The Making of an Escapist

17 Aug

This was column piece was published last August 13 at Asian Correspondent. The original article can be found here

I was inspired to write this partly because it’s not too often that I express my patriotic sentiments, and partly because I wanted to show my cousin the error of her ways. I doubt she’d ever read this, but at least I said it. Maybe when she’s older I can show this to her? Haha, who knows!

The class’s comments on this piece were generally positive; I was actually surprised. They said the language used was good, appropriate and relatable. The piece also flowed well, they said. The criticism I got for this piece was that there were no links and no pictures. Admittedly, it’s hard to find something to link in a personal article such as this.

It was at a family gathering that I came across a not-so-peculiar sentiment shared by almost my entire clan (and as I came to learn later, maybe even the majority of the Philippine nation), and it was triggered by the interrogation of my 9-year-old cousin, Gabbie.

Unusually bright and retentive for her age, Gabbie is also the family’s darling. Questions with various degrees of triviality would be directed at her, and whatever she said was met with approving coos.

One of my uncles asked, “Do you want to work in court like your mom?”

She said, “Yes, uncle. But I don’t want to work here.”

“Why?’

“Because my friends at school said that the Philippines is so poor that when I grow up, there’d be no money left for us.”

“And where do you want to go when you grow up?” an aunt asked.

“To Europe!” she replied with gusto. Cue the adoring laughter from almost all the adults in the room.

I, on the other hand, was torn between amusement and horror. Oh come on, you might say, kids say the craziest things, anyway. What’s the big deal about that? These lines are just standard Little Miss Philippines answers; any more polished and we’d have ourselves a winner. Make no mistake, this is not the part that disturbs, but the word ‘standard,’ or the idea that that this sort of statement has become the norm. We half-expect our cute little charges and adorable siblings to answer like this, and are maybe even slightly befuddled when they don’t. The blatant encouragement of surrounding adults make this even more alarming. Proverbial blood is thicker than water spiel notwithstanding, this made me want to scrunch up my sleeves and smack some sense into them.

But then again, who am I to talk? I’ve hardly been a model citizen myself. My dream was to hold a job that required some serious globe trotting, whatever profession this may be. Only when I entered university did I realize that staying in the country is no thing to be scoffed at, not because it’s hard to live here, but because so many of us are needed.

Perhaps it’s because I’m on the brink of full-fledged adulthood that I ‘excuse’ myself so often from the traits that define Filipinos as ‘self-indulgent.’ I find it hard to look when street beggars tap my car window, and I have been guilty of dropping wrappers in crowded streets. I can rationalize this with the idea that I was raised to think this way, or that this is a force of habit borne from years of the same routine. Our laws are laid out for everyone to see, but somehow we lack the discipline to follow and to enforce. We don’t care that other people may slip; if there’s no trash bin then it’s not my problem, it’s the government’s. It is this kind of thinking that gets us stuck in the rut we are in.

By placing our hope on children, the light at the end of the tunnel shines through. This is why kids who proudly proclaim their intention to stay here, even in indirect terms, are so remarkable. The tragedy is that they have become a novelty, and are even looked down upon by their own peers as unmotivated.

This can be observed from the way Filipinos act when away from the motherland. Recently, I observed an older cousin driving straight, following the speed limit on the road when in the United States. When we arrived here, it seemed he was itching to overtake and surpass the speed limit. He came home with a damaged rear, but he was proudly smug, saying that he missed getting away with it. In the States he would have been slapped with a ticket and a 500-dollar fine, but in here, road enforcers can turn a blind eye to your offense if your plate number is 16 and above.

Filipinos have been conditioned through cultural imperialism to think that America is the center, and we are the periphery. Filipinos being tribal and fragmented, the upper-class ‘tribe’ align themselves with the center, while the less fortunate sectors struggle to even reach the periphery – they are actually at the very bottom. These people represent a modern paradox – visible but invisible. You can see them growing in numbers everyday, their stomachs rumbling louder and their cries stronger, but they are more ignored than the gum under a Makati tycoon’s shoes. At least the gum gets some attention when he scrapes it off.

Can we blame all of this on the way our parents raised us, and how their parents raised them? Are we innately conditioned to run away, and to ignore those who are not of our own ‘tribe’? As early as in second grade, children are learning to see themselves as escapists, and their families laud this as an achievement.

I haven’t lost all hope yet. Someday I’m waiting to hear those precious two words – “I’m staying” – from Gabbie. Let’s hope that not another talent doesn’t go to waste in foreign servitude.

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