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The Philippines: Singular and Plural

Today is the anniversary of the final day of the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

And since I've been reading too many Philippine history books lately—even though I'm not doing my PhD on Philippine history—I thought I'd share two of the best paragraphs written about the Philippines by non-Filipino historians.

The first, from David Joel Steinberg's The Philippines: A Singular and a Plural Place, reminded me of "The Philippines are or is?" and is probably the best description I have ever read of the Philippines:

The Philippines is a singular and plural noun. The name Philippines refers both to an island archipelago and to a country of over 75 million people. It identifies a unified nation with a single people, the Filipinos, and also a highly fragmented, plural society divided between Muslims and Christians, peasants and city dwellers, uplanders and lowlanders, rich and poor, and between the people of one ethnic, linguistic, or geographic region and those of another. To understand the Philippines, one must understand the conflict between the centripetal force of consensus and national identity and the centrifugal force of division and instability (4th ed., 2000, p. xiii).
The second, from Stanley Karnow's In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines, makes a very important point usually forgotten amid all the political and personal "issues" that plague Philippine society:
Filipinos readily accepted American styles and institutions. They learned to behave, dress and eat like Americans, sing American songs and speak Americanized English. Their lawyers familiarized themselves with American jurisprudence, and their politicians absorbed American democratic procedures, displaying unique skills in American parliamentary practices. But they never became the Americans that Americans sought to make them. To this day, they are trying to define their national identity (1989, p. 198).
While some will probably argue that the authors are guilty of oversimplifying, it cannot be denied that there is a lot of truth in what they write. Ours is, in fact, a nation divided. We have an official national language that nobody really speaks (see "Buwan ng Wika 2007"), and students are forced to memorize countless "national" odds and ends (e.g., national bird, national tree), but what is it exactly that makes inhabitants of the Philippines truly Filipino? I would say that my identity as a Filipino lies in the numerous political, religious, and cultural influences that have shaped our history. Then again, I'm sure many other Filipinos will disagree.

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