Barack Obama and the young man who asked, ‘Who wants to be a Filipino?’

AS I WRITE THIS, the American people are jubilating over the landmark electoral victory of Barack Obama. More than just the first black president, the 46-year old senator from Chicago, who captured a nation’s, nay, the world’s imagination, is a symbol of hope for humanity in crisis.

Speaking to a mammoth crowd representative of all colors, ages, creed, gender, and political affiliations, Obama began his victory speech with these powerfully historic words:

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
Watching the television coverage of the US elections led me to envy and resentment. Envy because clean, peaceful, and honest elections—such as the one Americans just had—remains a dream for Filipinos, and resentment because the country of stars and stripes gave us democracy but failed to teach us how to conduct our elections well (makes me wonder if they did that intently so they can continue to manipulate our government).

In this state of envy and resentment, I was reminded of an essay I wrote when I was eight years more carefree and less bald. This piece, borne out of anguish over the chronic hopelessness and despair in this country that I love, gave me my twenty seconds of fame as a national kontabida. The response it elicited was huge—from the angry call I received from a Philippine president’s son to the thousands of mail I got from readers, some sympathetic, but mostly hostile.
If Obama were Filipino, how would he respond to this essay?


IF YOU WERE TO BE REINCARNATED and given the choice, would you opt to be Filipino again? It was in 1998, at a forum of top schools at the University of Asia and the Pacific, that I raised this question. As expected, everybody, except me, gave a resounding yes for an answer.

Hypocrites! I could see from the way they talked, from the clothes they wore, from their ideas of what was good and beautiful, that even in this lifetime they were dying to camouflage their being Filipino. Thanks to Ralph Lauren, a colonial education and “trying hard” American accent.

I told them I want to be European, a Frenchman more specifically. Yes, Europe — with its rich history, solid identity and all the luxury and elegance this world can offer.

I have been there once for the World Debates in Greece. But being Filipino, I was a disaster then. During socials, I would befriend the Jamaicans so I would stand out. But it was a wrong move because Jamaicans, notwithstanding their darker skin tone, are very secure with themselves.

When I and fellow Filipinos were walking in downtown Athens, a young Greek approached our group and casually told us that he wanted to go to the Philippines to f–k Filipinas. Then he kept on asking us: “How much are Filipinas?” Did he expect us to adore him because a fine European like him wanted to visit a country whose people they officially defined as domestic helpers? Or was he simply being mean? I wish he were just referring to the controversial brown biscuit.

Hellish traffic, hellish climate, hell-sent politicians, gangsters in uniform, hoodlums in robes, massive unemployment, inhuman poverty, identity crisis, a tradition of mediocrity. Get real. Who would want to be a Filipino?

Maybe the Cojuancos, the Sys, the Tans and the other demigods whose surnames do not sound Filipino at all. But this Yumul, no.

My uncle Jessie is lucky: he and the whole family migrated to the United States in the early 1970s to graze where the grass is greener and live there as second-class citizens but occasionally come home like gods crowned with sparkling dollars.

Then there is Me-Ann, one of the tinderas [shopkeepers] in our small business. She thinks that her main purpose in life is to go to Taiwan and earn money she will never earn in a lifetime of labor in the Philippines. I feel sad to know that Me-Ann and millions of Filipinos have to leave the country just to live decently.

Some say that despite our material poverty, we should take pride in our spirituality since the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia. But it continues to puzzle me why this Christian nation has produced only two saints so far while Thailand, Japan and China — all non-Christian countries — have more. Maybe, unlike Filipinos, people from those nations have more sensible things to do than creating miracles by desperately looking for images in the stains of tree trunks and forcing statures to shed bloody tears.

I have always been pessimistic about the fate of the Filipino. But there was a break. I gave in to ht e nationalistic spirit during the Centennial celebrations. When fireworks, worth millions of pesos, lit up the skies over the Luneta, I had high hopes that the Philippines would be better and I decided to junk my pessimism. I thought a new era of Filipino pride had dawned.

In my college years, I was also influenced by San Beda’s thrust of molding young men in the image of a true Filipino like some of its alumni whose ranks include Ninoy Aquino, Rene Saguisag, Ramon Mitra and Raul Roco, who should have been the president of this country.

Yes, for some time, I was deluded into being proud of being Filipino. But thanks to President Erap, I have recovered my senses. His Excellency has betrayed the people’s trust so many times that I need not elaborate. Erap has become for me the symbol of everything that is bad in the Filipino. In his administration, corruption and chaos have become the norm so that writing about it would only bore the reader. It’s just too bad for the nation, but good for me since I got back to my precious pessimism.

Now I am firmly convince that Erap has to resign to save what is left if our dignity as a nation and what is left of my optimism as a young man. But I guess he will never do that. Congress is dominated by honorable “galamays” so impeachment is an impossibility. A military coup could save the day for the country, but, in that case, Uncle Sam is sure to defend his friend who handed him the Visiting Forces agreement. Now, we are left with assassins to play heroes. If someone saves the lives of millions, would he not go to heaven?

But then Erap need have no fear about an assassination plot. Imelda Marcos, despite all the crimes her family allegedly committed against the Filipino people, is still alive and beautiful. Her regal hairdo continues to stand with pride.

According to Hindu philosophy, what you sow in this life, you will reap in the next and whatever you are now is a reaction to your past. Could it be that all Filipinos were crooks in their earlier incarnations? If there is any reason I try to do well in this life, it is in hope that in my next, I would be a Filipino no more.

If it isn’t too much to ask, I would like to be a Frenchman or a Jamaican, before Jinggoy Estrada becomes president of this wretched land.

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

12 thoughts on “Barack Obama and the young man who asked, ‘Who wants to be a Filipino?’”

  1. i think, they will also comment on your column, but the comment you will receive will be very different from those you received about the original column. they will tell you that you are only papansin thats why you wrote that one. hahahaha.

  2. I Still want to be a FILIPINO.

    After all the things that the world is showing us, and shouting in our ears from overseas, all that we can do is to accept the things they are saying against us and come into this kind of thinking that being a FILIPINO is such disgracefull.

    Its just really sad and heart breaking how our Kababayans think like this (to belong to another culture) We migrate, marry other citizens just to escape the reality of being a FILIPINO.

    If we cannot live and love our country, our race, then WHO WILL?

    It seems like, the situation from the time of Rizal up this present time has just got worst. The hope of the future for our country, the pride of the universities are just mere EMPLOYEES of another raises companies.

    We have lost our national identity, the love for country, and the dream to upheld the dignity of our raise. Rizal may not believe this but, the pearl of the orient is now considered to be the SLUGGARDS of Asia.

    We are now leaving in the ASIAN CENTURY, but our country has been LEFT behind. The ones taking center stage is China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore,.. for the coming years Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand will overtake us.
    The West doesn’t even recognize us as part of asia becouse for them, we are PACIFIC ISLANDERS.

    East and West sees us as Domestic Helpers, country of slaves, that our country exists to be the caregiver for the whole world. And all our government to do is NOTHING…and for our fellow coutry men is to get emotional and have their RALLY!!!Cant we do somthing of essence, something intellectual, some ACTIONS that will far more sounding than just mere WORDS and arguments.

    What are we going to do for our FUTURE generation. It will be our generation, the generation of our sons, grandsons and their sons.

    What? hanggang INGGIT AT GAYA nalang ba tayo? Cant we make our own CAR? Cellphone? TV? Radio? hanngang REPAIR nlang ba tayo?
    Cant we have additional BIG COmpanies NOT selling Liquors and using our women for “sexy Advertising (that really make sense about selling liquors)

    If we dont move, we will be CERTAINLY BE SLAVES IN OUR OWN COUNTRY!!! okei lang sana kung alipin sa ibang bansa, but that to happen in our own SOIL…. That might bring back our past heroes to life.

    I am A FILIPINO, as a nurse… I will be one of the worlds best and will help the coming generation of nurses/students to be PASSIONATE in their endavor and LOVE OUR COUNTRY!

  3. eaglepower..i like your enthusiasm.i am proud to be a filipino and an ilocano no less and i did not marry an american when we were in germany just to migrate. it is love. we had been married for 38 years now happily.and believe me he treats me like a princess. you are not exposed yet to the facts of life being only can reach for the stars or try but believe me there are obstacles you have to hurdle before you get to the end of the rainbow and the pot of gold . talk to me in 5 years which you will be the age of your sir herdy now .your perspectives might also change .i wish you luck in all your endeavors.

  4. Congratulations Ma’am, I have nothing against that. Maybe I just sound too aggressive here. I know, marami pa po akong bigas na kakainin.

    Change of Perspective; we’ll see ma’am, after 5years.
    Talk to you soon.

  5. me tita lita.there is nothing wrong with being aggressive.i like it.not only you will eat more bigas you have a lot of patients who needs your TLC and a lot of lands to farm.DO NOT GIVE UP!!!

  6. Sir Herdy,
    The Hindu philosophy of karma, life before and after being equal, no longer holds true even in India. India’s caste system qualifies people on their skin color, their family name and family roots. Have a farmer father, automatically you are also a farmer; a soldier father, you should also be a soldier. M. Ghandi is supposed to be just a grocer/merchant, not a leader, per Hindu caste system and karma. He asked permission to study law in England but was denied by the caste system. He defied the system and the rest is history! But then, having Ghandi (means green grocer) as name, him and all his leader-heirs were killed by the system’s ultra-fanatic assassins. Modern India, however, is slowly leaving the system’s fanaticism. Some lower caste groups have elevated themselves not just within their class castes but in upper hierarchy by earning higher education, like Ghandi himself (who is a Vaishya). The ultra-poor outcasts, the “untouchables” could now openly socialize in public. The movie, “Slumdog Millionaire” shows the present society setting of India. I have an Indian friend who used to be ‘Ksatriya'(warrior), have taken engineering studies and became manager in Indian telecom company.

    1. Nice inputs on India you got there asiong. I can share them with my students, too, when I discuss social stratification. India is a classic case of why the line between religious belief and public policies must be clearly marked. In countries like India, and maybe those in the middle east as well, religion, philosophy, and politics, and social structures are so tightly intertwined, and the human being gets lost somewhere.

  7. Eaglepower, may the good Lord bless you and your likes! I hope you could inspire others to do well for the glory and honor of our dear old Pinas. For now, it’s the only country we’ve got. I confess that I am on the verge of displeasure that most of the better Pinoys are leaving for greener pastures with less expectations for them to provide a glimmer of spark for our country’s general good but mostly for their personal gains and laurels. If the trend continues, our dear Pinas would be left with just the poorest, lower-educated echelons of sincere citizens, bracing for the wrath of nature, the rantings of aristocratic politicians and the smoldering of the rich few.

  8. There are a few postings here referencing the name of President Obama and as an Ilocano-Fil-Am living in the west coast, I have to divulge my voting record that I voted for him during the last presidential election. Obama is a jr. senator from Chicago which I would consider it, at that time, as a raw politician to hold the highest office of the land. But he is an eloquent speaker, a good communicator, a brilliant mind with a good thought process who is a good “alternative.” He was a good alternative, and he has been to this date, versus the other traditional class who has been in the office for almost two-hundred years and subjected the country in economic decline, chaos, and uncertainty. I am a pragmatic voter. You have to show the “beef” before the end of your tenure, otherwise, the voice of the people will come and get you out on election day.

    The issue of second-class citizen living in this country has never been came across to my mind. I do understand the social bracket in any society: the wealthy, the middle class, and families living below the poverty line. The first wave of migrant workers in Hawaii back in the late thirties are close to slavery to my opinion, but new wave of incoming immigrants to this country are well educated and more assertive to their status. There is a huge transformation from slavery, second-class citizen and to professional workers because we Fil-Am values that education is a “must-have” to attain a good quality life. I would like to emphasize that not all immigrants in this country or anywhere have the same luck, “tay suwerte ni Juan ay saan nga suwerte ni Kulas.”

    In my opinion, there is a big discourse between nationalism and economics on the mind of a person. You could be very passionate and full of patriotic fervor during college days but reality of life will put you in the center stage after you left the portals of the university. This is not about traitors and heroes of your beloved country but how you define your bearings in life. It is about making choices and bold decisions between fine line at the early stage of your professional life. You do not like to poise a lot of questions of “What if’s” at the later stage, my call is “Just do it!”–I knew a few bright boys from the state univ. during college days who waved the red-flags of the “KM” as a protest of the establishment during the early 70’s but happily settled outside the country. I am not advocating everybody to find work and opportunity outside the country after college. I could not be also a role model to salespitch the true nationalism of the country.

    and to my fellow blogger EAglepower- you are absolutely correct that somebody has to stay home to keep the house in order and admire you for your true spirit of nationalism and crusade for the Pinoys.

  9. Got a wrong word there, it should be ‘smothering’ of the rich few, who hold most of the country’s wealth and businesses…

  10. Filipinos are in a big crisis because of an idiot person. The hostage taking has a big impact to us Fiipinos but many of the natural traits of filipinosshould be emphasize..we filipinos are hospitable, loving ,and caring. We must move on from things that complicate us..why choose to be sad when you can be happy talking to your love ones.sometimes being a filipino is being happy. Im proud to be a filipino you can stay or not… a filipino and im proud with my identity!!!!!

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