17 January 2014

I am a Fake Filipino

I had to write this down. The thing is, some weeks ago, I felt depressed. I withdrew from some of my friends' parties. And I think I now know why. I know exactly the reason for this, and it's this damned typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines back in November.

See, Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest typhoon on record. It hit the Visayas region of the Philippines during the first half of November, and caused massive destruction on the immediate area. I read about it all on the news, and soon enough, my Facebook feed as well as my news feeds all became flooded with images of the devastation caused by the storm. And then after that, my friends all posted heart-breaking articles on Facebook showing the world what this typhoon has caused to the country.

I got a few letters and emails asking if everyone I knew were okay. My immediate family don't live in the Philippines anymore, and my extended family all are in the north, and the only person I knew who lives in the area has already been accounted for, so there is no immediate reason for me to get worried or mourn. Yet I found it comforting to know that there are people who care about me, as they took the time to ask.

Anyway, that's not the problem. See, immediately after, almost everyone in the Filipino community here in Berlin became involved with relief efforts. Bake sales happened, donation drives, contributions, benefit concerts, pleas for help, you name it, it happened. That's all good.

However, I couldn't figure out how to feel about it myself.

Should I participate? Should I feel bad? I cannot for the life of me figure out how to act. Because judging from the way my Filipino friends are acting, it feels like they genuinely are heartbroken and have a genuine desire to help their fellow countrymen who had the tragic misfortune of enduring a typhoon. But I on the other hand, find myself not as touched as they are.

Don't get me wrong. I am saddened every time I see the pictures of the wreckage. But its effect on me is the same as when I saw the reports about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (280,000 deaths), the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (70,000 deaths), and the 2010 Haiti earthquake (100,000 deaths). In other words, I had negative emotions going on inside, but not because I happen to share the same passport as those of the victims, but rather, simply because it was a tragedy, plain and simple. And somehow, I have this hunch that this feeling is different from the feelings experienced by my Filipino friends.

See, in the Philippines, there is this concept of "bayanihan", which is perfectly illustrated by a family who happens to be moving to a new place to live. Back in the days, when a family needs to move, the whole village helps the family to move. When I was in school in the Philippines, I have seen pictures illustrating this concept. The whole village lifts the thatched house and moves it to the new location. And that somehow happened again, when the typhoon struck. Filipinos from all over the world emptied their pockets and helped their fellowmen.

And the problem is, I feel fake. I feel like I don't belong. I feel like I am an imposter Filipino in their midst, and I was afraid that soon enough, they would find out that I don't share their emotions with the same intensity as they have, and I will be called out of it. Hence, I stopped going to parties that are mostly Filipinos, for a little while. Because there is this idea I have that I just feel out of place and a bystander, when everyone else seem to have this unifying factor that binds them together.

Oh, the joys and sorrows of being a third culture kid. Sometimes it feels like I am a foreigner, all the time, no matter where I go. I guess I just have to learn to live with it. So I disappeared for a little bit from my Filipino circle, and spent a little bit more time with my other friends. I guess that will do the trick.

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