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  • Deciphering the Filipino psyche

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    Saturday, April 5th, 2014

    An unexpected invitation during my continuing personal visit to the East Bay in San Francisco came from Chevron’s Filipino Employees Network (FEN), which wanted me to speak yet again on my pop culture books—“You Know You’re Filipino If…,” “Don’t Take a Bath on a Friday,” and “Ngalang Pinoy,” all published by Tahanan Books. The FEN had warmly received me a number of times before, and this time was no exception.

    My very first introduction to the FEN, in 2010, was through Marian Catedral King, a longtime friend from Manila and fellow street parliamentarian, who was then its president. I welcomed Chevron’s interest in celebrating diversity and honoring the Filipino identity, as manifested in the fairly large corps of Filipino-Americans in its northern California offices.

    Of course, I more than welcomed the chance to talk about Philippine published titles (yes, not just my own). Ramon Santana, current FEN president, would not accept my excuse of not having any new book of late, and wanted the discussion to be on understanding Philippine culture. I was ready to just point him to Michael Tan’s “Pinoy Kasi” columns in the Inquirer.

    But since I had tweaked my presentation to include all the reasons Filipinos can be proudly Pinoy today, I was eager to meet the Chevron employees. It also helped that FEN officers Derick Posadas Reyrao and Jenny Abregana had efficiently worked out all the bureaucratic details of such an engagement with the Philippine American Writers and Artists through Edwin Lozada and Gemma Nemenzo.

    I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm and interest of the audience of Filipino-Americans and expatriates on the topic. The Filipino employees cajoled their bosses into attending the lunch-hour session “to understand them better.”
    Among the reasons I mentioned that make me proudly Pinoy today, which resonated with them (and yes, you can debate with me, but these are reasons I feel strongly about): the overseas Filipino workers who venture out into the unknown; a president of the land honest and determined to fight corruption; a growing band of honest, hardworking public officials determined to make life better for all Filipinos; our present status in the international financial community; the Department of Education’s bold K-to-12 initiative and its relentless efforts toward addressing shortfalls in infrastructure and resources; palpable new optimism among the citizenry; growing recognition of our islands and beaches among the world’s best; the international acclaim earned by Filipinos in various fields of endeavor, and their virtues of honesty and industry; strong family ties; and the quality of life in the country.

    I could not go on without recognizing two organizations I am associated with in their pursuit of literacy. One is the National Book Development Board, a government agency under the supervision of the DepEd and dedicated to encouraging the various sectors of the publishing industry and promoting general readership.

    The other, Teach for the Philippines (TFP), is impassioned about its mission to provide quality education for all students, no matter their socioeconomic background. TFP is on its second batch of cohorts to teach in Philippine public schools for two years, beginning in June. They join last year’s batch of 52 teachers assigned to teach Grade 4 classes in Quezon City public schools. Other Metro Manila cities will be part of the program this time.

    The toughest question during the lively open forum that I could not answer right there and then was from Chevron executive Trond
    Unneland, who wondered what other words of Philippine origin aside from “boondocks” have found their way in the English dictionary and in English usage. On Google I found a whole array of them: yoyo, tamaraw and carabao, kundiman, cooties from the Austronesian and Tagalog word kuto or head lice, capiz, cogon, anahaw, etc.

    Someone asked why a running motif in one of my books was a woman with hands clasped as if in prayer and bending low. I answered that it is our wish not to disturb, to show respect, to be inconspicuous, to be deferential, and to be able to move in our usual cramped space.

    One was curious about the shift from Pilipino to Filipino, which came about with the adoption of the modern Filipino alphabet that accommodated the letter “F.” Filipino has 28 letters—all the letters of the English alphabet plus the Spanish “ñ” and the “ng.”

    There was much amusement about our manner of giving directions—no place is every admittedly too far, and pointing with our mouth is often as accurate as we can get. Related to the topic is our Metro Manila rush hour that is all-day (not funny for us commuting Manilans), a color coding system that is not based on color, traffic rules that seem more recommendatory than anything else, and the observation that Filipinos visiting the United States, like my daughter Aina, refuse to drive here because “everyone follows the rules.”

    One explained our struggle with enunciating long and short vowels, because our own alphabet makes no such distinctions. Thus, sometimes “beach” sounds like a bad word we do not mean.

    And the Filipino psyche continues to befuddle.

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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