Philosophy of Filipino Culture May 20, 2010 Crossing Cultures: A Philosophical Reflection on Filipino Culture and Cultural Transition Experienced by Third Culture Kids Oh it's a mystery to me. We have a greed, with which we have agreed... and you think you have to want more than you need... until you have it all, you won't be free. Society, you're a crazy breed. I hope you're not lonely, without me. - Eddie Vedder (Society)
In a world that is becoming increasingly smaller as globalization takes its universal toll on countries and cultures, the sentiments expressed in the lyrics of this song often resonate with the individual trying to find a sense of identity through society and feeling overwhelmed by it. As we have learned in class, an individual tries to concretize him/herself by acting in the world as a “dynamic X. ” This characteristic, as explained by Max Scheller, is a universal factor inherent in everyone that drives us as humans to try to find our identity in a world that is constantly changing around us.
Being a “Dynamic X” we ourselves are constantly changing, and we triangulate our sense of identity by comparing ourselves to the society around us to try and develop a sense of who we are through achievement, careers, personal preference of music, movies, literature and – most importantly – our name. It is through our name that we present ourselves and our capacity for historicity to the world. It is also through our name that we are known and recognized as part of a society. Considering the inherent characteristic of being a “Dynamic X” and how we use it to derive a ense of identity, the most influential factor which we use as a reference to triangulate our identity is culture. Culture, as we have learned in class, tells us how to be a person amongst others. The culture to which we are born into is something that we are affected by without having a conscious choice in how it affects us. As we develop into adults, we imbibe the cultural values, customs and traits around us and form who we are through them. This process of imbibing a culture is forever ongoing, giving merit to the characteristic of being a “Dynamic X”.
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In its most general definition, culture can be seen as a code of systems and meanings which are unique amongst different diversities of people. Generally, most people are born and raised in one dominant culture to which they identify with as their own. Reflecting on this definition of culture and how we go about imbibing it as we develop our sense of identity, the question that this paper will attempt to answer is “what happens if a person grows up in several different cultures and how does it affect their own sense of identity? Falling into this unique and growing demographic, I personally have experienced growing up in several different cultures around the world. Being the son of a missionary couple, I have lived in three drastically different countries and cultures throughout my life. Having spent my early childhood years living in Jos, Nigeria, I assimilated into my identity certain “African” characteristics that I still feel have a hold on who I am today.
Spending the bulk of my educational and developmental years here in the Philippines, I have also categorized my identity as being half-Filipino, an epiphany of sorts that only took place in my life after having experienced life alone in Philadelphia, PA U. S. A. All my life I have grown up with the mentality that the U. S is my “home. ” Even though my mother is a full blooded Filipina, we were conditioned as children to believe that the U. S is where we would ultimately settle. This shaped my sense of identity significantly while growing up as I utomatically assumed that because I was an American citizen at birth I was 100% American. All that changed, however, when I graduated high school here in the Philippines and started college in the U. S. I soon found myself to be far different from the Americans around me. Several aspects of American culture, one that I associated as my own growing up, became increasingly difficult to relate to. I finally decided during my sophomore year in college to move back to the Philippines to finish my studies. I regard that decision as one of the best ones I have made in my life.
As I moved back here however, I also felt a severe distance and separation from the culture around me. This feeling led me to the realization that I was considerably different from people born exclusively into Filipino and American cultures. It was during my first months living back here that I realized I was a textbook example of what is known as a Third Culture Kid. According to sociologists David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, a “Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a signfificant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture.
The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. ” Throughout the last half of the 20th century, the TCK demographic has been growing significantly as international travel and commerce have been made extremely convenient. Being a type of identity, however, the TCK experience does not fully encapsulate what it means to be an individual, as the second sentence in the definition above points out.
Lacking the option to “own” a culture or be fully recognized as a member of a society definitely affects the sense of individual identity of the TCK growing up. As experienced by me, the longing to be a fully integrated member of a culture or society can create extreme insecurities and dysfunctions in a person if they do not focus on the advantages of what a TCK identity has to offer the world. Using my TCK identity as a framework for understanding the Filipino culture, hich I consider now to be the closest to my heart in terms of who I am, I will attempt to reflect on certain aspects of it that I found difficult to relate with and transition into my own sense of identity. Looking at these difficulties I experienced while transitioning back into the Filipino culture, a better sense of who I am – the fundamental question of philosophy - can be achieved. Also, in regarding these observations as lessons learned on my part, I can better understand how I interact and deal with people here in the Philippines, which has been a longing of mine for quite some time now.
The first aspect of Filipino culture that struck me as cultural barrier was Language. Even though I grew up here in the Philippines for the majority of my life, I was raised in an English speaking home and school system. Although I can understand Tagalog fluently, and speak it well enough to get around the city and hold casual conversations, my accent is what ultimately distinguishes me apart from other Filipinos. Filipino culture, while heavily influenced by American culture, is at the point were to fluently spoken English is somewhat looked down upon by the majority of the masses living here.
A reason for this can obviously be found in the shift from English to Tagalog as the language used in the educational system that took place a couple decades ago. This attitude towards English speakers has also been enhanced due to the rise in BPO and call centers here in Manila. Having trained communication skills in two different call centers here, I can say with conviction that people who work there, a large and growing percentage of workers aged 19-35, have a subtle disdain for the language that makes it difficult for fluent speakers of English to be accepted as members of this culture and society.
This, obviously makes sense since the national language of this country is and should always be Tagalog. It does, however, create difficulties when trying to transition into this culture; difficulties aided all the more by the fact that casual joking about English speakers (i. e. nosebleed jokes etc) have practically become a social norm. ( Reflecting on this cultural barrier as a TCK and Filipino citizen, I’ve come to realize the importance of language as a tool for the transmission of culture and values, as was stated in Berger and Lukmann’s article on Institutionalism.
Having undergone two years of being made fun of (lightly) for my Kano accent while speaking Tagalog, I have also realized that my identity as a TCK can adapt to the cultural bantering with a healthier attitude now days. I no longer feel insecure about my “baluktot” Tagalog and have come to accept that the Filipino culture pokes fun of me without any malice – a characteristic of our culture that I have come to admire. Another aspect of the Filipino culture that I have had difficulty relating to and integrating into my own identity is the Shame-based aspect of it.
Having gone to an American based international school system, my attitude towards confrontation and humor was definitively American. This differs drastically from the Filipino culture, where shame is regarded as the ultimate social taboo. In American culture, there is a mutual understanding that confrontation and directness is the norm when addressing issues between people. This trickles down into the humor of Americans, which is based on practical jokes and oriented more towards embarrassment. This difference in mentality can create a lot of offense to Filipinos.
On the other hand, the shame based cultural aspect of the Philippines can also create confusion to Filipino-Americans like me, who have experienced instances where a “yes” or “no” might not necessarily mean it. The confusion caused by this aspect of Filipino culture has dissipated over the time I’ve spent integrating myself into it. I feel now that my humor is more Filipino than American, and I can understand the dynamics of the shame based culture works. In general, I feel that overcoming this transition into Filipino culture has significantly helped me understand who I am as a Filipino-American.
All in all, these aspects of Filipino culture, which have been overcome and assimilated by me have made me realize how much my identity is inclined and oriented towards this culture. Another aspect of culture that we learned about in class was that it changes after behavior changes. Being passed down from generation to generation, this characteristic also defines culture as constantly changing. The most significant realization that occurred to me about my identity as a TCK in relation to this definition of culture was that I have been more prepared to adapt and tackle change.
As technology develops faster and faster, the rate of change in cultures worldwide increases. The unique advantage that I have as a TCK is that change and transition has been occurring in my life ever since I could remember. With the culture of ours gradually morphing into a culture of pressure to achieve, others who are not used to change and transition might not handle it as well as I can. This is the main advantage of being influenced by multiple cultures while growing up and I can say that as the world continues to demand individual responses to change, I am perhaps better equipped to handling them because of my TCK experience.
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