Jan 3, 2011

3-in-1: Are jeepney drivers stupid? Are Filipinos obsessed with skin whitening? Are Ilocanos Filipinos?

Question 1:

Dear Filipino,

AAF Rocks!

I am a Filipino and have lived in Metro Manila for the past 20 years. I have always hated public utility drivers. They're reckless, always breaking traffic laws, a lot of times discorteous among other bad descriptions that I try always not to be. And that is only with regards to how they earn their living. Is being poor a reason? Is it lack of education? Why are a lot of them stupid?

Pikon Na

Question 2:

Dear Filipino,

Why are Filipinos obsessed with whitening their skin considering we are a tropical country (skin cancer, hello!), etc.?  Brown is beautiful!!!

Desert Pinay

Question 3:

Dear Filipino,

Why do most Ilocanos in the US of A especially those in Hawaii DENY being Filipinos and only speak their dialect and not Filipino (or Tagalog)?...I never believed this story when a friend of mine back home told me about it and we’re totally dumfounded when my brother and I witnessed it firsthand here in DMV California. When this American guy asked this mother and daughter if they’re Filipinos, they told the guy that they’re Ilocanas and it’s totally different.  What!? And why they would say those things?

Bert Perez

Dear Pikon, Desert and Bert,

First of all, happy New Year!

Here's a few tidbits re 2011: Did you know (and I'm pretending you care about the following factoids) that this year marks the 100th year of the arrival of the first De La Salle Brothers to the Philippines; the establishment of the University of the Philippines' College of Law, thanks in part to the YMCA; and (quite possibly) the birthday of Carlos Bulosan, labor activist, poet and author of America Is in the Heart, a must-read book for any serious student of Asian American history?  (And here's my bit about "tidbits": The Online Etymology Dictionary says tidbit "probably [came] from dialectal tid 'fond, solicitous, tender' + bit 'morsel,' but as in my usage here at least, I would submit that maybe tid was in fact borrowed from the Viking word for 'time.'

Secondly, you're probably wondering why I decided to lump your questions in one blogpost.  There are really two reasons for that decision.  One is because I'm feeling a bit pressured to answer the mounting number of questions being lobbed at me and I needed to find a way to do it faster (sorry!); and two is because there's a theme that runs through your questions which I plan to explain more later (really!).

Thirdly, if you've read most of the previous blogposts here, you're also probably noticing a recurring thing on AAF!: i.e., that whoever this guy is -- i.e., me, a.k.a. "The Filipino" -- he does sound sometimes like he is some kind of "Chief Filipino Apologist" (CFA), if there's such a thing, right?  Well, I am not, and there is of course no such thing, although I now feel maybe there should be.

Fourthly, you probably also know this is just my third month as a blogger.  And I guess I'm not really complaining about the emails I get (keep them coming guys!), but look: I started this blog with the primary goal of answering mainly questions by non-Filipinos about Filipinos and the Philippines, and yet -- guess what? -- MOST of the questions I've received so far are from Filipinos!  Isn't that interesting?

And as to the kinds of questions I'm getting from Filipinos, both the answered and the pending?  Well, let's just say that, to me at least, several of the questions really reveal an underlying penchant for either self-flagellation and/or some form of disdain for the fellow Pinoy, thus confirming my long-held suspicion that we as a people -- whether based in the Philippines or abroad -- really are filled with so much socio-cultural baggage, so much unhealthy crap, and so much depressing BS, even in instances when we should be celebrating our colorful history, fascinating culture, and shared humanity.

I think this baggage, this crap, this BS, is the product of many factors, not least of which is not knowing who we are as a people, not knowing our history, not knowing facts, and feeling insecure about the Philippines' and our place in the fast-globalizing world.  And because we don't know ourselves, we live up to the stereotypes others have of us and then perpetuate them even further.

Now, I'm really not given to profanity when writing even with the anonymity afforded me by this Internet blog, but let me say this and let me say this clearly:


There, I said it.  And I hope you will forgive me (I actually wanted to use a stronger-sounding four-letter word that rhymes with buck but thought better of it).  I admit this is NOT a nice way to start the new year, but this is really the first time I'm intentionally cussing in this blog (my earlier post about "Milk!" doesn't count, of course) and I hope this is the last. 

You see, I am not really an angry brown man.  Believe me, I'm usually level-headed (relatively speaking at least) even when answering loaded and infuriating questions -- like where I had to:

     - explain why the Philippines does not really suck;

     - clearly imply that Filipino culture is not an impediment to success, as proven by the fact that as a group, Filipinos in the US are among the most affluent, best educated, and least poor; and

     - deny that Filipinos have a patent on crab mentality, a claim which is regularly being bandied about by Filipinos themselves.

Seriously, I am really getting frustrated by the amount of negativity about the Philippines and Filipinos out there, so much so that even without a related question posed, I felt the need to write a blogpost anyway arguing why we are not Somalia in the making.  I'm now glad I did because I just really found the very idea alarmist and way off the mark.

Let me repeat that: Philippines = Somalia in the making?  Way off the mark!

And that's what I also have to say about the underlying premises of the "Why?" questions posed by you guys -- Pikon, Desert and Bert:

Way off the mark!

Let me now go about your questions one by one.

Pikon's Question

Dear Pikon,

There are three question marks in your email but there is really only one question: "Why are a lot of [public utility drivers (let's call them PUDs for short)] stupid?"

Now, the two sentences preceding this question, while also punctuated by erotemes, are not real questions but are instead your proposed possible reasons for the "stupidity" of the PUDs : "being poor" and "lack of education."

So let's look deeper at the premise of your only real question: that PUDs are "stupid." 

Prior to the interrogative sentence, you wrote that "public utility drivers" are "reckless," "always breaking traffic laws," and "discorteous among other bad descriptions."  This statement also functions as the premise of your question, which is of course just your opinion, likely shaped by your limited experiences, observations and interactions with your subjects of inquiry, the PUDs.

But in "the premise to the premise" of your question, you revealed that you, sir, "have always hated" them.

Well, if that's the case, the premise to the premise of your question answers your question: As far as you are concerned, a lot of PUDs are "stupid" because you "have always hated them"!

Indeed, your question has lived up to the Latin etymology of the word premise -- i.e., praemittere, which means "to dispatch in advance," which is exactly what you did.  So why then did you even bother to email me your question? 

Oh, I know: Because you want someone like me to affirm your belief that "a lot of the PUDs are stupid." 

Well, I am sorry to disappoint you.  You won't get this affirmation from me, not even with more generous compliments about my blog.  In fact, I completely disagree with your belief and, truth be told, dislike you for it. 

And since it's the New Year, I hope you'll make it one of your resolutions to put a stop to your hatred of PUDs.  Seriously. 

For two reasons:

The first reason is because, contrary to your belief, a lot of them are actually very smart, just not lucky enough to get good breaks in life.  For sure, some of them are smarter than some of the folks in Congress right now, whether in the Philippines or the US.

Think about it: The quintessential PUD -- that is to say, the jeepney driver -- has to remember who has or hasn't paid yet; calculate and make change based on the distance travelled by every single passenger; listen to verbal commands to stop (para!); and watch the side streets for additional passengers (to be pursued), kotong cops (to be avoided, if possible) or angry girlfriends (also to be avoided, but impossible) -- all while driving in notoriously chaotic and crowded streets of cities like Manila. 

Frankly, it's a wonder to me that accidents don't happen more often involving jeepneys!

The second reason is because they are really just like you and I.  Most of them are nice and honest folks working as best as they can to raise a family and just survive with some modicum of decency intact.

I should know.  After all, I personally came to know several of these people, having personally washed and cleaned many of their vehicles for a living when I was much, much younger. 

Moreover, I know whereof I speak because I myself was also a "public utility driver" once.  With my two legs serving as the engine and my fear of hunger as the fuel, I was the "driver" of a kariton (pushcart) during my early teens, plying the roads of my small provincial city as a magbobote.  I fit the definition of a PUD because my business then, which involved buying and selling scrap metals and bottles for a couple of local junk yards, also definitely served a "public utility": i.e., to rid the sellers of their junk; promote commerce; and help the country's nascent recycling efforts (this, the poor do as a matter of survival, by the way, and not to be fashionable, unlike some of the holier-than-thou folks I know).

A certified promdi, I also remember getting lost one time some 20 years ago after falling asleep aboard a jeepney plying the Cubao-Marikina route.  I woke up, panicky but still groggy, somewhere in Marikina when I should have gotten off much earlier: at the Katipunan stop, where my dorm was most proximate.  The driver, bless his heart, allowed me back in for free (maybe you find this stupid?), and made sure to drop me at the right stop on the way back.

But why, you'll probably insist, do most of those PUDs drive like maniacs? 

Well, I'm not bulls-itting you, but it is at this juncture that I must call on the kindred spirits of Sitting Bull.  Because there is in fact an American Indian proverb which says: "Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins."

Well, in this case, I ask you: If you really want to understand PUDs, withhold your hatred of them first until you've had a turn at the wheel of a non-airconditioned jeepney, with pollution and smoke blowing in your face and all over on a hot and humid day, and you had to try with all your might to navigate Manila's mind-boggling traffic gridlocks as fast as practicable in order to cover miles and miles just to be able to pay for ever-increasing boundary fees and gasoline prices, and miles and miles more to eke out a pittance of a living just to feed and clothe your kids. 

That's all really.  Try it.  Then maybe you'll be able to answer your own question about PUDs -- or even just come up with a different one.

Desert's Question

Dear Desert,

I agree completely: Brown is indeed beautiful.  Very beautiful.

But obviously, the premise of your "Why?" question is this: that Filipinos are in fact obsessed with skin whitening.  It may or may not be true on an individual level (I'm voting for the latter), but it's really best to re-visit who exactly are obsessed with skin whitening and why.

But first, another confession: During my first year in college, when my face was getting attacked by a bad case of pimples while at the same time I was also feeling a bit insecure about my being very dark (blame genes and years of being under the sun) in a college environment where rich, good-looking mestizo Filipinos abound, I turned to cheap Eskinol products.  The ads said Eskinol would get rid of pimples and also have some whitening effect, so I bought it.  Why not -- it was "perfect" for a certified promdi like me, right?  I'm ashamed about it now but it's true -- I too bought into their hideous marketing claim.  In any case, Eskinol didn't really work, and since it's the only brand I could afford then, I stopped caring altogether, liberating me in the process and giving me that "ruggedly handsome" look. ;-)

Now, it's very easy to say that use of skin whitening products is just another manifestation of colonial mentality, of autophobia or self-hatred, of low self-esteem. (Of course, this can also just be a case of people wanting what they don't have, which should explain why white people spare no expense sometimes to get that "healthy tan" look.)  Any of these theories is intuitively correct and can likely be proven with empirical data.  In fact, it is common knowledge that people from countries and ethnic groups with a history of Western colonization and enslavement suffer from this desire to look like their white rulers.  Viewed in the prism of today's world, some now see this desire, which has come to mean to be literally whiter, as a mental illness (think Michael Jackson).

Can you imagine though if African empires had ruled the world?  What would things be like?  For this question, the so-called "Obama Effect" in fashion shows and runway castings provides a clue.

And this is why the premise of your question is way off:  Because I think Filipinos are not the ones obsessed with skin whitening.  It's big business -- encompassing the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, the TV industry, and the media in general -- that is obsessed with it.  In other words, it's capitalism that's obsessed with it.

Think about it.  Without big business pushing and marketing and advertising skin whiteners incessantly, Filipinos (and indeed many other ethnic groups) would not even be thinking about skin whitening; they would live with the characteristics they were born with.  Without big business obsessed with profits, there would be no revolting Glutathione craze gripping the Philippines and all its attendant problems, no MLM scammers promising another "unmatched business opportunity" to capitalize on some "medical breakthrough" and issuing other exaggerated statements which they know fully well have not even been evaluated by authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

That's why, you see, this obsession with skin whitening is not about Filipinos really.  It's purely about money.  Gobs of it.

And the Filipinos who get taken here are but the victims of an elaborate hoax -- the unwitting participants in a long-running subjugation of simpler minds. 

No, these victimized Filipinos are not obsessed: They've just been told over and over and over again that in order for them to succeed, to feel better about themselves, to look desirable, to improve themselves, they have to look whiter.  They've been told over and over and over again that not changing their skin color will consign them to poverty and more misery.

And for me, if there's one thing commendable about these poor Filipinos buying into this noxious propaganda hook, line and sinker, it is this: That these Filipinos have shown that they do want to better themselves so they're doing something about their perceived shortcomings.  In a way, one can argue that it's better than doing nothing.

The challenge of course is how to change these Filipinos' misguided thinking, but that's a question best left for another day.

Bert's Question

Dear Bert,

This is an amusing question because it's true: Many Ilocanos really consciously tell people they are Ilocanos, not Filipinos.  It's been their schtick for a while now.  I've heard this even from my esteemed college Philosophy professor, an Ilocano himself, who taught his course entirely in Tagalog. 

I think Ilocanos make that statement because they have a rich cultural and heritage identity.  They pride themselves on being an industrious and thrifty people, in much the same way that Bicolanos pride themselves on being uragon.

But you are off the mark because if you think about it, they are not really denying their Filipino-ness, for the simple reason that they can't.  In fact, by saying they're Ilocanos, they are admitting that they are Filipinos. 

You have to understand also that Ilocanos were really the first to migrate to the US as hired plantation hands in Hawaii a litttle over a century ago, which corresponds to the first decade of American occupation of the Philippines.  At that time, the Americans were still just in the initial stages of introducing a national Congress for the Philippines, universal education and national laws patterned after the US legal system.  The very concept of "Filipino" itself was fairly new, with most linguistic groups really unsure about what was happening outside their own.

Against that backdrop, this is how I choose to see these Ilocanos claiming they are not Filipinos: They are descendants of the first Ilocanos who had to migrate to the US and market themselves to employers in order to get hired.  And what they had to say goes something like this: "You've probably heard somewhere from your parents or grandparents or other relatives who went to the Philippines as a soldier, missionary or colonial official that in the Philippines, the locals don't have to work the fields much because food is abundant and they also love to spend all they have just to have fun, much like the Spanish do, causing all sorts of issues.  Well, I am not your typical Filipino.  I am the industrious and thrifty type because I am Ilocano.  So go ahead, hire me, and make my day." 

And in a way it's a good thing, even if the statement has a condescending ring to it, even if the statement reeks of misguided ethnocentricity.  Because what they are really saying is: "Don't you dare think that all Filipinos are of the same mental, emotional and constitutional makeup, because they are not."  And that statement is true because no group really is.

I'm sure though that most of these Ilocanos, like my professor, did not really mean to say they are not Filipinos.  As for those who do mean what they say, guess what?  Until and unless the Ilocos Region secedes from the Philippines, they can say they're not Filipinos all they want until they're blue in the face, but in the end, they'll still be Filipinos. 

In closing...

Hey, this is quite a long post now.  You've probably tuned me out already long before this line.  But if you're still reading this, I just want to (1) apologize for the profanity again, (2) thank you for reading this blog, and (3) wish you again Naragsac nga Baro nga Tawen (Happy New Year in Ilocano). 

Got a question for The Filipino? Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.


Ikot pasajero said...

@Pikon, I find it wrong that you single out jeepney drivers as a group of people who are " reckless and always break the laws". Didn't it ever occur to you that (1) traffic rules are optional and we often joke about it; (2) there is a lack of role models to follow who are law abiding. After all even the Supreme Court finds that bending the rules to protect their own is ok.

Katrina said...

I am wondering what do you think of this article?
satire daw, but personally I find this article sad.


Desert Pinay said...

Thanks for answering my question.
I, too, was a victim of mass marketing and relentless tv ad, but I have come to love the skin I'm in. Brown is beautiful.

~Desert Pinay

Anonymous said...

I wanted to jump into this discussion. Jeepney drivers are terrible and have very little concern or care for others sharing the roadway. Much like the PI lacks a care of society and empathy, Jeepney drivers lack a sense that other people are entitled to use the road.
Many will drive in the left lane and simple stop to pickup/ dropoff fares. Not all, but most care nothing about the flow of traffic and seem surprised when frustrated motorists honk the horn. I've seen many drivers simply pulled up to each other to talk and hold up a half kilometer of traffic without a care in the world. However, I understand most are poor and uneducated and just want to make money in a society with little opportunity. Yet there is such a blatant lack of care for others.
Finally, the problem really rests on the PNP. They are supposed to enforce driving regulations, yet they do nothing if it does not serve them personally. Their lack of care and enforcement gives everyone the ability to drive like idiots. Jeepney drivers are on the road the most and there are so many of them its easy to single them out as the worst. IMO, Filipinos are the worst drivers in the world due to a lack of discipline.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...