Cultural Reasons Why Philippines & Mexico are Poor

(And ideas to cure this aberration in our national psychological DNA)
By Ernie D. Delfin, "A Voice from America"

What do the Filipinos and Mexicanos have in common?

Both have been afflicted with AIDS, meaning Acute Income Deficiency Syndrome, while a lot of Americans suffer from HIV (Hair Is Vanishing).

Hey, kababayans,

I hope this opening will make you laugh in order not to cry as the prognosis of the Philippines' socio-economic conditions will most likely become worse with the continued melt-down of global economy.

Between Christmas and New Year, when almost nobody wants to work, my family, computer guru David Paraiso, and several American business associates of mine, Holmes Stoner, Dr. Bruce and Alma Bush, Arturo Moldivia and Steve Toops spent a few days in an upscale resort in Tijuana, one of the largest Mexican cities, just south of San Diego, California. While away from the maddening and stressful holiday crowd, we discussed our 2002 business plans in addition to having a great time that also recharged our batteries. Leaving a first world country and visiting a third world country like Mexico has heightened our awareness of the socio-economic plight of many countries of the world.

Once you crossed the border at Tijuana-San Diego, you know you are in another world although in the same continent. My wife said it was just like being in the Philippines with thousands of cars and people going back and forth. With the post 9-11 event in New York, the INS border patrol has become stricter by asking more questions and inspecting everything including the trunk of your car trunk before entering the United States. Whereas before 9-11, to pass the INS border inspection took less than an hour or two, it has now taken twice as long. For a mile or two before the border, the traffic going back into the U.S. is far worse than Manila's especially on weekends.

Why is this Mexican-US border like this, but not the Canadian and US border? As Americans simplify things, "it's the economy, stupid!"

Although the U.S. economy is also under its downturn, it is still much better than Mexico or the Philippines. The poor, especially the young and able-bodied Mexican men, flock into the U.S. legally or otherwise and work in any menial (in agriculture, busboys or housekeeping) jobs at minimum wage of about $7.00 an hour, often under the table if they are undocumented aliens, the p.c. term for "illegal" aliens or TNTs. A hundred U.S. dollars earned in a day or two is a lot of money in Mexico or in any third world country for that matter.

There are so many similarities between the Mexican people with our kababayans in the Philippines. Like their Philippine counterparts, the Mexican government officials just condone thousands of people, some with babies, to peddle just about anything from religious statues, food, rugs, blankets, you name it, just to make a buck to the millions of people in their cars waiting for their turn to be inspected year-round. Despite their poverty, however, the Mexicans are happy and spiritual people. Like their Filipino cousins, they can smile even though they have almost nothing. Life's simplicity is God's gift, I suppose.

As many Mexicans consider children as additional farm laborers and eventually the source of their "social security" in their old age, many families produce twice or thrice as many babies compared to American or Canadian families. Because of their high birth rates, the Mexican population in California is now over a third and growing every year. Our business associates in Mexico jestingly predicted that it is one sure strategy that Mexicans can get California back from the U.S!

A sobering thought but politically speaking, it could happen within another generation, 20-40 years from now.

* * * *

The Mexicans and Filipinos are in the same poverty boat. Intellectually speaking, any academician, politician or journalist can analyze and debate for another 400 years, until kingdom come, the countless reasons why both nations are poor. Everybody has heard of the foremost excuse why we were poor is that because we have been colonized by the same arrogant Spaniards (the bible and the sword conquistadores) since Magellan "discovered" the Philippines in March 16, l521. On a lighter side note, while in Mexico, my friend Holmes Stoner, the incumbent president of our Pan Pacific Chamber of Commerce, who was married to an Ilocana RN for over twenty years before they got divorced told this funny joke:

"Why is it that the number of Filipinos decrease when they become a little bit richer?"
Reason: they become Spaniards!

Although the Filipino Americans now rank number one among all Asians in recent immigration statistics, the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese beat us in terms of socio-economic political clout in mainstream America. Even the most recent immigrant groups, the Vietnamese Americans are now apparently ahead of us.

For instance, in Orange County, California, where about 250,000 Vietnamese-Americans who are concentrated in the Asian enclaves of Westminster and Garden Grove (Orange County total population is over 3 million of which Filipinos account for only about 45,000 scattered all over the county, out of about one million Filipinos in the entire California according to the 2000 census) there is now a robust, vibrant and interesting commercial district called Little Saigon, which the State of California has officially designated us another tourist attraction. Last year, I toured STAR publisher Max Soliven and Preciosa Soliven all over Little Saigon before we visited the world famous Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove; over lunch in a French-Vietnamese restaurant in Little Saigon, Mr. Soliven commented that:

"The Vietnamese work like ants while Filipinos just buzz like bees and fly like butterflies."
Very sad but pungent observation how Filipinos act and behave even in this so-called land of opportunity.

Unlike the other Asian groups like the Chinese, Japanese or Koreans, there is still no Filipino town in the entire state of California yet. I also drove Mr. Soliven and his secretary Tess Santos a few months back around the Alvarado-Temple area in Los Angeles downtown where Filipinos are still hoping to build a Filipino Town. Without any commercial base where economic activities sustaining the place, it will never happen in the next hundred years. To add insult to injury, the bust of Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, is erected without class and shamelessly displayed in the parking lot of two Seafood City grocery parking lots, one in National City and one in Carson, California. This is a cheap and crazy token, consuelo de bobo, to all the Filipinos who have made this grocery giant very successful.

Politically speaking, the other Asian groups have more elected government officials than Filipino Americans.

* * * *

My impressions of Mexico brought me back to my fond hopes for the Philippines. Our economic plight will never experience a dramatic change until we change. The latter must happen first. Sadly, we were conditioned to have good grades in school, that knowledge is power, and most people believed this fallacy until they die. Fortunately, I discovered out of school in the real world that that maxim is a lot of nonsense, lots of bull's manure! It is the application of good and appropriate knowledge, coupled with hard work, determination, integrity and harmonious working relationship with all kinds of people that is the REAL power that makes people become successful.

There are probably more intellectual derelicts in the Philippines right now than the endangered species of tilapia, gurami or dalag in our rivers due to dynamite fishing! But where is the Philippines in the ranking of all nations of the world right now? I always commiserate with Teddy Benigno whenever he cries and laments about the "damaged culture," the apparent flaws of Philippine society. Like him, I also feel the pulse and the longing of the Filipinos to be really FREE because I am still a Filipino although I have been here in the USA for more than a quarter of a century.

(Teddy, whenever you come to San Diego again, our friend publisher Simeon Silverio Jr., you and a few others can just sit down for dinner or lunch indulging in some mentally stimulating conversations at the Seaport Village where your favorite, unassuming neat bookstore called UpStart Crow, or simply have a leisurely drive along the vast Baja California coast. I admire you for your fine finished products up to this day! Incredible passion for cerebral journalism. But you also deserve to relax a little bit and take it easy during your golden years. You alone cannot change Philippine society unless the people want to change themselves. Lamentably, the leader that the Philippines truly needs is probably NOT even born yet!)

When all is said and done, it is us, the LIVING, regardless who our colonizers were, who can change our political and socio-economic plight. It starts with a spartan attitude, not a wishy-washy bahala na attitude or urong-sulong leadership style.

Dr. Thomas Parham, a nationally known psychologist in the United States who is the Vice Chancellor of Counseling at UC-Irvine, describes it best when he admonished to the Black Americans about their sad socio economic plight in America, "The biggest problem facing our African-American community isn't drugs, violence, racism, or white supremacy, but rather the need for mental liberation. Removing the physical shackles of slavery didn't remove the mental shackles."

I believe this also applies to the mental state of Filipinos even after almost 500 years since our Spanish occupation in the 16th century. We must seek to help the young as well as the adults to understand the way we are mentally incarcerated and how to break the cycle of a victim mentality.

I like the metaphor that Dr. Parham uses to deliver his message:

"Shop less for gifts and more for your truer self. If you look for it, you can find still hope in the face of despair, strength in the face of weakness, courage in the face of fear, compassion in the face of insensitivity. And be sure to pass it on!"

A descendant of African slaves who were brutalized, demeaned by a racists, intolerant society that sought to erase every vestige of African pride and culture from the lives of millions of slaves in America, Dr. Parham traveled to Ghana a few years back to tell the spirits of his ancestors that he, and the millions of other descendants of slaves are all right, thereby closing an important personal circle, and passing on a vital message to his predecessors who sacrificed so much.

There is great wisdom in Dr. Parham's counsel and I think the same can also apply as a valid prescription to our damaged Filipino psyche. It can start from each one of us, from grade school, from every family and every barangay in the Philippines. Once it is learned and imbedded in our national consciousness, we must pass it on as it gives the one passing the torch some semblance of immortality. I hold dearly in my heart, as a Filipino living outside the Philippines for over half of my earthly life, that by influencing others, by giving them a piece of ourselves, our spirit will live on in all those people whom we have helped become a truer person and a useful citizen.

Yes, Filipino deserves a break, but every Filipino must break this victim syndrome, this old colonial mentality that continues to shackle the Filipino people as one nation!

Kababayans, do you see or feel what I feel!?

For your sake, stop listening to many political charlatans and bimbos (they are not your role models, they are just images of the citizenry of the land!) and stop watching "Sa Pagkat Kami ay Tao Lamang" movies. For once, start listening to your own feeble voice inside of you and do what it tells you to do religiously, like the ants building their colony! In one generation, when the babies of today become adults, Filipinos will become what they truly deserve, either dead or alive as a nation. The choice is all yours!

* * * *

With the indulgence of my editors, I resolve, beginning with this first column of 2002, to cull and share from my library some "Empowering Thoughts To Live By" (ETTLB) with my fervent hope, against hope, that it will cause some mental metamorphosis or a paradigm shift in some of my readers' outlook in their lives.

Here is the first ETTLB taken from the inaugural speech of Nelson Mandela of South Africa in l994:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate;
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and Fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won't feel insecure around you.
We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let own candle shine, we consciously give others permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others!"

A Forwarded message years ago in an email-based internet forum.