September 23, 2008 � Kelly John D. Mahipus

For the reviewer, the coming of the colonizers is the start of the masquerade. Many have worn different masks. When they try to remove them, they just find they can�t.

Identity crisis.

The Filipino as Spaniard, the Filipino as American, the Filipino as Japanese � when is the Filipino going to be himself? He has worn so many masks; appearance is difficult to distinguish from reality. But the mimic, no matter how expert must, sooner or later, be himself. The act must stop, when the lights go out, in the loneliness of his room, in the loneliness of his soul.

For centuries Filipinos had constantly to prepare a face to meet the faces that they meet: those of their new rulers. Protective coloration is the scientific term for it (thanks wiki!). Protective coloration tends to be, with human beings, overprotective. The Filipino who would survive Spanish rule tried to be more Spanish than the Spaniard, more �Catholic� than those who brought the faith here.

The Spanish or American regime produced a grinding sense of incompetence in the Filipino: before so much Spanish or American know-how, he could only feel overwhelmed. How could he ever be as good as a Spaniard or an American? If he could not be one, however, he could seem to be one. Hence, the cultivation of Spanish and American ways, including their language and (*coughs*) accent. The Filipino would be indistinguishable from Spanish or American � in the dark. After all, one woman is equally so from another under the same condition.

The motivation here is obviously not protective but something else. Not fear but admiration is the compulsion. No people ever came under a foreign rule that went for it with such enthusiasm as Filipinos did for the Spaniards and Americans after the initial brutalities. When independence came, it brought no great rejoicing but nostalgia and regret.

Admiration however, is all very well, but it leads to what? The thing admired is not the admirer. Filipinos who go to the US � this is all they need to realize that they are not, in spite of having elevated Americanism to a religion, Americans. They are not Americans at all. But what are they? They are filled with an overwhelming sense of not belonging; they would go home � but what is home? What is the Philippines? What is the Filipino? An imitation American�

The question arises: What is the Filipino after he has been stripped of his many disguises, of his successive masks?

But the attempt to recover their past self � the Filipino before he was called a Filipino, before the Spaniards, Americans, Japanese made him ever � has produced only a thriving business in old images. Air-conditioned mansions now display more or less authentic examples of folk art. Westernized Filipinos find the �exciting� � that is the operative world. And, indeed, the na�ve against the ornate � it is exciting, they suppose, as black stockings on the white thighs of an expensive prostitute.

The Filipino-as-Filipino is, somehow, unconvincing. It is like to write English entirely in �English,� that is, by avoiding words that are not of Anglo-Saxon origin. The foreign, however, becomes in time even more native than the native; to exclude words of foreign origin from one�s speech is to be, if not completely unintelligible, certainly affected. The Filipino who would act as if the Spaniards and the Americans had never been here should go about in a G-string.

Is there no identity, then, to be usefully recovered � or manufactured? They were much impressed, some time ago, by images of Mary and Joseph in a church in the Visayas; they were presented as Filipinos. They had known the two, who were Jews, with features derived from Italian renaissance. They were impressed by the new presentations, but it has less meaning for us than Mary and Joseph as Europeans. The old images had not been replaced in our hearts by the native version.

Whatever he was, he is. Whatever he pretends to be, if he pretends long enough, he becomes.

His masks become his nature. When he tries to remove them, he finds he can�t. If he could, the face underneath would prove to be the same as the masks. The Filipino is all he has tried to be, the masks he has put on. To be a Filipino is not a simple thing but a great confusion, a matter of great complexity, which is only a way of saying what it is to be a man. The native returns, but only to himself. The inescapable one.

To cultivate the virtues of honesty, industry and justice, to learn how to love is to be human.  To be a Filipino, in the best sense of the word.  Whether as Spaniard or American or Japanese, or as nationalist, the Filipino must reckon with himself at last. He has no excuse for what he does; he should blame nobody but himself for hat he is. If he has courage, he is brave; if he is honest, he is true; if he loves justice, he is descent; and if he loves rather than hates, he is at ease. The rest is merely economics, politics, and the movies.

Thus, with the coming of the colonizers – Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese � many Filipinos have joined the masquerade. And now, they don�t know their way home.


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