I’ve always thought of myself as nationalistic. I grew up speaking the Filipino language and was in fact labeled a “Tagalista” in my early years, having hung out and played with the help a lot since I grew up an only child. So imagine how I cringe when my two young children, Pax, 8, and Bella, 5, say even the simplest of Filipino words with a thick foreign accent. I used to laugh so hard at kids like them -- talk about karma!
My family and I live in Hong Kong, you see, and it's here where I have found my most Filipino self ironically enough. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s because I am a mother now. Perhaps it's because I am the "different'' one in my workplace, the only Filipino and one of two who don’t speak Cantonese. It may also be related to the fact that I am privy to the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) here. I also miss family and friends in Manila.
Or finding my Filipino self could very well lie in a renewed fascination with Philippine history since my husband Blums is the great-great-grandchild of Marcelo H. Del Pilar. While growing up, Blums used to give Tagalog speeches at the Marcelo H. Del Pilar monument in Bulacan. It was called "Ang Tugon ng Angkan ni Plaridel."
Regardless of the exact cause or reason, I have never felt the desire to (figuratively) wave our flag proudly as much as I have these last few years being away from home.
So despite being a busy working mom in a fast-paced city, I have found myself volunteering to do anything that will educate my children’s schoolmates about the Philippines. My kids are the only Pinoys in their respective classes at their international school.
What has this “volunteering” entailed? Every year during Book Week, I've read a book of my choice to the class, always in the Filipino language, of course. I've been part of the organizing committee for the Philippine table during the school’s International Festival. And every year during International Week, I do an in-class cultural presentation on the Philippines.
At last year's presentation, I borrowed an intricate and colorful Masskara from the Philippine consulate. I told the class the story behind the festival like how it originated in the 1980s to bring back the smile to the faces of the people from Bacolod. There was a slump in sugar prices, and the MV Don Juan tragedy happened. The people from Bacolod certainly needed to bounce back, and the Masskara festival, which now takes place every October, uplifted their spirits.
The class and I then played a Philippine trivia game where kids lined up behind A, B, or C, depending on the answer they chose. As the game master, I proudly wore a piña top, also borrowed from the Consulate.
This year, I didn't think I could top that presentation. I had no time to prepare leading up to International Week because my schedule was so swamped. Besides, the piña costume was no longer available at the Philippine consulate, and the one shop that had Filipiniana dresses in all of Hong Kong was closed. My presentation was at 8 a.m., and I still had no costume the night before.
Desperation kicked in, and I remembered seeing ternos in the movie Sunday Beauty Queen, a documentary on Pinay domestic helpers in Hong Kong who participate in beauty contests on Sundays, their one day off in the week. For those who have not yet seen it, you should.
I have a job where I regularly get to meet international recording artists. But I was completely starstruck last February when I attended the Sunday Beauty Queen screening where the cast and the director were present. I even got the number of Leo Selomenio, the organizer of these beauty contests and one of the main characters of the film, because I was so moved and I want to help somehow. It was Leo who helped me in my time of need.
Upon learning of my little costume emergency, Leo quickly referred me to a Filipina who has been renting gowns in Hong Kong for 10 years while working as a domestic helper. I went to her place and finally saw the side of Hong Kong that I only saw in the movie -- lots of people, including a young boy no more than 5, crammed into a very, very small space. Their living conditions broke my heart, and yet in front of me was a lady who cheerfully offered me a beautiful, blue terno, newly flown in from Manila.
The next morning, inspired by real-life heroes -- our OFWs -- I managed to make quite an entrance into my daughter’s class. The children looked at me like I was a princess, their eyes shining
The terno helped me hold their attention while I talked about the different kinds of the national dress in the Philippines, and the beautiful sights to be seen in our country (I had tourism banners behind me to serve as my visual aids). They intently listened as I taught them sungka, and how to sing "Tong Tong Tong Tong Pakitong Kitong," complete with actions.
I ended the presentation with the story of Marcelo H. Del Pilar, who was forced to flee to Spain as he fought for his country’s freedom. Pining for his wife and daughters back home, Del Pilar died a pauper in Barcelona, having spent his own money on the Propaganda Movement. Two years after his death, the Philippines declared its independence from Spain, marking the fruition of his life’s work.
Too sad of a story for kids? I disagree. The story of Lolo Marcelo, Bella’s great-great-great-grandfather (how the kids' eyes widened at this) certainly showed that love for country knows no physical bounds.
In my family’s case and that of the entire Philippine diaspora, the Filipino spirit can exist wherever you are. It’s a matter of keeping it alive and ensuring we pass it on to the next generation, whether they speak proper Filipino or not.
Roslyn Reyes Pineda is the vice president for Artist Relations and Business Development (Asia) at Sony Music, the highest ranking Pinoy in the company globally. She has lived in Hong Kong for 11 years, but she considers the Philippines home. She has recently found a Filipino language teacher for her kids and hopes that the days of funny Tagalog will soon be behind her! And looking ahead, she sees it as good preparation for that one-way ticket to Manila, whenever that will be.