What (Missing) National Identity?

In celebration of this special time of the year,* we delve into a meditation on basketball and the Filipino national identity.

I’ve previously posted about Rafe Bartholomew’s excellent book on Philippine hoops, “Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball.” Sometimes, we need to see ourselves through a foreigner’s fresh eyes** to recognize what is uniquely ours.

People have always struggled to define their essence, their soul, or whatever one wishes to call it. For Filipinos, basketball is part of that evanescent core.

(Emphasis mine.) I am tired of hearing that we do not have a national identity— of course, we do! Would the same people claim that there is no such thing as Filipino food, either? Bartholomew aptly quotes Filipino novelist and cultural critic Nick Joaquin:

If you tell the Pinoy-on-the-street that adobo and pan de sal are but a thin veneer of Westernization, the removal of which will reveal the “true” Filipino… the Pinoy may retort that, as far as he is concerned, adobo and pan de sal are as Filipino as his very own guts; and indeed one could travel the world and nowhere find… anything quite like Philippine adobo and pan de sal.

(Emphasis mine.) As Bartholomew perceptively points out, “Basketball, another colonial import, has also become as Filipino as the Pinoy’s guts.”

Our history is a colonial one, so it only follows that our identity will be too. Perhaps it is time to stop rejecting that (admittedly) hard truth; time to stop looking for a non-existent purely Filipino core. Heck, even “Filipino” itself is a colonial name.

Capturing our identity is extremely difficult and frustrating— I sometimes even lose sleep over it. But instead of denouncing the lack of it— or worse— disowning it (“No, I don’t have a Filipino accent— I’m educated!” or “That’s so masa!”), I humbly invoke— this Holy Week— the Serenity Prayer:

May we be granted
the serenity to accept who we are,
the wisdom to know who we can be,
and the courage to change who we will be.


 

(*the NBA playoffs, of course!)

(**Not of a parachutist-journalist, but a “connected critic”— one intimately involved in the lives of his subjects, but also able to observe from somewhat detached vantage point. [from Mary Pipher's "Writing to Change the World"])

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