The Filipino Traveler Identity Crisis

On my numerous trips, I’ve been constantly approached and asked where I come from. For fun, I make a game out of it to let them guess. Most commonly, I’ve been perceived to be Thai. I’ve also been thought to be: Singaporean, Nepali, Kazakhstani, and on rare occasions, Chinese or Japanese.

filipinos what do we look like
But never Filipino. When I tell them my real identity (like Batman), two reactions alternately happen.
Either: “Oh really? You don’t look Filipino!” they say it like a genuine compliment, so I say smile. But I couldn’t help but wonder what they really mean by that. What’s a Filipino supposed to look like, anyway?

Or: Utter ignorance. “Where is the Philippines? Oh wait, wasn’t that in the Bible?” During these times I sometimes wished we have something notoriously spectacular, like the Fidel Castro or the Angkor Wat or the Dalai Lama. Oh wait, a lot of people aren’t even familiar with these. Oh wait, we have Manny Pacquiao.
pacman_3490363b

‘So, are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders?’  

A fellow traveler asked as follow up, seeking to ensue an intellectual debate.

This gets a little more interesting. Before I could answer, another one butted in: ‘Neither? They seem more hispanic or latino to me.’

To note, these were raised by people who were neither Filipinos, but Americans. As westerners try to lump us into a particular ethnic group, we become more alienated and confused. Hence the understandable Filipino identity crisis. In the first place, we never classified ourselves as such or such before. It is all a western invention.

The Philippines is a creation by Western colonizers to begin with. If the Spanish never came, force-baptize the natives and named our islands after a historically unimportant king, there never would have been ‘The Philippine Islands’ in the first place. Our islands would probably have been absorbed by Chinese civilization from the north, or be integrated into the Muslim Malay nations from the south. Who knows?

To get back to my nationality guessing game, there was only one person who got it right once. Once. A Slovakian Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque guy we encountered in Ibiza.

Wow, you’re the very first person who got that right the first time!” I said, really impressed.

“It’s not that difficult. You’re a tan Asian with very good American English. So there you go. Filipino.”
I was stammered, because now this includes another element to the whole equation: the Filipino Americanization. This is getting more complicated than I thought.

Geography 101

southeast_asia_pol_2003

Geographically, we are in Asia. Hence, we are Asians! I cross-checked and consulted the world map and I confirmed that we are in the right continent.
Likewise, we love our rice to death. There’s nothing more Asian than that!
To be more specific about it, we are Southeast Asians, particularly, of the Austronesian or Malay0-Polynesian ethnic group. Identifying features include: short face, mild epicanthic fold, straight, black hair, and a happy, light-hearted disposition. Sounds familiar?
filipina girls

‘Orphans of the Pacific’

On the other hand, being labeled as ‘Pacific Islander’ is not entirely wrong, either. Historically, we used to be part of the Spanish East Indies, which comprised of Moluccas (Indonesia), Guam, Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Our islands were once called ‘The Philippine Islands of the Pacific’. We are located in the Pacific Ocean; a tropical island paradise, 7,000 of it. Even if most of the comprising ‘Pacific Islands’ are 4,000-8,000 km away, we see plenty of similarities in physical features and culture among people in Guam, Hawaii, etc.

Filipino migration to Guam has been happening for several centuries– the Spanish were fond of exiling Filipino rebels and prisoners to Guam. The Americans continued the practice when they took over.

Kumusta / Como estas?

The term Hispanic is a broad representation of the people and cultures with historical linkages to Spain. This term commonly referring to her former colonies, although strictly speaking, it refers to the former Spanish colonies in Latin America.

After 333 years of colonization, we have a rich hispanic heritage. The native tsokolate and mais made its way to the Philippines after centuries via the Galleon trade with our latino brothers. We share our fervent Roman Catholic faith with other hispanic cultures; as well as our love for lechons, siestas and fiestas. Do you know that ‘Filipino time’ and ‘Latino time’ is exactly the same?

And who else do we share our enduring obsession with boxing and beauty pagaents?

Today, very few people in the Philippines speak Spanish, although many of our abuelos still do when they’re angry. A few Filipinos also claim Spanish ancestry. I’d like to think my aquiline nose and freckles proves some European descent. Disclaimer: I swear I’m more modest in person.

are filipinos hispanic?

So the whole debate was really much ado about nothing.Our islands have been a melting pot of cultures for centuries.It’s okay to be a little confused about demonyms assigned to us. Identity crisis have always been part of us, and maybe that’s why it was so easy for foreign entities to colonize us. Who cares if you identify yourself as Asian, or Pacific Islander, or even Hispanic? It’s all a western invention.

 

 

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20 thoughts on “The Filipino Traveler Identity Crisis

  1. A GREAT GREAT post and one truly worth reading. Keep it up and proclaim to the world that we are Filipinos and we are from the Philippines… Now, next time someone has a puzzled look, show em a card with the url to this post. 🙂

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  2. I said the same things when they were thinking of changing our country’s name to Filipinas. I’m like, all these names were assigned to us by foreigners. Maybe foreigners will get confused, but Filipinos will know the difference between Filipinas, Pilipinas and Philippines. We don’t need to fix what’s not broken.

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  3. I once stumpled upon this question in a video if the Filipinos are asians or pacific Islanders. I found it a funny question at first on why they are confused. Lol. But then when I started traveling abroad, I realised how big the Filipino identity crisis is. First was in a plane where a Chinese passenger asked me and thought I was a Chinese too. Huh? In which part actually? My eyes are definitely too big to be one, maybe due to my small height. Lol. But yeah, Vietnamese, Thailanders are the most common nationalities they thought I am belong. And oh, it is really easier to describe Philippines with Manny Pacquiao first than telling where is it located. Haha

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  4. Hmm…makes one think. The good English is a dead giveaway because we’re the only Asians good with it. We seem to be very adaptive, I think, which makes us more prone to identity crisis.

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  5. I remember when Im travelling to South East Asia, When Im in Cambodia, they thought I was cambodian the same when I went to Thai. Western people thought Im local of that country and never thought Im from the Philippines. Hahahah 🙂 Lets continue to show the world that we are not them in positive ways. We are who we are. We are Filipinos!

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  6. I was also mistaken many times to be Thai when I was travelling frequently to Thailand. Natives there talk to me in Thai. Since I learned a bit of Thai language, they sometimes do not believe me. They think that I was joking. haha

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  7. I haven’t experienced this yet especially to the countries where people and “singkit” but maybe I really look like a FIlipina. Anyway, they must know how we look, the MS. Universe is a FIlipina!

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  8. Most countries have been touched by westernization so it’s a bit hard to identify the true roots of a nationality sometimes. Filipinos are always mixed up with other nationalities. I think it may be the unfamiliarity of our country or because the true Filipino look has evolved.

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  9. I love this insight, I travelled with a friend from Mexico and it was so interesting watching the conversations she would have when people would ask her when shes from. I must admit I also studied with a filipino friend and I had to ask her where she was from because I couldnt figure it out

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  10. Very interesting post 😀
    My sister always gets mistaken of her “identity” as well.
    I remembered some Korean folks talking to her in their language, thought she was one of them.
    My friend’s mother also mistook her as an American (not sure, maybe because she’s mestiza).

    Filipinos are really beautiful ♥

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