Am I a traitor to my nation (culturally)?

To which the simple answer is: YES. This simple answer coming of course from certain frameworks quick to brand people nationalistic or not. But I feel that asking this question is important, and it brings up a number of very interesting issues. There are more than a few quick indictments that can be made. My preferred language of communication is English, so there you go, if you belong to a particular school of thought then the discussion’s over. I don’t watch local TV. Though I try to watch local films (and write some on occasion), I’m still a Hollywood movie buff. My music, well, mostly Western too. My reading preferences, ditto, and especially when you add in the sci-fi and fantasy which according to some critics should have nothing to do with our own local literature. This isn’t to say that I don’t real local writers. That would be the furthest thing from the truth. But when we make a ration of it, even with me reading manuscripts here at the publishing house, in comparison to all the stuff that I read in physical form, download to my kindle, grab off the net, and read in websites, it’s just largely western.

I have to admit to feeling guilty too whenever I can’t get into ethnic music. I just don’t get it. I’ve been to a lot of cultural events (and have performed in a few in my time) and there’s always the people with kulintangs and other ethnic instruments, and beyond a kind of appreciation in the moment, I can’t really imagine myself looking for that music and loading it up on my iPod so I cal listen to it regularly. And my question is, should I feel guilty that I prefer big rock or bouncing hip-hop over our local ethnic and folk stylings?

I’ve been listening to actor Hugh Laurie’s jazz/blues album Let Them Talk, which is basically a British guy playing traditional American music. I don’t think someone ever came up to Laurie and questioned his British-ness because, as he says, it was this music that spoke to his soul. Is this because he’s part of the hegemony anyway, and that hegemony is pretty homogenous in its sound? So if first-worlders are off playing each others’ music, then it’s cool, but if a Filipino makes an American jazz album, that might be questionable (though of course there are local divas and starlets and the male equivalents of those and what have you coming up with all cover albums which are embraces as OPM)?

I understand that ours is a young country which is still problematizing concepts of nation, national identity, and nation-building. And being a young country it’s important that we prize and protect our culture. Yet, I don’t find that it helps to brand people un-nationalistic, anti-Filipino, or other similar labels. What I do think is important is we keep problemaziting these concepts, keep trying to find how we can define and live these things.

Ultimately I believe it comes down to how we honor our country. And I think we find ways to honor our country by doing right as individuals and as citizens. I know this is a terribly difficult thing to define and hold on to. And it’s much easier to work with clear-cut definitions and specific acts that would show our love for country. But those clear-cut definitions can’t work (even if those frameworks seemingly do). It’s a struggle that we all go through, especially those of us who are creators, no matter what field.

Now I know how people could find all the holes in my arguments here, and I admit that there’s no way to plug some of these holes. Some will say that I am this way because I am too largely influenced by western culture. Others will go so far as to say that I have been brainwashed by the west. Of course it’s easy to admit to these things, and I do. It’s also very true that I gave up on things like local TV a long time ago. It just fails to excite me. I wonder if that can be seen as un-filipino, or just elitist. I don’t really know. Which is to say that I suppose I am walking into a minefield with this post. But I do believe it’s important to open discourse about how we try to navigate this tricky territory.

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