Is there such a thing as a “pure Filipino?”
By Lalaine Chu-Benitez
Hot on the heels of Catriona Gray’s win at the Miss Universe 2018 beauty pageant, come the indignant comments from some members of the Filipino community questioning her ethnicity. “She is not pure Filipino. How can she represent the country?” The sentiment is not a new one. Recently, we’ve also seen the same vitriol directed to Kelsey Merritt when she became the “first Filipino model” for Victoria’s Secret.
In this increasingly globalized world, where 11 million of us live outside the homeland, and where as Filipinos in diaspora, we are often made acutely aware of our ethnicity in contrast to the ‘others’ that surround us, we get a lot of questions pertaining to our identity –
“What is Filipino?” “What does it mean to be Filipino? “Filipino nga ba talaga? “Are we being true to ourselves”?
Even the first settlers in our archipelago, the Negritos, came from somewhere else. They arrived in rafts from ancient Australia, Melanesia or even Africa – no one is certain, 67,000 years ago. From as far back as our history accounts would allow us to remember, our people, our practices and our traditions have always been an amalgamation of various ethnicities and cultures.
Filipino-American biologist Dr. Michael Purugganan, who served as the Dean for Science at New York University, Dorothy Schiff Professor of Genomics, and co-director of the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi, explained in his article “What is a Filipino? Looking at our DNA for answer”, written for GMA News –
“We are products of what we evolutionary genomicists call genetic admixture, the result of several thousand years of mixing in our island archipelago at the edge of the Pacific. We were always getting genes from everyone who came to our shores. We are, in a genetic sense, a truly global people.”
And that globalized profile continues to advance, at an even faster pace, with how small the world has become. A tenth of our people live composite lifestyles – partly Filipino, partly something else, across the world, as we have emerged as a palpable global phenomenon in the last two decades. We have assimilated but have also conquered not only through our mere presence and numbers in various countries, but also through our workforce, our food, our legendary beauties, our fashion, even our ubiquity and level of noise level in social media, not to mention our friendliness. We have a growing number of TCKs (third culture kids) who live global, while on the flipside, we also have droves of foreigners who made the Philippines as their home.
So what if we are not “pure”? So what if some of us are a tad fairer, and some haven’t mastered the vernacular? So what if our clothes are worn by foreigners? So what if some of us feel more at home in other lands than the old country? Does that make us any less than what we really are?
Why do we even want to isolate ourselves from the changing evolving world by being so fixated on having a “true culture” (whatever that means) when we have always been a global one?
Adaptability and evolution is not a bad thing. It is also exchange – our way of injecting and propagating our heritage, and our ideas to others. Allowing ourselves to be immersed in the ‘global village’ makes it possible for us to implant our distinct character, our practices, our aesthetics, even our views upon the rest of the world.
Perhaps, we were always meant to be mixed – a hybrid of sorts.
And being that hybrid has allowed us to imbibe, and also ascend, just like how our warmth and our smile helps us to quietly ‘take over’ wherever in the world we go.
Is there anything else more Filipino than that?
Taas Noo, Filipino!
Lalaine Chu Benitez
Editor-in-Chief and aspiring urban farmer “almost superwoman” Lalaine has been driving Illustrado’s mission to uplift Filipinos in the region for over a decade now. A former corporate dynamo living in Dubai for more than two decades, she has seen enough to appreciate that the best things in life can’t be bought and that in this day and age, authenticity could be one’s best asset.