The Masks of Filipinos
by Teodoro M. Locsin
Philippines Free Press
To be a Filipino is not a simple thing but a great bewilderment, a matter of great complexity, which is only a way of saying what is to be a man
June 17, 1961—THE FILIPINO as Spaniard, the Filipino as American, the Filipino as Japanese—when is the Filipino going to be himself? He has worn so many masks, appearance is difficult to distinguish from reality. But the mimic, no matter how expert, must, sooner or later, be himself. The act must stop, when the lights go out, in the loneliness of his room, in the loneliness of his soul…
The late President Quezon expressed a preference for a government run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by the Americans, knowing very well that no government run by Americans or by anybody else for that matter could possibly be heavenly. Weren’t dogs—and Filipinos—barred from certain establishments where Americans foregathered? But if no government run by Americans could possibly be heavenly, does the new government run by Filipinos have to be hellish? Were it merely purgatorial, hope would be possible. But what hope can there be in this?
The American mask fitted not too well, but at least it was put on—after a while—most willingly. It is significant that while nobody objected to calling one of the bridges of Manila “MacArthur,” many were quite upset by the renaming of a street, “Azcarraga,” after a Filipino who had made a name for himself by trying to put the Americans in this country in their true place.
Despotism produces protestations of loyalty, rewarded with uncertain toleration, with the “loyalist” as likely as not being eventually shot. (The case of Rizal is instructive.) The “benign” imperial rule of the United States resulted in what might be described as happy self-depreciation. If Americans could do everything, Filipinos, it was widely held, could do nothing. Of course, one must be superior in something—let it then be in vice. A short story by Alejandro Roces, “Filipinos Are Mild Drinkers,” celebrates Filipino triumph in the vice. What knocks Americans out—a native concoction—hardly affects a “mild-drinking” native. A humorous masterpiece, yet a sad one. Filipinos may not be able to win wars or make planes that fly faster than sound or cigarettes for which one would walk a mile, but they can drink Americans any time under the table. What further reassurance does the national pscyhe require?
Admiration, however, is all very well, but it leads to what? The thing admired is not the admirer. Filipinos who go to the United States—this is all they need to realize that they are not, in spite of having elevated Americanism to a religion, Americans. They are not Americans at all. But what are they? They are filled with an overwhelming sense of not belonging; they would go home—but what is home? What is the Philippines? What is the Filipino? An imitation American….