I was raised on American History, American customs and culture, American language (complete with American accent) and American food. Many a time in my young life when I actually believed I was an American.
For six years through grade school, the only stressful subject that marred my smooth upbringing was Pilipino class. This was a constant struggle as my fluently English tongue refused to bend for the teachings of my native language. To the point when I entered an all-Filipino public high school in Manila in 1986, mere months after the famed EDSA Revolution, to say I experienced a bad case of culture-shock was an understatement. Fortunately, my classmates were understanding and helped me learn Tagalog, the National spoken language of the Philippines.
In second year high school, though, my bubble broke. We were taking up Philippine History and it was then that I learned the true story of the Filipino people. How, for 400 years, we had been practically enslaved by Spain; how in 1898, our country was sold to the United States for $20million; how for almost 100 years the Americans invaded our shores with education and chocolate bars, this period broken only by the Japanese during World War II – two years of utter humiliation and tragedy; and finally how the country was able to enjoy a brief respite with a beloved President before he, too, gave in to greed and power, later who was to be ousted from position with the first and only bloodless revolution ever in the history of the world.
Who declared the Philippines independent in 1898? Was it the Spaniards when they received their bargained-for bounty? Or was it the Americans when they took up office in many of Spain’s abandoned buildings and signed their deed of sale? Or was it the Filipinos, exhausted from the endless struggle to gain freedom only to have it taken away once more by a stronger and more intellectual enemy?
And what does INDEPENDENCE really mean? By definition, it’s the “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.” With our very colorful history and our knack for attracting invaders, can one really, truly say that we are independent?
Then again, if you look at how indignant the Filipinos all over the world reacted to the shocking loss of Philippine boxing legend Manny Pacquiao to American Timothy Bradley last Sunday, one could say that our independence has nothing to do with a piece of paper. Instead it has everything to do with pride, roots and the intensely strong family values we Filipinos hold sacred above all else. It is not so much our desire to be free from control or influence but our need for individuality. We are one when we are under pressure and we are independent when we are one.