I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

Are we Asians?

Seriously. Are we Asians?

I suppose you could answer that two ways. One way is to answer that question based on geography. Geographically speaking, there’s no denying that we’re situated in the Asia-Pacific region.

But the more interesting approach – to me at least – is to look at that question from a cultural perspective. And with that point of attack, I’d have to say NO, we’re not Asians at all. For one thing, our values are different; seems we have more in common with our former colonial masters than with our closest neighbors.

And from this difference in values I think can be traced the roots of the differences between our present circumstances and those of our neighbors. Take public transportation for instance.

We take after the American model that stresses individual car ownership. As a result, successive governments have all but ignored the need to modernize mass transit, while allowing individual car ownership to go unchecked. End result: congested roads, an archaic public transportation system, and one of the worst levels of air pollution in the world. Compare that with Singapore, for instance. It’s incredibly difficult to get your own car, and when you do, you can hang on to it for only a few years. But that’s okay. Their public transportation system is first class, and so many prefer to take the buses or the trains. And to think Singapore has been independent just about half-a-century.

As another example, consider human relations. In nearly all Asian countries, the collective good occupies a very high position in the individual’s priorities. Westerners used to deride that as a kind of hive mentality. Here at home, the collective good rests somewhere between the sole of your feet and the mud. We cling to our individual claims of personal entitlement against everyone else, the needs of the more numerous be damned. And as an offshoot, we cannot abide the thought of someone getting ahead of us. At the first hint of someone else rising above the mediocrity we’re comfortable in, we go all out trying to undermine his success, and gloat mightily when he falls back into the muck with us. But we rejoice to high heavens when his fall becomes the springboard for our own ascent.

On the positive side, we are more frank than Asians. Like our American role models, we usually say what we mean. Asians try to save face – either for themselves or for the one who might be embarrassed or put in a difficult position. In Japanese corporate speak, “No, I cannot help you” virtually does not exist. Instead, they say “I’ll think about it (in perpetuity).” That could be either cool or not. But the bottomline is, most Asians are prone to stress generated by unexpressed frustration or anger. Which is why, back in the late 80`s, restaurants in Japan often had rooms where you could vent your anger at your boss by hurling plates at his picture.

I’m sure there are lots more ways that can be cited to support the proposal that Filipinos are not Asians. When I’m done documenting them (it’s a hobby, so don’t hold your breath), I’ll post it. But here’s an interesting homework assignment for anyone who’s interested: If Filipinos are not Asians, what are we?


Filed under: musings, society, , ,

18 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    The Indians are more frank and direct to the point than us Filipinos. For our part, we have “I’ll try” which is a face saving way to say don’t count on me to be there”. Just like us, the Indians also don’t have the ‘hive mentality’.

    On the other hand, Filipinos are similar to the Chinese in terms of the underlying racist streak. Here in Singapore, the white guys (‘ang mohs’) usually get the top positions and just like back home, many local girls gravitate to them.

  2. J says:

    Filipinos are Americanized Latinos. Like Puerto Ricans maybe.

  3. cvj says:

    We’re also ‘Asian’ [aka Chinese] in the sense of having the prevalent culture of kow-towing or bowing before the powerful. Over here, might makes right rather than the other way around. Truth to power is too few and far between.

  4. BrianB says:

    Whatever gets the erring politicians and rich off the hook, that’s what we are. Sometimes kano kuno, sometimes Asian kuno, sometimes civilized and at times barbaric – whatever saves their asses that’s our identity.

  5. Jeg says:

    ‘Asian’ itself doesnt mean much geographically or culturally. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Afghans, Iraqis, Israelis, Kurds are as Asian as Chinese, Indians, and Malays. There is no ‘Asian’. It’s just a classification for the convenience of American pollsters. Which means that if an American pollster asks me about my ethnicity, I’d say Asian. No problem. No sense lecturing him about his simplistic classifications before I answer. The poor fella’s just doing his job. 😀

  6. rom says:

    Jeg: excellent point, uncle. to be clear, I’m interested in whether we fit in with common conception of what makes up the grouping called “Asian,” i.e., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Many Filipinos think we do. Some argue that we don’t.

    Naturally, this grouping definitely does not include those which (culturally and geographically) can be considered Eurasian (such as the UZbeks and the Kazakhs). Indians, I think, can only be considered Asian geographically but culturally, they’re almost sui generis.

    Should Malays also be considered culturally distinct from the “Asians”?

  7. BrianB says:

    Not to mention the Arabs, and novelist Saul Bellow, a Jew, classified himself as Asiatic.

    These classifications are pretty useless though. It’s not like anyone can bind us (behavior-wise) to our Asiatic identity? Though it’s curious to note that many rationalize their behavior by saying they are Asian, or they are Hispanic (Filipinos).

  8. rom says:

    Though it’s curious to note that many rationalize their behavior by saying they are Asian, or they are Hispanic (Filipinos).

    Brianb: that’s right on the money, bri. that’s the kind of thing people say that precisely got me started on this train of thought.

  9. Jeg says:

    Should Malays also be considered culturally distinct from the “Asians”?

    You could make a very good case for that. Malays (Malaysians, Indonesians, Pinoys) are generally monotheists. Yeah, we can more accurately call ourselves Malay instead of Asian. We’re closer to them culturally and in temperament, I gather.

    By the way, let’s not forget that to the Brits, when they say Asian, they usually mean South Asian (Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, etc.) and sometimes West Asian, like the Afghans, Kazakhs, etc. I guess it depends on which Asian colony you had once.

  10. cvj says:

    A Frenchman i worked with initially observed that this place (more particularly the shanties) reminded him of Mexico. However, he also told me after spending sometime here, that the Hispanic veneer is superficial.

  11. J says:

    Jeg: we are Malays, the Chinese, Japanese, koreans and Mongolians belong to the Mongoloid race.

    But all the same. Mongols and Malays are Orientals.

    Malays are mixed with Polynesians though. This is especially true in Indonesia.

  12. cvj says:

    J, i think you’d be interested in the results of the Genographic project (requires Flash 9).

    Looking at the maps, it’s fascinating that the Mongols (where Genghis Khan) belonged actually came from the same genetic stock as the Australian Aborigines and the Indonesians. The Austronesians [aka the ‘Malays’], on the other hand, are separate from the Mongols originating in Mainland China and first travelled to Taiwan (where incidentally, we he have our closest relatives the ‘Amis’) and, from there, spread on to the rest of Southeast Asia.

    Also, the Cowboys and the American Indian’s actually originated from the same genetic stock (M45) and arrived in the American Continent tens of thousands of years apart and from opposite directions. And as Rom said above, the Indians (of the subcontinent) are ‘sui generis’.

    It both confirms and disproves a lot of what they taught us in school.

  13. cvj says:

    The Han Chinese (M122) are also separate from the Mongols (M217) and are closer to the Austronesians (M119).

  14. rom says:

    cvj: UNCLE! Great tip pointing to the genographic project. it’s good bye sleep for me tonight! LOL

  15. BrianB says:

    But CVJ, the Bisayas came from Indonesia, and they comprise a huge fraction of Filipinos.

  16. BrianB says:

    i think i’ll buy that genographic kit and participate.

  17. cvj says:

    Brianb, a lot of the Indonesians are Austronesians as well. In fact, by 1500AD, they started to outnumber the earlier inhabitants as shown in this diagram:

    The pie chart shows the relative proportions of Y-DNA Haplogroup O (includes both Austronesians and Han Chinese) color coded blue in the pie chart versus Y-DNA Haplogroup C (the older Indonesians from where the Mongols came) color coded pink. You can also see that the relative proportions are similar in the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Here’s my blog entry on this topic

  18. shiro says:

    hmmm… i think we’re whatever ethnic/racial background we can foist our failings on. we’re indolent because latinos are, materialistic because americans are, prejudiced because chinese are… and so on and so forth.

    i’m me. my faults are my own, as are my strengths. but everyone is welcome to their ethnocultural crutches. 😛

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