POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 15 July 2010, Thursday
One Family, Many Cultures
Baguio City – It is lovely this time of the year in the City of Pines, Luzon’s “Summer Capital”. I am here with my two daughters, ages 18 and 12, and my two sisters, whose ages I will not disclose for fear of reprisal.
One sister, Aileen, has been based in Dubai for the last 16 years. The other, Tiffany, was born in Manila but moved to California’s Bay Area when she was four. This is her first visit to the land of her birth in 15 years.
Aileen and I finished our education in local schools and did not get to travel abroad until after college. While we bear the mind-broadening effects of education and travel, still we are Pinoy to the core, thoroughly acculturated with Philippine values and norms, and aware of its traditions and rituals, in particular those of the urban area we grew up in – Manila.
Aileen is more traditionally Filipino than I am in her observance of rules and rituals that I prefer to ignore. She believes one should not sleep in, even on weekends. She insists that everyone must take at least one bath a day, no matter how cold it is, nor sleep right after a shower with wet hair. She tells Tiffany not to wash her hands in cold water as she might get pasma and asks her why she eats with only a fork and not a spoon too.
My mother and stepfather imbued Tiffany with traditional Filipino values – respect for elders, the importance of family, the significance of a good education. They have The Filipino Channel at home; Tiffany watched P-Noy’s inauguration before stepping on her Manila-bound Philippine Airlines flight. She watches Mom cook dried fish and eat egg with bagoong from a jar. Uncle Joe has instructed her to bring back Hizon’s ensaymada, the kind with grated queso de bola on top.
Not having grown up in Pilipinas, she cannot speak Tagalog nor Ilonggo though she can understand a sentence or two here and there in both languages. She is clueless about the Filipino way of doing things and wonders why motorists here weave dangerously in and out of their lanes, who Kris Aquino is and why she seems to have such a big impact on Philippine society, and what pasma is and why she should care.
My daughters, who grew up exposed to American culture on TV and the internet and in books, straddle the divide between cultures. They are at ease with their Tita Tiffy’s American twang and respect Tita Aya’s strict insistence on routine.
They are the true multiculturalists in the family, who understand the nuances of both mindsets and may at times act as ‘interpreters’, having the learning advantages of mass media, education, and travel in addition to meeting and interacting with people who are from or have been exposed to other cultures.
Alex, the elder, studies at De La Salle University, where she counts Koreans, Japanese, Indians, and Italians among her classmates and professors; online, she has Australian and American friends. Her best friend, Penelope moved to Singapore recently and chats with her often about her experiences and life in general there. Erika has classmates who grew up in Indonesia, Japan, and the US.
Their fondness for Japanese anime and Korean pop music has inspired them to study those languages. Now they speak and read a little in both, as well as being aware of the various differences in societal mindsets stemming from the country’s particular culture.
With the overseas foreign worker phenomenon growing even more as Filipinos seek economic opportunities unavailable at home, there is an expanded awareness of foreign cultures that did not exist 15 years ago to the current extent.
Now Aileen, having spent the past two decades in Dubai, can tell the difference between nationals of different Western, Asian, and Arabic-speaking countries from their accents and dress. She can easily switch between British and American speech codes, saying, “Has the lorry delivered the telly to your flat yet? No? Bloody hell! ” and in the next breath “Yeah, the old TV in your apartment sucks like a Hoover. I know, right?”
Yet the norms and values that guide her behavior are Filipino. She works beyond office hours to finish a task. Before she makes a decision, she assesses its possible effects on her family, which is her priority. She keeps snacks in her desk because God forbid that she or anyone else in her sphere go hungry.
When Aileen and I were growing up, we received knowledge about other cultures primarily from mass media. The younger generations have the added advantages of advances in communication technology, the shared narratives of the experiences of family and friends who work and live abroad, and friendships with people from other countries in the flesh and online to create the “mental model”, as theorist Peter Senge calls it, that is the lens through which they look at the world – a multicultural lens.
Here in Baguio City, the weather is cooler than in Manila and Tiffany is grateful for the respite from the lowlands’ humidity. Aileen says it must be much like that in San Francisco, and wouldn’t she like to live here instead? Tiffany smiles, because it’s not just the climate that will induce her to stay. Would she be able to adjust? How long will it take her to learn the language and norms so that she can fit into this society better?
My daughters shrug and say, “What’s the problem?” For them, there is none. Their knowledge of different cultures and ability to compare and analyze them gives them a broader picture of the world, making them global citizens while remaining Filipino at the core.
I dig my spoon into a jar of sweet sticky Good Shepherd ube jam and marvel how the confluence of cultures resulted in these four women, my family. I wonder where the coming years will take us.
One thing I am sure of – we are Filipino, and we carry that identity embedded in our heart and soul. ***