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- By Nathan Allen
Here is the link to the original letter, as a young Filipino on Twitter shared it:
"When truth feels better told by somebody else - A FOREIGN BLOGGER'S LETTER TO THE PHILIPPINES"
Why do many people accept these observations if they are coming from a foreigner, and not so much from their own kababayan? That is a question that many Pinoys seem to be asking after reading the responses to my "open letter". The response was mostly positive, resulting in 60,000 "likes" and thousands of shares - all in just 5 days. Quite overwhelming - I would like to thank all of you that wrote and posted such kind words about the letter! However, there were definitely a few who were critical of what I had to say.
After reading it, these individuals wanted to know who I was to write such things. Well, that's fair. Many of them assumed I came to the country as a typical tourist "on vacation", and likely spent all my time in Manila, Cebu, and Boracay.
In actuality, my ideas and observations came from all over the country, and in large part from speaking with Filipinos themselves. In some cases it may not have made a difference, but it's worth mentioning that many user comments were added to my post before people knew what my experience in the country actually was. I should have made it clear sooner.
Here's more about me, from an article I've written previously:
"I have spent an entire year exploring and living in this beautiful country - and all on a very modest budget. I have done my best to try and learn 3 distinct languages. I sampled local and street foods all over the country - on multiple occasions I have actually even enjoyed balut:) I became "part of the family" at my favorite local carinderia in Cebu City, I slept in a candle-lit nipa hut in the lush green mountains of Luzon. I had my fill of delicious food in Bicol (maharang!).
I swam with giant sea turtles off of Apo Island. I found "my voice" while exploring countless videoke bars deep in the provinces...I have been known to try and sing "Pusong Bato" and "My Way" when I get the chance. In Manila I crossed Edsa on foot and learned the complex jeepney routes.
I went fishing in Bacuit Bay (Palawan), rode "top load" on one of the world's most dangerous roads in Ifugao, explored and documented many poor neighborhoods, took a motorbike deep into the mountains of Negros Oriental, went to a "witchdoctor's" festival on the island of Siquijor, barricaded myself indoors with a family in the path of typhoon Yolanda, and then volunteered a bit with relief efforts afterward."
You can think of me like a missionary, except I wasn't trying to spread my gospel to you. I was hoping you would teach the "Filipino gospel" to me.
Of course these experiences do not make me any kind of expert, and there is so much more to explore and learn. All I can say is that I did make the most of the time I had in the country, and I put honest effort into connecting with the people and culture. I made friends in Manila and Cebu that were very successful, educated, and worldly. I made friends deep in the provinces and villages who were educated in different ways - friends who showed me a thing or two about generosity, religious devotion, and hospitality (these can also be said for my "city friends", by the way).
Over the course of that year I observed a lot, and asked a lot of questions. I had many in-depth conversations with Filipinos from all socio-economic levels, and I really listened to them. From scholars, governors, and Supreme Court employees in the big cities, to trike and taxi drivers, to poor fisherman in Palawan and Siquijor...they were all saying the same thing:
They love their country, but they hate the way things are (I'll admit, the government workers were less open to acknowledge how "things are", but they hinted at it.)
You know what? It's heartbreaking to see so many people you care for so deeply-people that welcomed you into their hearts and homes-seem so frustrated and hopeless about the situation in their country. I observed it for an entire year, and I thought long and hard about it. "What's missing?", I asked myself.
Again, I wondered if perhaps it's the voice - the ability to stand up, achieve, and move the country forward without the fear of friends and family trying to pull you back down to "reality" for being too proud or ambitious.
During my travels around the islands, one thing was quite clear: the "crab mentality" is very much alive and well in the country. I saw it in practice just about everywhere I went - and even felt the effects of it personally in some cases. It's certainly not unique to the Philippines, but although it's getting there, this country has clearly had a hard finding its way out of corruption and poverty. For some reason, other "crab mentality" plagued countries seem to have navigated these waters more successfully.
I'm just asking how much this mentality might have to do with the country's slowed progress. If it's not already clear, I'm a big fan of Filipino culture. However, if "the crab mentality" is possibly manifesting itself in the form of cultural modesty, and that modesty might be keeping people from standing up and achieving, then it could be holding the country back, and isn't that worth a closer look? This is why, in the letter I mentioned:
"I know you prefer to be modest, but I don't believe pride and modesty have to be enemies. I believe you can be proud without thinking or acting like you are better than others. Be proud of your culture; your heritage."
So yes, the blog post was shared a lot, and many people thanked me for writing it. Again, I was curious why some people are more willing to accept this point-of-view from a foreigner, but perhaps not from their own countrymen? As "chrissunner" points out in the comments, this is not the first time that many of these points have been brought up (previously by prominent Pinoy authors such as Jose Rizal and Nick Joaquin).
One thought was that these are perspectives coming from somebody with no direct connection to the country, and therefor possibly no internal biases.
In essence, perhaps it's easier to see the certain things from the outside?
Another idea is that people may have listened to their countrymen in the past, but have felt betrayed by them once they gained power. On a consistent basis, that's enough to build considerable distrust, I suppose.
I realize that my passions may have gotten the better of me while writing that letter, and hopefully after reading about my experiences in the country, people will treat it more as a "plea" than a sermon (that is certainly how I intended it). You see, I come from a country that has already gone down a road that the Philippines appears to be going down now. I want to warn these people that I've grown so close to...warn them about too much U.S. and "western" influence.
If you notice, each year more and more American, Aussie, and European ex-pats are showing up on Philippine beaches looking for "the good life". There is a reason for this. Of course it has to do with economics, but I suspect that in some cases they may also be fleeing from their own chaotic "western" worlds - perhaps in favor of your wonderful family-oriented culture.
Yes, Filipinos, in many ways your "quality of life" is far superior to ours.
I don't want it to seem like I'm not proud of my own country at all…I'm proud of its cultural diversity and innovation, at least in terms of technology, and musical contributions such jazz and blues (to name just a few)…I'm just not proud of our fast food culture, eroding family values, consumerism, foreign policy, and bloody history.
Aside from this "warning", I also hope to provide outside perspective on your own culture, because if there's one theme that keeps repeating in most of the emails I receive at "I Dreamed Of This", it's just how appreciative people are to see their own culture reflected through the eyes of someone else. Of course, everybody loves to be flattered, but I have specifically and continuously been thanked by Filipinos for my "honest and fair" look at the country "as it is". Just so you know, these are their words, not mine.
I appreciate having the freedom to express ideas like this, and I can only imagine how much worse off the world would be if nobody asked questions or voiced their ideas and opinions in the past. People around the world have been very critical of my own country (U.S.) in blogs and editorials, and for good reason. I do feel that the free exchange of ideas is very important...this was kind of the point of the letter - we all have a voice, and we should all use it!
Still, though, if I hadn't felt a certain level of acceptance by (and deep admiration for) Filipino culture, I certainly would have thought twice about writing that letter. The people of this country have become like family to me, and I write such words out of deep concern for my adopted "family".
Speaking of which, it's also worth mentioning that I wrote that letter for my readers, and they already know all about me and my connection to the country. When it went viral and was picked up by GMA News, I knew thousands of new readers would be confused as to who I am, so I felt the need to write this follow-up.
I started The "I Dreamed Of This" FB page ( www.facebook.com/idreamedofthis ) while I stayed in the Bicol region, and it is entirely dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Filipino culture and countryside. It is a growing community of over 22,000 Filipinos who, as I said, have really taken me in as family.
I am so grateful for all the new friends I have made throughout this process. The photos and stories shared within the "I Dreamed Of This" community have proven to be a daily source of pride for Filipinos inside the country, as well as a much-needed link "home" for Pinoys and OFWs around the world. Now that I am back in the U.S, I find that it's an important link back to my "adopted home" for me, too!
Yes, I do think the Philippines has a lot to offer the world. I am optimistic, and look forward to watching the country succeed - in its own unique way.
Salamat sa inyong lahat!
* Some parts of my letter may have been "lost in translation" due to words and expressions not common (or with different meanings) in the Philippines. For example, some people thought I was saying that Filipinos don't know what therapists are. It was a joke, implying that your culture isn't broken to the point where you have a need for them.
* The point of the letter was certainly not to say that Filipinos are not capable or are not contributing anything of value to the world. On the contrary, the point was actually to a shine light on the wide variety of skills and talent the country possesses. Talent that may be lacking the "push", and addressing this "lack of a push" is what I was really getting at.
For example, knowing how soulful and talented Philippine-based musicians are, why aren't there more of them making big moves out in the world? As "abcruc2310" puts it in his comment: "…but for a nation of 90 million people many of whom are proficient musicians, you'd think that the world ought to be covering more Filipino songs. So you need to ask yourself: why isn't that happening?" I loved reading that, it was exactly the point I was trying to make!
* Not aimed at all Filipinos, this letter was directed at "the masses" I referred to,
and within the Philippines specifically (note: GMA News published it, and changed
it from "Letter to the Philippines" to "Letter To Pinoys", so it became even more confusing :) Also, just in case people are taking it more literally, I defined "small-minds" as those
"being kept from potential and discouraged from being ambitious". As I use
the expression in the U.S.: "people being small-minded" means they
are not thinking things through or
In this case, I wasn't pointing the finger at Filipinos themselves, but perhaps instead at their oppressive colonial past.
* On another note, in my haste to make a bigger point, I neglected to mention many more English-speaking nations in my original letter...Canada and Australia, to name a few. I apologize for this oversight.
* For the record, I am uncomfortable with the word "truth" used in the Twitter post I mentioned before - people are free decide what's true for them, but these are just my observations and ideas.
Also, it has been pointed out that "small minds" discuss people, and that I have in fact written a whole piece about what? Yes, people. I find this bit of irony quite amusing as well!
By the way, if you made it this far and still don't know what "letter" I'm talking about, where have you been? Under a rock? Haha. Here you go:
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