Sunday, June 21, 2009

who am i?

it is difficult being a third generation "hwa-kiao", or chinese immigrant. it is difficult, in a sense, since, i believe, it is the third generation that usually experiences the overlapping of cultures between the country my lineage originated from and the country my family now calls home. it feels something like being on a constant state of tug-of-war between honoring the past and acknowledging one's roots and learning to adapt to one's present in order to survive into the future. honor and practicality, those seem to be the principles at play right now. honor and practicality, two principles the chinese know all too well.

in addressing honor, my family enrolled me in a chinese school, spoke to me in chinese, raised me how their parents raised them, conforming as much as they can to the values of their forefathers, in a sincere hope that by immersing me in such an environment, that i can still be chinese, in every sense of the word, and yet be nowhere near china. in addressing practicality on the other hand, the chinese school i was sent to was established by american missionaries, where english was the specialty. my family desired the best education for me, the best to equip me in tools that would give me the edge i needed to survive in this foreign land, far from the backward ways of china then, to survive in this land that's so very un-chinese. foreign ways of thinking and modern skills, and yet my upbringing was still anchored onto customs that are at least 5000 years old. it doesn't take a genius to know that something was bound to give. one of the two would eventually submit to the other.

14 years of chinese instruction and 30 years of being a hwa-kiao later and, i cannot read a chinese newspaper even if my life depended on it; i cannot haggle at 168 mall in the dialect i grew up with and would constantly revert back to english, the language i am most comfortable in using; i have difficultly communicating with my elderly grandmother, even with the most simple of topics like, what's on TV; i find the discreetness and meek demeonor we were raised up with contrived and hypocritical; and the only custom i know how to celebrate is the chinese new year... even if i have no idea when it happens in the year and would have to rely on local vendors who sell fruits along the temples near my place to give me a hint.

it truly is sad that so much of my rich culture have been lost to me. besides the occasional appreciation during old chinatown walks and contemplations i would have while slurping away a hot bowl of noodles while along the eateries by the estero, i cannot say that the history of my people offer me any more significance. the past is but the past, just a hodge podge of archaic practices and irrelevant trivia for the knowledge curious, and i cannot see how they can play a role anymore in the life i have to lead. that was, fortunately, then. that was, fortunately, the day before yesterday to be exact.

* * * * *

mr. silva came in wearing a black collared shirt, khaki short and loafers, very casual clothing for who was to be the oracle of this very unassuming saturday morn. the day was a day of low expectations for me, really. i had to play hokey from work that day and was feeling guilty that i did. i also have been to the museum countless times before and have seen the exhibits on display already. having taken up design as a course in college, i was already satisfied with the bits i know about the art and artifacts there and would not have considered joining the tour anymore if it weren't just for the company of friends who were going as well.

the tour lasted three hours, starting exactly at 10am. we were led by senior consultant to the national museum, mr. john silva, on a guided walk through the corridors of the Museum of the Filipino People and the National Art Gallery, shedding much deserving light on the museum's countless collections, demystifying many of the philippine's most prized treasures. now this i have to say, i have been to many tours in the past and have been to museums both here and abroad as well. but in all those trips i have had, never did i experience being moved, almost close to tears, than with this one.

jars were not jars anymore, neither were the plates just plates. seals, sculpture, beads, baskets, fabric, and bulols were now more than what they were as well. the artifacts became carriers of a story told over centuries, about a people, about a culture, about a nation, about an identity. then the paintings... my Lord, the paintings...

in the past, my visits to the national museum were only with the purpose of seeing a very old friend, the spoliarium. i have seen it many times before and have always had the same response to it whenever i am in its presence, a feeling of nostalgia and awe. the painting has been linked to many good experiences in my past and i come to see it on occasions, when my schedule permits, to bask in the memories it elicits and feel that smile crawl up my face again. having gone to design school also gave me a deeper appreciation for this work of art, on its technique and style, the signatures of a true master. seeing it again that saturday morning however, i could not help but hold myself tight for i swear, i though i heard O Fortuna playing in my head (sorry, i am weird that way). mr. silva then began his story on how this huge piece of canvas that depicted roman lust for blood and gore became the precursor, the catalyst that eventually gave us a hero, to the who would be martyred in a park not too far away and thereby fuel a resistance that eventually gave birth to a nation... a nation that, sadly, forgets too quickly. a nation who is, even sadder, mostly ignorant of this very important story.

* * * * *

it is difficult being a hwa-kiao, and find a sense of affiliation towards a culture, a history that is beginning to feel as foreign to me as a filipino would towards chinese heritage. this sense of disconnect has led me to have a sort of identify crisis, for what indeed makes me chinese besides simple genetics alone?

the tour rekindled a desire to rediscover myself again. this is the role of the past, this is the reason why my parents and their parents, even if they had left their country, still anchored themselves to their origins. though we may live in the present and strive towards the future, we never should belittle or forget the past. the anchor is not there to be of frustration to our forward move but rather, it serves as a safety measure, a reminder of who we are, lest we loose ourselves in the disorienting currents of change and realize one day that we have all this time just been drifting aimlessly.

4 comments:

wanderingcommuter said...

the integration of multiple cultures may be difficult but the end result will always be vital. for in it or in us, emerges the new culture of our generation...

that for me will reflect our own distinct footprints in life...

Theo Martin said...

pdeng icopy paste to sa blog ko? hahahhaa. SOOO TRUE...identity crisis na, gender crisis pa dati, ano paaaah! :)

dabo said...

ahh ito na ba yung part ba kakanta ka ng Reflections ni Lea Salonga hehe

Koji A. Iizuka said...

i think it's cool to have two nationalities. i can't really say much about my other heritage because i grew up with the filipino culture but sometimes i get curious on what it's like to be japanese.

i envy you. i think the chinese culture is really rich and the family ties are just amazing :)