Who are the Filipinos?

by Henrylito D. Tacio 

In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in November 2001, 57 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they were very proud to be Filipinos while 34 percent claimed they were proud of their national identity. Only nine percent said they were not proud and one percent claimed they were not proud at all of becoming Filipinos.

Filipinos are worth dying for,” said the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino. But who are Filipinos? If you were born in the Philippines and grew up here, then you are a Filipino. But what about those living in other parts of the world? How can you determine that they are Filipinos?

Well, it’s easy to find Filipinos abroad – even if they speak English well. Here are some common denominators among Filipinos: You are a Filipino if your middle name is your mother’s maiden name. Your parents call each other “Mommy” and “Daddy” instead of their own names. You call the parents of your friends and your own parents’ friends “Tito” and “Tita.”

And that’s only for a start. If you traced your roots, you will find out that you’re related to everyone. You consider your close friends your cousins. You greet your elders by touching their hands to your forehead. You always kiss your relatives on the cheek whenever you enter or leave the room. You follow your parents’ house rules even if you are over 18.

You live with your parents until and at times even after you’re married. You make your children sing and dance to amuse your friends and relatives. You bring food to your uncles or aunties or whoever anytime you cook food. Your grandma wears those long dresses with different designs at home. You bring mangoes (or other fruits harvested from your farm) with you as a gift when you visit other people’s homes. Your parents never go to the movies.

A Filipino home is always different. For one, the house has a distinctive aroma. You decorate your living room wall with your family’s framed diplomas and plaques. You decorate your dining room wall with a picture of “The Last Supper” (Jesus Christ and the Twelve Disciples). You have a drawer full of old pens, most of which don’t write anymore.

You keep your furniture wrapped in plastic or covered with blankets. You have carpet runners in your house. You always leave your shoes or slippers outside the doorstep. You keep a fly swatter in your kitchen. Your kitchen table has a vinyl tablecloth.

If you live in the United States, you recycle shopping bags as garbage bags. You have a piano that no one plays. You hang your clothes out to dry in a laundry line. You keep a “tabo” in your bathroom. You own a barrel man from Baguio. You have some kind of garden in your backyard. You use the dishwasher as a dish rack. You have never used your dishwasher.

When it comes to food and eating, Filipinos are unique. We eat with our hands. We eat more than three times a day. We think a meal is not a meal without rice. We eat rice for breakfast. In some instances, we eat rice along with spaghetti. We use our fingers to measure the water we need to cook rice (I learned this trick from my mother!).

In the United States, you can be identified as Filipino if you eat your meal using a spoon and fork. You cut your meat with a spoon or fork. You feed all your visitors. If you don’t live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you’ve eaten, even if it’s midnight. You always cook too much.

You bring baon to work everyday (yes, my aunt – who lives in the United States for more than twenty years usually do this). You keep your stove covered in aluminum foil when not in use. You don’t own any real Tupperware – only a cupboard full of used but carefully rinsed margarine tubs, takeout containers, and jam jars. You wash and re-use plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups, and aluminum wrappers.

Among your eating habits are as follows: You eat your meal with patis, toyosuka, banana catsup, or bagoong. Your tablecloths are stained with toyo circles. You love sticky desserts and salty snacks. Everything you eat is sautéed in garlic, onion, and tomatoes. You eat every last grain of rice in your bowl, but don’t eat the last piece of food on the table. You grab a toothpick after every meal. You wave a pom-pom on a stick around the food to keep the flies away.

When dining out, you always fight over who will pay for dinner. When you’re in a restaurant, you wipe your plate and utensils before using them.

And yes, Filipinos love to eat and yet more often than not, we manage to stay slim.

Filipinos are among the most religious people in the world. So much so that you hang a rosary on your car’s rear view mirror. You have a Santo Niño shrine in your living room. You make the sign of the cross before take-offs and after landings and every time you pass by a church. These traits are most common among Roman Catholics.

You play cards or mahjong and drink beer at funeral wakes. You think Christmas season begins in October and ends in January. You unwrap Christmas gifts very carefully, so you can save and reuse the wrapping (and especially those bows) next year.

Let’s talk about traveling. If you are a citizen of another country, your second piece of luggage is a balikbayan box. You’ve mastered the art of packing a suitcase to double capacity. You are standing next to eight boxes at the airport. You collect items from airlines, hotels, and restaurants as “souvenirs.” You feel obligated to give “pasalubong” to all your friends and relatives each time you return from a trip.

You have a trendy perfume bottle and some stuffed animals in your car. You carry a stash of your own food (usually dried). You can squeeze 15 passengers into your five-seater car without a second thought.

Filipinos are a class on their own when it comes to shopping. You can’t make a purchase without haggling. Your mom asks you to pick up the extra carton of eggs on sale (but limit 1 only) and pays for it at a separate check out counter. You see corn beef on sale you buy a lot and send it to the Philippines.

I can distinguish Filipinos living in the United States because the condiments in their fridge are either Costco-sized or come in plastic packets, which they save/steal every time they gets take out or go to McDonalds. Ditto paper napkins.

Filipinos are also good in non-verbal communication. For instance, you can convey 30 messages with your facial expression. You point with your lips. You greet one another by raising your eyebrows or tossing your head. You hold your palms together in front of you and say “excuse, excuse” when you pass in between people or in front of the TV.

You scratch your head when you don’t know an answer to a question. You smile all the time for no reason. You ask for the bill at a restaurant by making a rectangle in the air. You cover your mouth when you laugh.

One bad thing about Filipinos is the so-called Filipino time. Yes, you’re always late for events and parties. You say “rubber shoes” or “tennis shoes,” instead of sneakers, “ball pen” instead of pen, “stockings” instead of pantyhose, “pampers” instead of diapers, “canteen’ instead of cafeteria, and “open” or “close” instead of turn on or turn off (as in the lights). You order a “soft drink” instead of soda.

Here are more Filipino traits: You use an umbrella for shade on hot summer days. You prefer sitting in the shade instead of basking in the sun. You can sing and dance at a drop of a hat. You love ballroom dancing, bowling, pusoy, “mahjong,” billiards, and karaoke.

You always ring a doorbell twice, assuming that the first ring was not heard. You let the phone ring twice before answering, lest you appear overly eager.

Now, are you a Filipino? — ###


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