Americanized? Look again.

I am wildly enjoying Pacific Rims, Rafe Bartholomew‘s account of his immersion into Philippine basketball, and inevitably, Philippine society and culture. Early in the book, he lays down a spot-on observation of the difference between what the Philippines appears to be (in foreign eyes) and what lies beneath:

On my way home I looked out the window at the steady procession of McDonald’s franchises, KFCs, and 7-Elevens. Many foreign visitors to the Philippines saw Manila’s ubiquitous chain restaurants as a sign of the country’s extreme Americanization, but there was another side to the city. For every American restaurant, there were a dozen roadside barbecue stalls selling grilled skewers of isaw (pork intestines), helmet (chicken heads), and betamax (cubes of coagulated pork blood that resemble the ancient video format’s tapes). The hard wooden benches of buses were crammed with breast-feding mothers and construction workers who had washcloths tucked into the backs of their shirts to soak up sweat. This wasn’t a country where one foreign culture simply dominated its native counterpart, but a place where Spanish and American colonial influences mixed with the imprints of Chinese and Malay merchants who had been trading in the Philippines since before the archipelago even existed in the eyes of the West. A dizzying array of ingredients made up the Philippines’ cultural brew, and they blended over time to form something uniquely Filipino.

On the flip side, when I first moved to “America” (five years ago), what struck me most was how familiar everything seemed to be, yet how different everything was. The dissonance remains.


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