The Philippines is World Class

The Philippines has always been a little bit of everything. We’re one of the biggest melting pots and it’s evident in our history. We were Austronesians first, so there’s the Southeast Asian part of our mix and it is quite evident in our culture and language. A lot of our 120-183 languages at least (to debunk misconception, these are languages and *not* dialects, mind you) have Austronesian roots in them. Some Bahasa speakers understand some words in the languages we speak, and vice versa.

Another remarkable thing I want to note is, the Philippines is one of the countries in the world that have a lot of languages. First is Papua New Guinea which has 840, second is Indonesia with 707, while the Philippines is 12th. This is why Pinoys typically are multilingual, knowing at least 2 to 3 languages — Filipino, English, and whichever language they use in their hometown.

There’s the Chinese and Indian aspect of our mixed culture, as we’ve been trading with them for an extensive amount of time during our precolonial era. We have the oldest Chinatown in the world, established in 1594 officially, but the Chinese have settled and traded with us as early as the 10th century. We’ve had Chinese influences in our cooking as well as in our love of music (Chinese is a tonal language, e.g., “ma” can mean 5 things based on the tone).

Indian influences run deep as well. Our pre-colonial government systems followed Indian ones (examples include the usage of terms like “datu”, “rajah”, and “sultan”). One of our first alphabets Baybayin has Sanskrit roots like “Budhi/Bodhi”, “Guro/Guru”, “Mukha/Mukha”. A lot of our folk literature has the same structure as Indian epics.

Then we’ve been colonized by 3 different countries — the longest, Spain has brought with it European tendencies and religion, and in the process, we’ve also had exposure to the South Americas due to the Galleon Trade. Mexico has an effect on us through Nahuatl words and food such as “chayote/chayohtli” or “kamote/camohtli” or “atsuete/āchiyōtl”. Spanish food was infused into ours, some examples are arroz caldo, empanadas, lechon, and sweet stuff like flan. Even tequila/mezcal has shared roots with our native tuba, as Filipino sailors brought the stuff and the technology via the Galleon Trade. If you go to Colima, Mexico, they serve tuba there, albeit with a local twist.

The Americans brought with them English, their educational system, their fast food, among other things. And apparently, colonial mentality as well, as we started our labor exports and immigration to the US as well as to other countries.

Coming back to the melting pot argument, we can basically slot ourselves into a lot of niches. We are Asians, and by extension, Southeast Asians. We can also be termed “Latin Asians”. We are Americanized. We are part Chinese. We also have close ties with South Korea and Japan so a lot of their culture also affects us greatly.

I don’t know why we’ve been selling ourselves short. We were taught when we were young that colonial mentality is bad. But it is one thing to speak it, but another to practice it. Filipinos are on the deep end of this mentality in one way or another. We diss our own food, our own talents, and our uniqueness, trying to emulate our Western counterparts. We feel that what we have is not enough, or is not worth sharing with others.

Recently while watching some reaction videos of Filipino foods and music on Youtube, I saw a group of Asian guys on a channel talking about the cool Asian cliques in their high schools growing up. These guys — Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans in their ethnicities, proclaimed that Pinoys were the cool kids growing up. They further stressed that Pinoys had swagger in the clothes that they wear and the manner they brought themselves. And to add to this swagger, they could sing and dance pretty well.

Thinking about this more, my generation (1980s-1990s) was the result of a zeitgeist that was starting to open up more to the world. Our generation experienced the Internet with dial-up modems and was also the first to experience SMS. We all know that the Philippines became the text capital, and eventually, the social media capital of the world. We’re so in tune with social media that we’ve seen it weaponized in some instances. The OFW and the Filipino diaspora have also increased during our generation. And a lot of these Pinoys contact their families through social media.

With all of the OFWs and immigrants that we’ve propagated all over the world, we’ve also indirectly propagated our culture, our food, and our ingenuity to them. And it is only now that we’re starting to see the fruits of our labors, through food and music.

Our food is still underrated and undermined, compared with the food of our neighbors — Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese. But it isn’t for lack of evangelization. We’ve had help from our many celebrity visitors like Anthony Bourdain, travel bloggers, and also a lot of second-generation Pinoy chefs building fusion-style restaurants in the US.

However, Pinoy fast food has definitely put its foot in the door via Jollibee. A lot of branches are now in different countries and with it the amalgamation of centuries of food culture. Another thing is because we are basically service-oriented in terms of culture, this also carries over to many things we export, food included. Food reviewers have noticed the quality of our fast food. And Jollibee’s fried chicken has always been on top of these reviewers’ lists.

This connection with fast food is where we are slowly putting in our push for homegrown food. It starts with adobo and garlic rice and eventually lumpia and pansit. Latino food reviewers have praised the food as familiar in taste and feel, most likely due to the shared colonial connection. Korean food reviewers have also praised Filipino food as similar to theirs in many ways. I personally would like to see our love for sourness be shared with the world.

Ube has taken a lot of desserts by storm. Calamansi as well. I believe we should take stock of these and all others we have and actually take ownership of them. In the future, I would like to see our food have the same ownership via trademark as Europeans have with their specialties, for example, Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy or Jamon Iberico from Spain. We could have had it with rice through IRRI, but unfortunately, we’ve been overtaken by our neighbors. And we’re importing rice now, instead of producing our own.

In terms of music, we’ve always had world-class talents. But it is only lately that we’re also pushing music and culture through PPop. And this is not KPop with a Filipino flavor, mind you. PPop is truly our own as we have assimilated all of our uniqueness into it. SB19 has kickstarted the Pinoy Wave, not unlike the Hallyu Wave a few years before, showcasing their talent as world-class. We can see this as they have a fanbase as far as Brazil and Puerto Rico on the other side of the world. We’ve also seen some more PPop groups pushing the envelope as well, like Alamat, BGYO, and Bini. We’re that much ready to break through as we know English very well and a lot of our songs are in English.

We’ve always known that we had good singers as our culture loves singing. Even if the environment is lacking, we’ve found ways to use our ingenuity. Our singers mostly self-taught, grew from emulating good singers like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Christina Aguilera. And from this emulation comes innovation as they eventually found their own sound. Some of the best-reviewed singers on Youtube are Morisette, Katrina Velarde, Gigi de Lana, among others.

Some singers have also become viral in some neighboring countries like Indonesia as well, like Adie and Janine with their song “Mahika” a few months ago, or Zack Tabudlo in Malaysia with “Pano” — all through social media platforms like Tiktok.

This focus on vocal quality has pushed us not to compromise especially with live acts, and we are proudly very, very good live. We’ve had a lot of practice in our singing contests and even in our noontime and weekend variety shows. Also, our cover bands are ubiquitous, as you can see many of them all around bars, and restaurants here and abroad.

There are a lot more arguments to beat our inherent colonial mentality aside from food and music, but this is a good start. We need to celebrate the little quirks we’ve been hiding all this time. It is time to be proud of what we have and start to make our identity known to the world. I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see us mainstream in terms of food or music or culture in ten years or less. I am writing this essay right now, while we’re at the crossroads to document it, hopeful that I can manifest it in some way by writing about it.

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