Is celebrating Thanksgiving an instance of “colonial mentality”?
To us growing up in the 1970s, the idea of “colonial mentality” was something to be shunned. There was a move to teach the alphabet in Filipino—“A” is for atis, we were told, not apples. It also helped that the inflation and devaluation of the peso in the martial law years made apples prohibitively expensive.
No one would even think of dyeing one’s hair blonde, or lightening the skin. The ’70s extolled the virtues of the kayumanggi, and the artists who worked for the Marcos regime helped by providing a mythology and iconography, including a native creation story, epitomized by Evan Cosayo’s infamous painting of the President and first lady as Malakas at Maganda stepping forth from a split bamboo.
Today, we’re not less insecure about our national identity, but more indifferent.
We’re also more diverse. If Kelsey Merritt can identify herself as Filipino, even if she looks as ethnically androgynous as the other models on the Victoria’s Secret runway, so, too, can many people who grew up elsewhere with different accents, surnames and religions.
Being Filipino is pointing with your lips and knowing how to pick up slippers with your toes. But it is also, more than ever, a personal and performative choice as much as it has to do with physical features or ascribed characteristics.
There is scant desire to resurrect the bogeyman of “colonial mentality,” which had us trying to watch “Sesame Street” dubbed in Tagalog. But in the wake of the extreme fluidity of traditional markers of national identity for what constitutes an ever more slippery concept of “Filipino-ness,” we tend to hew ever more closely to the customs and practices of our immediate community.
For example, there are a number of us who celebrate Thanksgiving—upper-middle class, American-educated, with relatives in the United States, or who perhaps grew up there. And after all, it was a regular Philippine holiday until the outbreak of World War II.
The Marcoses killed Thanksgiving by moving it to Sept. 21, to commemorate the implementation of martial law in 1972. It was bizarre, to say the least.
Imagine if the current President moved Christmas to Jan. 29 to immortalize the launching of “Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded.”
Because of our colonial past
—or maybe because we’re just like that—we end up being magpies, appropriating things we find in our travels. And because of the Filipino diaspora, our pickings are from far and wide.
Meanwhile, the urban centers have become more and more globalized. Because of our children’s friends, we end up celebrating Guy Fawkes, Diwali and the end of Ramadan.
As a child, we trooped in solemn silence on Nov. 1 to the cemetery to pay our respects to our departed kin. There was no raucous trick-or-treating, and Halloween costumes were seen as typical of American wastefulness. (We have decided not to pass on this lugubrious tradition.)
And because of my parents, we continue to celebrate Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn festival, though there’s a lot of syncretism in the way we do it. I don’t think our Xiamen ancestors had a lechon followed by a dice game to win prizes from S&R.
Oddly enough, American traditions tend to be the ones denigrated as being an outcome of “colonial mentality,” while Spanish traditions tend to be seen as heritage.
Those who cling to the “old ways” spend Holy Week praying the rosary, doing the “Visita Iglesia” and watching movies like “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “The Ten Commandments.”
The Nazareno has never been accused of being “colonial”
—but what could be more symbolic of the power the friars and the Church wielded over Manila than the cultish devotion to the Black Nazarene?
Which brings us to the question that our family has been grappling with. Because we don’t belong to any community, or because we belong to too many communities, we don’t have a prescribed way of observing the holidays.
What’s an authentic Filipino way of celebrating Christmas?
Simbang Gabi, bibingka and puto bumbong, fruitcake and queso de bola, Excelente and Majestic ham, lechon, nativity school play, Yulo strawberry shortcake, Cuerva mango torte, carols at The Peninsula Manila, driving up to Baguio and putting on your chaleco after passing the stone lion.
These days, Christmas is equally likely to be about weird dancing unicorns or albino giraffes at Rockwell, boozy dinner at M Dining, and maybe Boracay instead of Baguio.
Who knows? Traditions were meant to be broken, or at least tinkered with. The world alternates between Apollonian and Dionysian moments, and the last few years have certainly been the latter: upheaval, breaking with the past.
Change is coming. Change has come. Change will come again.
But our parents, for whom the last remnants of the American past still lingered in the background, were right to be vigilant about “colonial mentality.”
It’s just that colonial mentality turned out not to pertain to culture and consumption, but to geopolitics and economics.
They didn’t realize that their children and grandchildren would be begging to be colonized, to come under the colonial rule of a foreign power, not armed with the sword and the cross but with loans, bridges and promises.
Shame on us all for squandering the legacy of independence.
Now we can eat all the apples we like—they are from Shandong. —CONTRIBUTED