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- By Nathan Allen
When I travelled to the Philippines previously, I mentioned elements of fear and
superstition in the culture, and wondered if these traits were instilled by the Spanish, or were already here in the Philippines when they arrived.
Now I’m wondering the same thing about the strong regionalism that is present in the Philippines today. My Filipino friend Nathan thinks that by promoting a strong sense of regionalism, the Spanish were able to keep Filipinos from uniting together to resist them. It makes sense.
Just how common is regionalism in the Philippines today? To give you an idea, no matter where they are from, almost every Filipino I meet believes their hometown region is the best - even though many don’t have the perspective that comes from visiting other regions.
Wait a minute...they can't all be the best!
Perhaps due to this regionalism in the past, the average Filipino might have little desire to learn about the world outside his own region - in some cases even outside of his own specific barangay (neighborhood).
For example, I think I may have experienced this when asking locals where a certain adobo restaurant is. Very often they don’t know, and once I eventually find the place, I realize that it
was in fact only 2 short blocks away from where I asked the local. Many times, these locals have lived and worked in this location their whole lives, yet seem to have a very
limited understanding of what is happening just around the corner.
My Filipino friends tell me the locals might just be intimidated to speak English to a foreigner suddenly - and they panic, resulting in a “nosebleed”. However, this same scenario has presented itself to me over and over, even when they will go and ask 4 or 5 other Filipinos out of sight (clearly removing the “nosebleed factor”).
Some might be quick to chalk this up to a simple lack of intelligence, but I don't think that's accurate (or fair). I've seen uneducated Filipinos in the provinces inventing and re-purposing all kinds of ingenious products to improve the quality of their lives - and with little or no money! It's impressive enough to get a nod from even the most esteemed mechanical engineers.
No, I wonder if it's a cultural phenomenon, and there might be more than just Spanish-influenced regionalism at work here.
Being spread out and isolated over so many islands might be a factor as well. An example is my 55-year old Filipino friend who has the financial means, but never in her lifetime made the 20 minute boat-trip over to see the only neighboring island - and a beautiful one at that! Traditionally it doesn't seem to be a culture of travel. It is a country with abundant sunshine and food sources - perhaps people here didn't have a need to migrate and travel like we did in our harsh European climates.
Due to the natural barriers of the sea, it is fascinating to observe how languages and culture have evolved from island to island, and equally fascinating to see the common thread that runs through all of them. It seems that almost all languages in the Philippines have at least some words in common.
As an outsider who has tried to observe and explore the many beautiful regions of the Philippines, I can tell you that each one has something unique and special to offer. You could spend a lifetime here and still barely scratch the surface.
The average Filipino may not know how to get to the Internet-famous adobo place in the next barangay, but they can tell you in great detail about the birth of their cousin’s new granddaughter, the progression of their neighbor's lung cancer, or the love life of just about everybody around them. In fact, there may be very little taking place in their immediate social circle that they are unaware of.
While I have a few Filipino friends who are tired of the whole barangay knowing their personal business, for the most part, this "invasion of personal space" is surprisingly tolerated here - especially from a western perspective.
Where this “inside the bubble” kind of mentality really seems to shine is when it comes to building strong communities - and families, specifically. I believe this hyper-awareness of community creates strong social ties. Perhaps this is why the Philippines excels when it comes to family values (even, paradoxically, when a father has a mistress on the side).
Even in cases like that, very often, the family seems to be of utmost importance. When Filipinos say their region is the best, I suspect they feel that way in large part because that is where their family lives. Of course, to Filipinos, family is everything. It is admirable, and more than we can say for modern life in much of our western world.
What I want to know is this:
If it’s true, how might this "close to home" thinking be holding many Filipinos back from growth and opportunity beyond their barangays? How might this have affected progress and innovation in the Philippines over time?
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