The Pinoy Factor

Jon MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito
Something to take note of as our community prepares for month-long festivities this summer to promote Philippine culture in the context of a changing America.

In his book, “Real American Ethics: Taking Responsibility for Our Country,” author Albert Borgmann says that “ours is a decent country,” but one with troubling features, particularly its “waning support for values of equality, dignity and justice, and for traditional American concerns for the poor and the environment.” Generosity and resourcefulness, he contends, are “the virtues that distinguish U.S. history when we have been at our best.”

In helping reshape America’s political landscape  and perhaps provide some antidote  Filipinos have a lot to contribute. Such as reclaiming what Filipino author Gilda Cordero-Fernando calls “the cultures of the table and the art and virtue of the household. We love to create space and readiness for recognizing and engaging the sacred in our midst.” Spirituality, after all, is a special gift we bring to America. We center our lives in our homes, among family, friends and neighbors. We love to gather in our mother’s kitchen to catch up on the latest tsismis. We look forward to family reunions with siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces and grandparents.

We have that Pinoy factor. As Cordero-Fernando aptly puts it, albeit tongue-in-cheek, the Filipino is “a citizen of the world. He’s in all the villages and capitals, colonizing the West, bringing his guitar and his bagoong, his walis na tingting, his tabo, his lolo and lola. Filipinos like to yakap, akbay, hawak, kalong, kalabit. We sleep side by side, siping-siping, we go out kabit kabit. There’s lots of us to go around.” Our yayas, she goes on to say, teach American kids to pray so they become more gentle and more obedient. “The Pinoy finds time to be nice, to be kind, to apologize, to be there when you’re depressed, to help you with your utang and your wedding dress. The Filipino is a giver, never mind what it does to his liver, never mind what it takes. Hardships of the Third World don’t dry up his blood, they just make him more compassionate, more feeling, of the other guy’s lot.”

We celebrate tayo (us) instead of sila (them), says Filipino author and sociologist Melba Padilla Maggay. She calls it our strength  “a sense of the kapwa tao ,” or a shared sense of identity and consciousness of the “other.” The Filipino family, she adds, has “every potential to expand beyond the boundaries of kinship and enlarge the sense of one’s sakop to the proportions of a nation.”

And that is truly what we bring  special gifts that may yet transform this hostile landscape into the decent country that it is: Our rich and vibrant cultural values and heritage.

Everyone knows that we get along with just about anybody regardless of color, creed, gender or hair-do. As Borgmann argues, “once we have gathered at the dinner table, wisdom and friendship can be ours, and they in turn can give us the courage to join with our neighbors in the design of a public realm that encourages celebration. Perhaps we can draw from common celebrations the generosity and resourcefulness to meet our obligations of justice and stewardship. Thus the United States may become the country of grace that the people who came here have searched for and worked for.”

The summer months provide opportunities to engage the American public and energize our mutual encounters not only with our food, songs and dances, but with the vitality and vibrancy of our human spirit. Who knows, this might just soften the hard edges of those gray and granite structures that Borgmann has written about. Our built environment, he says, is infused with moral content that shapes who we are and how we live. The urgent moral task, he suggests, is to recognize this relationship, take responsibility for it and ask what kind of life expresses our deepest shared values.

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