- Leix Valenciano-Holt
Love of country
As a new administration takes helm in the Philippines, the rest of the opinionated world has put in its two cents’ worth on how fares the affairs of state. But when Filipinos abroad say their piece, do they get the respect they deserve from their fellow compatriots? Leix Valenciano-Holt speaks her mind out about a disturbing old trait.
"Wala ka naman dito sa Pilipinas e, ba't ka nakikialam?"
I have been living in Australia for about a decade now. Life is comfortable. By comfortable I mean nine-to-five-working-class comfortable. There's money for basic necessities and take-away dinner on Friday nights. And hot showers, too.
Having come from a poor family back in the Philippines, where success meant surviving from sunup to sundown, my life Down Under is a poor man's paradise. So I rise early everyday, get on the hamster wheel, pay the bills. Wash, rinse, repeat.
And then I yearn. In small pockets of solitude—on the train, in my walks to wherever I have to be, in the company of chatty folks, I yearn.
I long for the country I have left behind: its beauty, the generosity of the land and the people that tend it, the hushed voices of timid but extraordinarily perceptive people, the sense of humour that rewards you with tears and a bellyache. This perhaps is what I miss the most: the Filipino sense of humour. However miserable the situation is, you can rest assured someone will smuggle in a joke or two. What makes the Filipino sense of humour even more special to me is the heartache, the brokenness it conceals.
I am an Australian citizen. I took my oath of allegiance about five years ago. From then on, I have wrestled with the word “patriotism," generally defined as love of or devotion to one's country.
I have tried to redefine it in all sorts of different ways, if only to keep at bay the nagging thought that I am a double-crosser, that I have betrayed something that had it not for the practical choices I have had to make in my life I would have remained devoted to. I do have valid arguments against patriotism, especially against its excesses -- jingoism, say. Yet, the very impetus that compels me to argue against it is what betrays me. The truth is: I LOVE MY HOMELAND. The Darwinian urge, the bedrock of such an attachment, however, is not lost on me. Remove all the romantic trappings of patriotism and all you're left with is the evolutionary impositions of kinship. Patriotism, by and large, is a construct of biological imperatives: genetic relatedness, custodianship of the group with whom you share ontological origin, ensuring that these shared values endure from one generation to another. Some may find this view mechanical, utilitarian even, bereft of soul, of the pathos that moves one to anthromorphise a country. Be that as it may, it does not in any way diminish the sheer fact that wherever you may happen to live in the world, you will always have an indelible affinity with the land you grew up in, whether or not you are conscious of its biological machinations.
Every so often I come across people who castigate me for airing out my thoughts on issues concerning Philippine politics. "Wala ka naman dito sa Pilipinas, bakit ka nakikialam?" "Tinalikuran mo na ang Pilipinas so shut up na lang!" I would not put it past these people that if ever they get to live in another country to continue to involve themselves in discussions concerning domestic issues. It cannot be helped. Your affinity with your native land does not cease once you start paying taxes to your host country. It does not cease once you have been issued a citizenship certificate. Your cultural makeup does not metamorphose into that of your adopted country. Assimilation enriches it, but you're still going to have adobo any day over meat pie.
To Filipinos who have never lived in another country, understand that migrants are not expected, let alone forced, by their adopted countries to relinquish their cultural identity. They are, however, expected to honour their laws and customs. Adhering to these edicts is by no means a betrayal of the motherland. And to those who regard us as being unpatriotic for seeking a better life for ourselves elsewhere—first, every human being is accorded the fundamental right to secure adequate living standards; second, that is a gross charge levelled against those whose remittances account for at least 10 percent of the Philippines' GDP. These "unpatriotic" Filipinos happen to be one of the pillars of the country's economy.
(Leix Valenciano-Holt is an Australian federal government worker. She sent her article to “express an intent to contribute a commentary I wrote as a response to those who criticise Fiipinos living overseas for airing out their opinions about domestic issues.” Ms. Valenciano-Holt laments that according to the fault-finders, “we have no right to ‘meddle’ as we are no longer residents of the Philippines.” She lives in Brisbane, Queensland with “two clingy dogs, a self-sufficient cat, and an adolescent son, whom I have proudly named Maharlika.”)