titled, “Coming – My First Novel, “Igorotak: The Warrior Within.”  It made my blood boil for about an hour, but I settled down and accepted it as a challenge to continue writing.  Shortly thereafter, I began receiving support and encouragement from friends and relatives via Facebook, email and the blog comments. 
I almost deleted the comment, but decided to leave it for people to see how ridiculous “this person’s” (as I will refer to him hereon) comments are.  I also enabled the comment managing tool on the blog so that all comments have to be approved before they are posted to control the possibility of this turning into a bashing contest.   I don’t want my blog fueling any animosity that exists between Filipinos.  If anything, I want it to bring understanding and unity.  Well, I was pleased to see the positive responses that contested this person’s comment.  I approved most of them, except for a few that used profanity.
I was a bit surprised though at the ten comments supporting this person, and the stupidity they contained.  I decided to allow the comments of milder stupidity to appear only to show the sad reality that exists between Filipinos.  One comment, however, caught my attention.
The comment is from a J.Rios.  I was able to read it with an open mind because it was done in a thoughtful and tactical manner.  Rather than just allowing it to post under the rest of the comments, I am dedicating this blog to this particular comment.  To read his comment:  Derogative Comment by "A True Proud Filipino"
Dear Mr. Rios,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the manner they are shared.  Though I don’t agree with most of it; they are sincere nonetheless, and deserving of dialogue.  So, I hope we could have some good dialogue without the nasty and immature attacks that I have read thus far.
To begin, this whole discrimination thing between Igorots and Filipinos is relatively new to me.   Unlike you, I was raised almost my entire life here in America.  The grammar and high schools that I attended were predominately white (99%).  Most of my friends were white Americans.  I had very little interaction with other non-Igorot Filipinos or Filipinos for that matter.  Our close family friends were Igorot and so I thought all Filipinos were Igorot.
In high school, I had a very good friend named Dan Ybanez.  He was like my older brother.  We called each other “blood” or “cuz.”  I even lived with his family for a year while my parents had to tend to business in another state.  His family is from Cebu, but I had no idea we were different.  “We” both saw each other as Filipino. 
When I was in the U.S. Marine Corps, I remember going to different bases out of town and meeting other Filipinos.  I would meet a Filipino and we instantly became friends as if we were related or knew each other for a long time.  Since all of the Pinoy I mentioned were American-Filipino, they never bothered to ask if I was Igorot and I never felt the need to mention it.  It wasn’t until my adult life that I began learning about the ignorance that exists between “some” Igorots and “some” non-Igorot Filipinos. 
When I first returned back home to the Mountain Province in 1997, I remembered my relatives telling me stories of how “lowlanders” have misconceived notions and stereotypes about Igorots.  At the time, I was too engrossed in the fun I was having that I paid little attention to any topic of discrimination.  After that trip, I began to really take interest in my Igorot heritage and read what I could to learn more. 
As years went by, small glimpses and flashbacks from my childhood years in America proved as evidence that my parents saw themselves as “different” from other Filipinos.  I recall them referring to us as “we” and non-Igorots as “they.”  It was never in a derogative manner, but simply a way of identifying themselves amongst the Filipino community.  I recalled how they spoke “our” language (Kankanaey) at home and with close friends, and “their” language (Tagalog) with every other Filipino.  Their stories of how they grew up painted a portrait in my mind of a simpler, yet happier life than other Filipinos, whom they sort of perceived as being the type to show off their possessions, titles, education and so forth.   I somehow also got the impression that “we” aren’t impressed with someone simply because they were doctors or lawyers.
Strangely enough, I experienced a recent event that really made such differences clear to me.  I went to watch a comedy show featuring the Filipino comedian, Rex Navarette.  I heard some of his material before on youtube and was sure I would have a great time, especially since we are both American-Filipinos.  I was certain I could relate to his humor.  The fundraising show was a success with a full house of close to 1,000 people.  The whole theatre was laughing and cracking up at his jokes, except for me (as it seemed).
I felt like I was listening to George Lopez.  The material was somewhat funny, but only because of my imagination.  Most of the time, I sat there smiling when everyone laughed so hard because I didn’t relate with many of his jokes.  Things like Filipino spaghetti (one of his big jokes) or how Filipinos acted at Filipino funerals didn’t relate to me at all.  In fact, the first time I ate "Filipino spaghetti" was in high school at one of Dan Ybanez’ family parties.  As for funerals, what he described seemed like a few of the Mexican funerals I attended in the past, not the Filipino (Igorot) funerals of family friends and relatives.  I realize he's a comedian and that I shouldn't look to deep into his act, but I couldn't help but realize again the differences between Igorots and non-Igorot Filipinos.  In short, I sat there thinking, “Wow, I really am different.  Wow, Igorots really are different.”
Now that I have more Igorot friends, I learn more and more about the clear cultural differences that exist between us Igorots and other Filipinos.  One reason why I decided to focus on your comment is because I heard the same story that you described about how parents in Manila instill fear of Igorots in their children.  I heard this from a good friend who admitted being told such things by his parents as a child in Manila.  I know his parents, and they are some of the best people I know.  I can't image them doing such a thing today, but something in them led them to their wrong beliefs of Igorots back then.  This is why I believe there is some truth in what you say regarding the realism of discrimmination.
Discrimination is everywhere in every culture.  I won't argue that it doesn't exist within Filipinos because I experience mild versions of it even today.  For example, I still get looks from non-Igorot Filipinos when I tell them I’m Igorot.  Their eyes or facial expressions accompanied with a, "Oh, really, but you don't look Igorot" sentiment always cracks me up inside.  I’m still spoken to in Tagalog even after I tell people I don’t speak Tagalog.  On a few occasions, after telling them I'm Igorot, they really lay down the Tagalog as if to make me feel left out, envious or something.  I got tired of this and now I just say, "Ay sica san menkali Tagalog," and I just smile at their surprised reaction after I put them in my shoes.  I will agrue though, that this discrimmination you mention is NOT as widespread as you portray it to be.  I know alot more good non-discrimminating Pinoy than I do bad.

You’re probably right about people not admitting it because of our social climate of political correctness.  Even though we have a black President, I still see how some white Americans look or act negatively around black American and how Mexicans are looked down upon by many.    We could get into a long drawn out debate supporting our beliefs and convictions, but it still won’t change the fact that Igorots and other Filipinos are very different in many ways.    
I learned growing up here in America that it’s not what happens to us that determine our outcome, but how we react to these things that are most important.  I firmly believe that the most important thing for Igorots and non-Igorot Filipinos is to try understanding each other and embrace our differences in a positive way without losing our sense of who we are. 
One of my best of friends, Joe O., is not Igorot.  He is a Chicago south-side raised Tagalog Filipino.  We go back some twenty years.  I don’t see him as a Filipino, though he is.  I see him as a brotha (from another motha).  Yet, I still know who I am and he know who he is.  I hope everyone reading this can see our fellow Filipinos (Igorot, Tagalog, Cebuano, Visayan, Moro and so forth)in the same light: a light of unity.
I purposely did not comment on your other topics (Younger generation Igorots, loss of Igorot pride, language, etc)  because I don’t know how to comment on them since I was raised here in America.  I hope others can join in this “dialogue” to shed some more light on these things.  Thanks again J.Rios, sir.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11 Remembered

Today is the ninth anniversary of a very horrific moment in America.

Hard to believe it’s already been nine years since I was up on a Tababuya tree watching people frantically running inside the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach, Florida to watch something on the news.

Refusing to give into any such distractions, I continued working only to find my stomach turned upside down later that evening as I watched through watery eyes; the evil that made its way into thousands of souls around.

Three years later, I drove to Bridgehampton, New York to manage a new project for work.  When my work was finished, I hopped into my truck on September 11, 2003 and began driving back to my home in Florida.  When I drove through New York City, I was completely unaware that the people of that city dedicated a moment of silence at the exact time the Twin Towers perished. I turned on the radio in my truck and heard Howard Stern. “Why is Howard Stern on this channel?” I thought. Suddenly, I began hearing about reports of a possible plane crashing into the twin towers. I momentarily became alarmed, but quickly realized it was a re-broadcast of his show during that day of the attack.

Chills shot up through my spine as I listened intently. The feeling was very surreal, and I felt myself transporting back to that horrific day. All the cars stopped in their tracks, but I continued driving. “What the h@#%ll!” I said aloud. “Are you crazy? You can’t just stop in the middle of the highway!” I said to all the cars I swerved around and passed.

Angry eyes pierced through my windows as cars began honking at me. “Only a Floridian would be so stupid,” they must have thought. Then I realized what was happening. All the radio channels went dead and the faces of all the people around turned solemn. It was a moment of silence for the entire city. I immediately stopped, placed my truck into park and sat in silence.

“What am I suppose to do?” I thought. “Commemorate, pray, cry or shout?” The plethora of emotions was too much for me at the time, and so I did all the above.” It was at that moment that I realized who I was, and today I am reminded again.

I am neither Igorot nor American. I am not what I do for a living or for fun. I am not who I think I am most of the time. No, today I am just human.

WARNING: graphic images

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tim Tebow: An Ethnic Appreciation

M.H. McKee once said, “Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.”

This speaks volumes regarding the importance of character in everyone. Recently, I was checking my Facebook account and came across a video clip of Floyd Mayweather (American boxer) saying racist comments about Manny Pacquiao (Filipino boxer). I immediately felt sorry for Mayweather and those fans that look up to him. Shortly thereafter, I saw an Igorot music video depicting the laziness of an Igorot husband and his poor treatment toward his wife, and felt sorry for my fellow Igorots who are like the man portrayed in the video. Then I saw an inspirational video of Nick Vujicic, a man without arms or legs, talk about character and I became thankful for people like him.  We need more people who can inspire us to become better people.

It is one thing to talk and preach about integrity and character, but it is an entirely different thing to live a life of good character. As I was thinking about this, I began thinking about featuring a Filipino in this blog to use as a great example for character and integrity. Sure, Manny Pacquiao came to mind (and I love him as a boxer), but I wanted someone who went beyond the cliché of perseverance, overcoming obstacles and winning. I wanted someone who excelled in what they did, but also had the ability to change the world for the better; like how U2 is not only a great rock band, but also a great ambassador for love and social justice.

It didn’t take me long to pick this person, so let me introduce you to him. This Filipino was born in Makati City, Philippines, only his skin isn’t brown nor does he have an ounce of Filipino blood in him. He is the son of Pam and Robert Tebow, American missionaries who served in the Philippines at the time. After living in the Philippines for three years, Tim moved to America where he became a football star.
He was home schooled during high school, but was allowed to play for a high school team where he excelled and became Florida’s Mr. Football and a Parade All-American. In college, he became the youngest Heisman trophy winner and led his team, the Florida Gators, to two NCAA National Championships. As great of a football player he is, I did not choose to feature him because of his football accolades and skills.

I chose Tim Tebow because of the kind of person he is in the inside. He recognizes his skills and abilities in football, but more importantly, he uses them to help others become better people. He lives a life of worthy purpose. Just watch the ESPN video below where he is shown doing missionary work in the Philippines instead of hanging out with friends during his summers, and you will see what I am talking about. Today, he has a foundation called “The Tebow Foundation,” and its vision is “To bring faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” I could go on and on, but instead, I will let the links below tell you more about his life.

Last year when the Philippines and Indonesia was hit by major typhoons and earthquakes, I contacted as many people as possible to organize a fundraiser for the victims. We called it “Relief for Asia.” In the short period we had, we were still able to raise approximately $12,000 to help those victims. I am mentioning this because I never told anyone how Tim Tebow’s example inspired me to take action.

At the time the Florida Gators had just won their fourth straight game, and I was watching highlights of their victory against Kentucky. I recalled the announcers speaking highly of Tebow and then I watched the ESPN special on Tebow showing how he would voluntarily visit the Philippines to do missionary work. Several days went by and I began hearing about the flooding, earthquakes and thousands of lives lost. I immediately thought about my relatives and then I thought of Tebow and how his actions spoke volumes. I could have just prayed and not have done anything else, but I didn’t. The thought of this American kid “doing” something inspired me to begin thinking of ways to “do” something to help.

As our planning and organizing for the fund raiser progressed, our group realized the need for more items for our raffle portion of the event. A part of me wanted to ask the Chicago Bear’s head coach for help, but I was too scared to approach him. After a few days of struggling with the thought of asking him for help, an opportunity arose where I found myself walking alongside him by myself talking about other matters. Believe it or not, Tebow’s famous speech to the media after losing against Ole Miss came to mind and I found the courage to ask him. He liked the idea of our fundraiser and put me in contact with people within the Bears organization.

To the orphan kids in the Philippines whose lives have been touched, Tebow is more than just a football player. He is an inspiration that they are proud to have as a friend. Although I do not know him personally, I am proud to be one of his many fans. Think of how much better the Philippines would be if there were more examples like him living there today.

I was so happy to receive a t-shirt as a gift from my relatives last month. In the front is the big bold word “Igorotak,” which means “I am Igorot.” I wear it with pride just like others who wear shirts stating their Philippine, Irish, American, Mexican and other ethnic pride, but wouldn’t it be nice if another kind of pride prevailed. For example, wouldn’t it be great if non-Igorots wore a shirt saying something like “I am proud to know an Igorot.” For this to happen, we need today’s generation of Igorots to raise their heads and become people of good character and integrity. Contrary to popular belief, this kind of character and integrity isn’t achieved by striving to become a “star” or “idol.” It is achieved by striving to become the best husband, wife, sibling, child, professional, artist, musician and so on . . .



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Melting Pot of Ethnicities

The acronym FBI is not only used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. People whose parents are both Igorot often refer to themselves as “Full Blooded Igorots,” as I do. Many American Indians have also used FBI to coin the term “Full Blooded Indian.”

It is much easier for us with parents from the same ethnic background to talk about connecting to our heritage than it is for someone who has a mixture of ethnicities in their blood. I can claim my heritage by simply saying, “I am Igorot,” or in my native language, “Igorotak or Igolotak.” The same is true for a person of purely Irish, African, or any other ethnic background.

What about people with various ethnic mixes? Take my family for example. On a microcosmic level, my wife’s mother is Ilocano, and her father is Tagalog. Though both are Filipino in the technical sense that their heritage is directly linked to the Spanish colonization that took place more than three centuries ago; both have differencing languages and cultural practices. Therefore, one can say my children are half Igorot, quarter Ilocano and quarter Tagalog.

On a more macrocosmic level, my sisters are married to Americans with various ethnic backgrounds. Unless someone saw them in person, people would never know they are Igorot because of their married last names. One is married to someone of Czechoslovakian and Polish ancestry. Another is married to someone of German ancestry. This makes my nieces and nephews third generation Americans with mixed ethnicities, and I must say with partiality that they are the greatest looking kids. I love them all.

You can see how quickly the blood lines mix, especially here in the great big melting pot called America. Image those whose lineages go further back in America than mine. How do they identify themselves? Which ethnicity do they connect to? Is it even important to connect to all or any of their different ancestors?

Most of these people eventually settle with calling themselves “American," but every now and then, I will meet someone who can correctly name their various ethnic backgrounds and how they are proportioned. Many of them even display a sense of pride in part or all of their ethnic backgrounds. Sadly, there are also many who just don’t care.

I say, “Sadly” because the people who just don’t care generally care more about who they are on the outside. This outward identity comes in many forms, but is generally a manifestation of what society tries to mold us into. For example, people will say, “I am American, I am a doctor, I am a rock star, I am an accountant, I am an athlete, I am an idol, I am diva” and so on.

This outward sense of identity has very shallow meaning because there is so much more that makes us who we are than the color of our skin, physique, titles, accolades and such. There are those who understand this more than others. Take adopted children for example. Many of them grow up knowing there is more to them than what their adopted parents and society tells them. This is especially true for children who are different in color than their adopted parents. Eventually, a vast majority of them want to know who their biological parents are.

I recall a high school classmate who kept telling me that he couldn’t wait until he turned 18 so that he could legally begin the process of finding out more about his biological parents. He was happy with his adopted family and with life in general, but he knew there was a part of him that he wanted to know more about.

The basic human need to know who we are is why I believe it is important for people to connect to their heritage. When people make the attempt to do so, they embark on an inner journey in search of answers regarding their identity. It is this inner search that is most important because society tends to keep us hovering on the surface believing in false notions of who we are rather than discovering our true identity. When go beyond the peripheral, we can discover a plethora of things about ourselves along the way, and surprisingly enough; many of these things are found within our ancestry.

There is good and bad in everyone’s ancestry. Sometimes the bad is so ugly that one doesn’t even want to look for any of the good, but there is good in everything. If we accept the bad as part of reality and “choose” to live the good aspects of our heritage, each of us can find treasures that can help us find the answers to deeper questions we as humans struggle with. By knowing where we came from, we can become better people at the present moment. When we are at our best at the present moment, we are able to see where we are going much clearer than before.

In my upcoming book, “Igorotak: The Warrior Within,” I use my Igorot heritage to tell the important message of looking within so that we can become better people. The main character, Alex, knows little about himself and his heritage, but through a series of magical events; he connects with his ancestry and sees both good and bad. By connecting with his heritage, he is able to choose the good things of his ancestry that enables him to become a better person.

Going back to the questions about how people with mixed ethnicities identify themselves; I could only hope that they identify to the good in ALL their ethnic backgrounds. As the melting pot of ancestors continue to stir, and the superficial things evaporate; I would hope that the only thing that remains is Love. This is what I wish for my children, nieces, nephews and all the youth.