The Philippine Culture in Southeast Asia

Given more than 300 years under colonial rule[1], much of the cultural exponents of the Philippines have largely been branded as “westernized” to the extent of being “un-Asian” in terms of practices, orientation and even the mentality of its people. The dominant understanding of mainstream Philippine history only traces its beginning to the discovery of the Philippines by Spain in the 1500s. The cultural shifts that took place in the succeeding centuries masked what the Philippines was like prior to the 16th century, somehow severing the connection to the old ways of life that were known to early Filipinos (Del Castillo & Medina, 1974). Several festivals in the Philippines – which are already traditions introduced by the Spaniards – even depict how the ‘indios’ (the term they used to call the natives) have been enlightened and civilized through Christianization[2], and that their defeat[3] across the archipelago should be celebrated and immortalized. By in large, these became some of the  reasons why the Philippines at the moment is alienated from its Southeast Asian neighbors that have preserved much of their heritage, both tangible and intangible ones. This, however, does not preclude the fact that the Philippines has some traditions that – with adequate understanding and appreciation – ought to be cherished around the world.

Post-colonial approaches have always been interested in unearthing what the Philippines might have been prior to the being dominated by foreign powers. But, for a country as diverse as the Philippines, coming up with a homogenized description on the ways of life of the people poses some difficulty. This occurrence of multiple cultural traits and lifestyles of the ancient Filipinos, however, should never be frowned upon. Rather, this only suggests how rich the history and culture is, and how there is no singular way in capturing the ways ancient Filipinos saw and approached life. After all, these are also the strings necessary in tying the Philippines back to the larger Southeast Asian cultural paradigm, to which it shares affinities and resemblances with.

This note is a reflection on two ancient Philippine chants: the hudhud and the darangen epic. These two chants hold vast knowledge on the ways of life of ancient Filipinos.  Being the best preserved oral traditions that are not tainted by western influences these chants present themselves as valuable living specimens that possess high authenticity and reliability in providing not only the kind of music and songs that they had, but also a scintilla about the Philippines’ earlier worldviews.  I will also draw insights from my own experiences in witnessing firsthand how these chants are performed and how the locals deem them important to their life-cycles and identities.


The hudhud chants hail from the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Philippines, more popularly known for their world-renowned Ifugao rice terraces. Key in understanding the hudhud chants is to see its relation with and its influences on the immediate cultural landscape (Guerrero, 2013). The darangen epic, on the other hand, is a lengthy oral tradition that is artistically sung and acted (sometimes even danced[4]), rather than just being plainly recited. It recounts the history of the Maranao people around Lake Lanao, predating even the Islamization of southern Philippines in the 13th century.

What binds these two ancient folk songs together is that they have both been proclaimed by UNESCO as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, an initiative that strengthens the call for humanity to widen its concept of cultural heritage by bringing in the intangible aspects as being essential components of cultural diversity (UNESCO, 2000). The hudhud and darangen are the only two representative traditions of the Philippines that have been proclaimed as such. I am fortunate enough to have witnessed how these chants are performed in the traditional way.


Cultural Landscape: Relationship of the Hudhud and the Rice Terraces

Keeping the spirit alive by passing down indigenous knowledge to the younger generations.

As a continually evolving cultural landscape, the World Heritage-listed rice terraces in Ifugao[5] should be seen and understood in relation to its environment (mountains and forests) and the traditions of its people (rituals, farming practices, beliefs, etc.). It is interesting to note that integral to their life-cycle is a set of ancient songs called hudhud. More than a ritual song, the hudhud plays a key role in shaping and preserving the ways of life of the Ifugao people for more than 2,000 years.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines documented these intangible treasures as, “recited and chanted … only during four occasions: the harvesting and weeding of rice, funeral wakes and bone washing rituals…. The hudhud [is] comprised of over 200 stories with about 40 episodes each. The language… almost impossible to transcribe, is full of repetitions, synonyms, figurative terms and metaphors. Performed in a leader/chorus style, the lead chanter – often an elderly woman – recites an introductory line to set the tone, and then this is taken up by a chorus of women to the end of the phrase…. It may take days to complete a story, depending on the situation. The hudhud is a celebration of Ifugao heroes, heroines, wealth and culture” (NCCA).

When I went to Ifugao several years ago, during the harvesting month, the mixture of the picturesque rice terraces and the performance of the hudhud by women reaping rice stalks was awe-inspiring — women singing while in the paddies is not an everyday scene. In my conversations with the locals, I realized how the songs are really revered and have never been altered from how their ancestors sang them many centuries ago.

The featured image above depicts Ifugao women gathering together in a hudhud ritual. (Photo lifted from B. Capati’s presentation)

Pryer-Pereira provided insights as to how such an old and lengthy song is successfully committed to the memories of the people. She explained that “the chanters of the hudhud rely heavily on culturally constituted environmental stimuli to help them remember the chant. Objects such as rice harvesting tools, familiar bodily movements, and the songs of other chanters help to distribute the burden of chant memorization. It is only when these individual memories work together that the whole text can be recalled” (2007). It was also revealed to me by the locals that there are particular chants from the hudhud that are specifically sang for pest protection, and in guiding them in seed selection.

As I paid closer attention to the practice, I noticed that most of those who were singing are adult women. In the Philippines, the preservers and guardians of culture are, unquestionably, always the women. This, however, brings to the fore another concern: “[t]he few people who know all the poems are very old, and young people are not interested in this tradition” (UNESCO, 2008).  Efforts are currently being undertaken by the government and various organizations to bring hudhud closer to the younger generation. One initiative undertaken was the institutionalization of Hudhud Schools of Living Traditions in the Ifugao (Talavera, nd).


Songs that Breathe the History of the Maranao: the Darangen Epic

The darangen, which literally means to “narrate in songs”, is one of the oldest and longest epic poems in the Philippines.  It consists of many cycles of episodes relating to different heroes, foremost among them Bantugan, whose name means, “one who makes history.” Through his heroic tales, the epic proves that early forms of government, culture, art, music, metal work and warrior arts were already in existence before the arrival of colonizers (Philippine Star, 2005).  In fact, the epic happens to be the local rendition of early Filipinos of the Hindu Ramayana, dating much older than the introduction of Islam in the south (Ty, 2010) – an undeniable proof that the far past is not unacquainted with the concept of cultural globalization (Tan, 2009).

UNESCO further detailed that the epic comprises “17 cycles and a total of 72,000 lines, [and that] the darangen celebrates episodes from Maranao history and the tribulations of mythical heroes. In addition to offering compelling narrative content, the epic explores the underlying themes of life and death, courtship, politics, love and aesthetics through symbol, metaphor, irony and satire. The Darangen also encodes customary law, standards of social and ethical behavior, notions of aesthetic beauty, and social values specific to the Maranao. To this day, elders refer to this time-honored text in the administration of customary law” (UNESCO, 2005). The NCCA also revealed that the recorded and transcribed part of the darangen is composed of cycles in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Though each cycle is independent from each other, the cycles are connected to one another in a logical, cohesive progression.

Two Maranao singers recite some parts of the darangen epic. It is a powerful vocal performance.

Having witnessed how some parts of the darangen were performed by the Maranao themselves in Marawi, I can still clearly recall how the performers displayed good grasp of the lines, together with their abilities to engage the audience during the hours-long performance. The excerpt that I have seen lasted for roughly two hours, and I was told that that was only a small chapter of the epic. Henrieta Elle, a retired professor of music and dance at the Mindanao State University in Marawi, also explained to me that it would usually take almost a week to complete the cycles of the darangen and that the performance is often accompanied by heroic musical scores that use stylized brass gongs called kulintang, drums called tambor, and a kudyapi (a native  guitar-like instrument). Performers are also expected to wear their finest woven textiles called ina-ol andmalong.


Given the vastness and depth of the darangen, several aspects of it are still waiting to be unlocked and understood by scholars and practitioners. Nevertheless, current threats to the darangen stem from the fact that it is in an archaic language that is not used as an everyday medium of communication in the locality. Like the fate of the hudhud in the north, the darangen also faces an alarmingly decreasing appreciation from the younger folks. Nowadays, parts of the darangen are just performed during weddings and other special occasions. It has also been observed that there is a thinning number of people who know how to play the kulintang and kudyapi. At present, there are no living kudyapi masters anymore in Lanao del Sur.


The culture and history of the Filipino people is indeed older than what was earlier established. The richness of the old Filipino culture is carefully preserved in the oldest forms of literary works there are to find – ancient songs. The challenge nowadays is to make sense of them amidst being in the modern age.

From the north, we see how highland chants have directly dictated the ways of life and the modes of survival of the people in  harshly mountainous, uneven terrains. The hudhud compliments the rice terraces in being enduring portraits of the ways of life of the Ifugao for over two millennium. Down south, cultural diversity and religious syncretism is recognized and established through the darangen epic. This epic breathes the history of the Maranao people, providing listeners a rich amount of knowledge about their norms, beliefs, and customs as it is rendered in a melodious performance of singing and dancing. Having both these oral literatures proclaimed as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity only strengthens their importance and relevance not only to the Filipino people but to all around the world.


Bersola, C. (2011). The Hudhud of the Ifugao: enchanting chanting. The Philippine Star. Retrieved:

Del Castillo, T., and B. Medina (1974). Philippine literature: from ancient times to present. Caloocan: Philippine Graphic Arts.

Guerrero, B. (2013). Philippine world heritage sites: history of its people and their culture. 10th Cagayan Valley Regional Tourism Conference Proceedings. Np.

NCCA (nd). Intangible heritage: masterpieces of oral ang intangible heritage of humanity. Retrieved:

Peralta, J. (2003). Ifugao Hudhud: local to global dimension of the sacred. Manila: NCCA.

Philippine Star (2005). UNESCO proclaims darangen epic as masterpiece of intangible heritage. Philippine Star.

Pryer-Pereira, T. (2007). Telling tales: memory, culture, and the hudhud chants.  Swathmore University. Retrieved:

Talavera, R. (nd). The role of schools for living Traditions (SLT) in safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage in the Philippines: the case of the chants of the Ifugao.Manila: NCCA.

Tan, M. (2009). A Maranao epic. Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Ty, R. (2010). Muslims’ syncretism of the Hindu ramayana in the predominantly christian PhilippinesRetrieved:

UNESCO (2000). UNESCO to protect masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Retrieved:

UNESCO (2005). Darangen epic of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao. Retrieved:

UNESCO (2008). Hudhud chants of the Ifugao. Retrieved:

[1]    Three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, three decades of American control, and short periods of British and Japanese occupations.

[2]    Sinulog festival in Cebu, Ati-atihan festival in Aklan, Daro Sinulog in Dumaguete, and to some extent even the Guling-guling festival in Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

[3]    Moro-moro is a play that recounts the battles of the Spaniards against the Muslim antagonists, where the colonizers and Christianity always win.

[4]    Most of the dances of the Maranao people are based on the Darangen. The finest of these dances is theKasingkil.

[5]    Inscibed to the UNESCO World Heritage List as “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras” , the first set of properties in the list to be designated as a cultural landscape upon inscription in 1995.


 Post by Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero

74762_10151172406852613_687399416_nBernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero is a self-confessed cultural junky. Based in the Philippines, he has delivered several talks on tourism, destination promotion and management, and the importance of cultural conservation. As a heritage advocate and consultant, he has assisted and appeared in some features by the Euronews, NGC-Asia, Solar TV, ABS-CBN Regional News Network, as well as being cited by the Philippine Star and the PIA. He enjoys ticking off as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. So far, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, the Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia, and the Philippines' Apo Reef and Ifugao Rice Terraces are the best places he has seen in SE Asia.

Discover other similar posts on Bernard's blog

Manila Revisited: Enduring Gems


I've always wondered why Manila is not as culturally cohesive and in-tact as Bangkok, or as colorful as Kuala Lumpur. As I look back, I grew up without any clear landmark that I can easily associate with the city, in the way that the Eiffel Tower is synonymous to Paris and the Forbidden City, to Beijing. In some ways this can be seen as a problem of identity.

Admittedly, my travels abroad widened my perspective and eventually made me compare Manila to other key cities that I have visited – each offering a different worldview from the rest. Initial impressions on Manila’s may NOT always be pleasant. But, really, what can be expected from the second most devastated city in the world that barely regained its glorious past after the Second World War? It is in this matter that Manila has to be understood in a particular context.

Manila will never run out of popular places to visit, whether you are Filipino simply wishing to unwind or a traveler wanting to explore the city’s local colors and great past. However, it is often hard to make something out of the few and scattered enduring reminders of Manila’s splendor. We used to enjoy the names, “Hispania of the Pacific”, “the Pearl of the Orient”, and Manila being specifically conferred with the title “the Distinguished and Ever Loyal City” by Spain. Early this year, I realized that 24 years in Manila without a full understanding on what it really has to offer is largely my shortcoming. Practically clueless and ignorant, I have been claiming to be a Filipino, but have always been devoid of what is called the Filipino heritage consciousness.rsz_cover_photo_-_manila_city_hall

For four consecutive Saturdays, I devoted the entire day to revisit Manila’s famous -- and not-so-famous -- attractions. My explorations resulted in finding more reasons to be proud in being a Filipino. I would like to share some of my realizations about the wonders of Manila, and how -- ever since I revisited Manila -- I have always been talking about it along the narratives it deserve.

Firstly, being deprived from easy access to countries in the mainland, Manila and the rest of the Philippines is often considered as the odd-one-out. But, as what I always say, what differentiates an interesting travel from a dull one is the traveler attitude. It has to be understood that, culturally and historically, Manila is unique in its own way. Manila has witnessed a lot of transformations – from being a tributary to a Hindu-Malay maritime empire, to being a trading kingdom in its own right, to being under Spanish rule for more than three centuries, to the short British and Japanese occupations, to the 50-year American-era, and up to its independence and nationhood. The city definitely offers a totally different story to that of the rest of Southeast Asia.

My “Manila Revisited” starts with San Sebastian Minor Basilica in Quiapo, and the ‘vast’ Luneta Park.

San Sebastian Minor Basilica is one of Manila’s hiding gems, and it is funny how I only went inside this cultural site this year. The only all-steel basilica also happens to be the second structure in the world  made completely of steel – just after Eiffel Tower.  Understanding that no structure would stand permanently in an area that is frequented by earthquakes, a church that would withstand not only earthquakes but also fire was commissioned by the Recollects. Highly priced by the World Monument Fund, San Sebastian is also the only church that follows the neo-Gothic tradition in the Philippines; it was modeled after the Burgos Cathedral in Spain. Moreover, it is also known to being the only pre-fabricated church in the world with its components shipped from Belgium. The outstanding universal value of San Sebastian is very evident, and a trip to Manila without seeing this engineering marvel is never really complete.

San Sebastian

Describing Luneta Park as ‘vast’ is not an opinion; it is a fact. Luneta Park is the largest open-space public park in Asia (Yes, not Tianamen Square), and is a favorite hangout place for many Filipinos and tourists alike. Aside from the historical importance of Luneta, I personally like the way that it functions as a real and traditional plaza where people come together and are at their liberty to do things. The highlight of the place is the Rizal Monument that is watched over by two state guards in uniform. It’s worth the wait to witness the changing of the guards’ rites as it is very regal and a truly exceptional sight in the city. From Luneta, I walked along Roxas Boulevard to witness the golden hour – the sunset at the Manila Bay – and proceeded to the Cultural Centre of the Philippines where regular shows and exhibitions on local arts and traditions are usually staged and are placed on a pedestal.


My first revisit of Manila made me thirst for more. I suddenly became interested about the city’s past. I knew there was more to discover still. On the following Saturday, I decided to spend the day in the very familiar – yet still mysterious – district of Intramuros.  I initially considered joining one of the tours being offered, but I ended up taking the tour around the walled city on my own, at my own pacing – it’s actually a good choice.



As mentioned earlier, the grandeur of Manila has always been reshaped through the wars it witnessed. Some of its greatness still stands today, while most have been forever lost. Intramuros, the fortified central district of Manila, is perhaps still the Philippines’ best testimony that this country was once considered as the “Little Europe of Asia”. Largely bombed and destroyed during the World War 2 and the Philippine-American battle, Intramuros and adjoining Fort Santiago have been subjected to a lot of restoration and preservation efforts by the government and international groups alike. In fact, Fort Santiago was once declared as one of the 100 Most Endangered Monuments by the World Monument Watch.


While it also once held the reputation of being “the walled city of many churches” as there were originally seven churches inside, only one remained after World War II, the San Agustin church. Under the inscription Baroque Churches of the Philippines, San Agustin church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes pride in itself being the oldest church in the Philippines, and in having one of the best church interiors in Asia. The impressive reconstructed Manila cathedral, the principal church of the country, is also located a few steps from San Agustin. Other points of interest within Intramuros are the Palacio del Gobernador, Palacio de Arzobizpado, Plaza de Roma, Ayuntamiento, preserved colonial houses, and several historical monuments and structures. While others say that the best way to experience Intramuros is through riding a calesa (a horse-drawn carriage), I personally prefer walking around the small walled district. At least give Intramuros a whole day to really get a picture on how it may have looked like in the past. It still got charm to boast. Not quite known to most: the Spanish name of the old walled district of Manila is actually  Ciudad Murada de Manila; Intramuros is a later Latin coinage.



On the third week of my “Manila Revisited”, I did something a normal traveller would never do: visiting an old university, and an old cemetery.

Manila is home to the oldest university in Asia at 400 years old, the University of Sto. Tomas. Aside from its age, the university happens to have three National Cultural Treasures within its gates: the old administration building, the university grounds, and the Arch of Centuries. Though it may be hard for tourists – local and foreigners alike – to go as far as getting close to the old administration building and the grounds, The Arch of Centuries is probably the first monument one will ever see upon entering the main gate of the University of Sto. Tomas. The present arch, however, is just a replica of the old arch-gate of the earlier university campus that used to be inside Intramuros. As with most buildings in Intramuros back then, the war never spared the old University of Sto. Tomas. Largely of the baroque architecture tradition, with prominent Doric columns, and beautiful sculptures, this is probably the oldest “symbol of learning” in the country.ust

Paco Park, on the other hand, has a much obscure history to tell. It used to be the exclussive cemetery of the elite residents of Intramuros – it is interesting how the cemetery is also walled in a circular fashion much like the walled city itself. Notable personalities interred in Paco Park were the martyr priests Gomez-Burgos-Zamora, several governor generals of the Philippines, and, for quite a time, also served as the resting place of Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ National Hero, before his remains were transferred to Luneta Park. But, what’s more telling about this park is the fact that it became the mass burial site for the victims of the Asiatic cholera epidemic in the 1820s. During the World War II, this also became a Japanese quarters when they seized Manila. Paco Park is a declared National Park, and serves as a humble place of serenity and beauty amidst the busy districts of Manila. Probably, this is one of the most romantic places I’ve seen so far in the metro.

On the fourth and last week, I decided to go to back to Quiapo, a good starting point for travelers in exploring Manila. I visited the Basilica Minore de Quiapo, the Old Post Office Building, and La Loma Cemetery.

Post Office Building

Quiapo Church has actually been elevated to a status of a Basilica Minore. Quiapo Church – of Latin American neo-classical architecture – houses one of the most venerated images of the Christ – the image of the Black Nazarene. Though many would consider Quiapo as a present-day eye sore, I have always felt connected to this old place due to its own charm. Though it is a religious site, its periphery is flooded by “this and that” things. On one end, one can see some vendors selling all sorts of stuff – souvenirs for tourists, religious materials, herbs and medicines, potions and black magic concoctions, charms and amulets, among others. On the other end, you will see a line of fortune tellers who would gesture invitations to passers-by. Passing through Quezon Bridge, I headed to the Post Office Building. It is one of the few old buildings in Manila that reminds us how grand Manila might have been before, and has been a witness to the many transformations in the capital. My visit to the Post Office was a functional visit. I went there to send someone a postcard. Though I could have sent the postcard in a local post office, I felt that “that someone” should have a remembrance of the old Post Office Building – at least on stamps – before they reconfigure it as a hotel soon. I also went to the oldest cemetery in the country – the La Loma Catholic Cemetery. It being one of the oldest is enough justification as to why I felt this place deserves to be visited. The baroque mortuary chapel is, admittedly, the centerpiece of the place. At the moment the chapel is abandoned and in a state of massive deterioration.


There are still a lot of places in Manila that travelers can explore. Manila Zoo, for example, is the first and biggest zoo in Asia. Manila also houses some of the biggest malls in the world. The China Town in the old districts of Manila is the oldest recorded China town in the world as well. Manila is unique. One has to figure it out by himself as I’m sure that he will find another interpretation of things.

 Post by Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero

74762_10151172406852613_687399416_nBernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero is a self-confessed cultural junky. Based in the Philippines, he has delivered several talks on tourism, destination promotion and management, and the importance of cultural conservation. As a heritage advocate and consultant, he has assisted and appeared in some features by the Euronews, NGC-Asia, Solar TV, ABS-CBN Regional News Network, as well as being cited by the Philippine Star and the PIA. He enjoys ticking off as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. So far, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, the Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia, and the Philippines' Apo Reef and Ifugao Rice Terraces are the best places he has seen in SE Asia.

Discover other similar posts on Bernard's blog.

Taking the Oath: Filipino-American Dual Citizenship


1903019_635542549888381_57204853896404197_nThis past Saturday at the Consulate General of the Philippines in Chicago, eleven Filipino-Americans took the step of making that label official by taking an oath to become full-fledged dual Filipino and American citizens. After being sworn in by Deputy Consul General Romulo Victor M. Israel Jr., the new citizens were welcomed with plates of food (naturally) while some went one room over to claim their official Philippine passports.

It was a special ceremony held in October specifically in accordance with Filipino-American History Month, but according to Filipino American Young Leaders Program (FYLPro) delegate Louella Cabalona, it’s a “weekly service of the Philippine consulate”. Cabalona; along with Julien Baburka, Abbey Eusebio and Jan Paul Ferrer; make up the Chicago delegates of FYLPro, a program established by the Philippine ambassador to get young Filipino-Americans more interested in the affairs of the Philippine government. “Our association with the consulate is a byproduct of our ambassador’s vision, for us delegates,” says Cabalona.

While the dual citizenship service is readily available, extra effort was put into this special swearing in ceremony. As preparations began, a survey was sent out to gauge interest in the process (which can still be taken here). Then, starting in late September, there were two sessions held where curious applicants could get more information and get their questions answered.

Predictably, there are concerns about the drawbacks of becoming a dual-citizen, the most common being about taxes. “I’m not a tax expert,” starts Cabalona, “[but] by the virtue of being Filipino alone will not require you to pay tax to the Philippines”. Of course, there are advantages too. New dual citizen Cheerbelle Guerrero noted that she took the oath because she’s “a Filipino by heart, [and it’s a] good opportunity to show [her] love for the Philippines”. The ability to stay in the Philippines past thirty days without a visa was also a pretty good driving factor. A comprehensive list of the requirements for dual-citizenship, advantages and drawbacks can be found here.

Many Filipino-Americans sworn in saw the value in being able to stay longer in their other home country, or even go to school there or influence high level government via absentee voting. For Cabalona though, the key reason for becoming a dual citizen is much simpler, but comes from a more cosmopolitan point of view. “If you are eligible in becoming a citizen of a country, you should claim our right to be so.” Hopefully this swearing in ceremony will lead to a snowball effect of more people seeking out information, getting their questions answered, and claiming the citizenship that is rightfully theirs.

Post by Ryne Dionisio

meRyne is a proud Filipino/gamer/geek from the streets of Chicago. His skills include proficiency in HTML, CSS, social networking, Street Fighting, and photographing/critiquing food. He is currently using his powers for good, developing websites for IBM and contributing articles to He is also the host and producer of BakitCast, the official podcast of BakitWhy.

Discover other similar posts on Ryne's blog.



featured image src:

Leave Taylor Swift Alone

Disclaimer: If you like Taylor Swift, well - come sit down next to me. If you don't like Taylor Swift, well - sit down anyway. Because this one's for you. tswift

Earlier this month, NYC & Company announced that Taylor Swift would be the New York City Global Welcome Ambassador for 2014-2015. People are pissed, and I'm not so sure why.

I'm not exactly certain what the job description or criteria for a "global welcome ambassador" is (nor certain if there was ever one before TSwift), but apparently there are a lot of folks who don't think that Taylor Swift fits the bill for a number of reasons - the most obvious one being that she is not originally from New York. But then again, how many people these days are pure born and bred New Yorkers?

Having lived in New York City for the last four years, I've found it a rarity to meet people who are originally from here. When meeting new people, one question that is almost guaranteed to come up in conversation is "Where are you from?" (insert my constant internal dilemma of how to answer this question -- you mean, where my parents are from? where I grew up? where I live now? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!) New York City is filled with so many people who aren't necessarily from here, but who are making it here.

Not all of us have moved into a $20M Tribeca apartment like Taylor Swift, but who cares -- my five-story walk-up tells the same story. It's a story of someone who has always been fascinated by the lights and sounds of New York City and always believed (even before stepping foot in this country) that it's a place where dreams come true (blame it on movies and TV shows). It's the same story as all the others who moved from home to chase a dollar and a dream: the actress, the dancer, the hustler, the chef, the artist, the entrepreneur, the singer, the lost, the bored. They're all here and they're all a part of what makes New York City exactly what it is - a melting pot of diversity and dreams.

In saying someone isn't fit to represent New York City, it sends a message that New York City is unwelcoming, selective, limiting. I love this place for the way it has enabled and embraced me; I love it even more when I see it doing the same for others around me who aren't originally from here. Taylor Swift's big song as part of this whole campaign is called "Welcome to New York." The song even says, "It's been waiting for you." But between you and me, I think the lyric should be changed to "You've been waiting for it."

Taylor Swift has been waiting for it, and now that she's here -- she's taking ownership of it. She's putting her budding romance with New York City on display, publicizing their incompatibility while celebrating their differences and thus adding to the cultural fabric of this city. Who are we to fault her for that?

It's interesting to juxtapose this with the situation of many Pilipino first-settlers who come to the US, who (when finally here) celebrate their arrivals quietly - never wanting to attract attention to themselves, keeping their cultural practices and traditions behind closed doors, and sticking to their own little Pilipino communities - a true detriment, in my opinion. How else would the Pilipino identity and presence be seen and heard here if we all failed to assert ourselves in a land that's not ours among people who aren't like us? Okay -- that kinda got deep, but moral of the story is: Taylor Swift's not a New Yorker, but she's adding to the Big Apple's flavor, and it's time we took a bite and moved on.

New York City is just as much Taylor Swift's as anyone else's to claim. And if you don't agree, then please tell me why the Statue of Liberty gets to be the symbol of American independence and freedom when she wasn't even made in America?

Photo credit:

Fil-Am in Japan: Eight Years Later

There's three places that you'll find Pilipinos: churches, casinos, and hospitals.

It was a saying that my fellow Fil-Am friend would say whenever we welcome a new member of our little Pilipino community in Sapporo. Of course it sounds very general but I couldn't say that we were helping fight the stereotype: we were a group that hung out after the English mass at Sapporo Cathedral. In my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Japan. Eight years have since passed and I've made an effort to visit while on my way in our out of the Philippines but it took me that long until I would return for something more than an the likes of an errand run at Akihabara. While it took longer than I anticipated, I returned with a perspective that has since overcome most of an identity crises, was widened by my travels but still eager to engage with and learn more from the Pilipino-Japanese community.

Unlike eight years ago, my stay this time around lasted only three weeks. For most, it'd look like an extended vacation perfect enough to do a Japan Rail Pass but for me it ended up being a short internship with a small start-up preparing university students for the post-graduate life. During my time with the start-up, I couldn't help but notice a trend amongst English-speaking students and even one of my colleagues: they took ESL programs in the Philippines. When I first lived in Japan, I remember the Department of Tourism promoting the growth of English schools as a way to help increase foreign visitors to the country and while the initiative seems proportionally more well-known for Koreans looking for cheaper immersion alternatives, I was surprised to see that there were many more Japanese young adults that take advantage of such offerings as well as seeing how these programs have since grown!

Speaking of traveling and the Department of Tourism, the aftermath of the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" campaign seemed to take further hold within the country, at least when it came to marketing. A decade ago, I would remember when the DoT had a budget that barely cracked a million USD, Cebu Pacific received it's first rights to operate flights into Japan a few times a week, and Philippine Airlines still using a Geocities-esque website for Japanese travelers.

Now we see the likes of PAL advertising on the Yamanote Line (the busiest rail line operated by JR East in Tokyo) alongside their expansion into the country, Cebu Pacific now operates to three cities, and ANA is using one of its valuable landing and takeoff slots at Haneda Airport to start a second Japan-Manila flight (I held my breath hoping that their first flight out of Narita wouldn't get the axe despite starting just three weeks before the 2011 East Tohoku Earthquake), and now the DoT (partnered with PAL) being able to afford to sponsor a travel cafe giving diners a taste of the Philippines! While Japan has since been eclipsed by Korea in terms of tourism revenue and has just been edged out by China, it still is a market that is valued and seen with potential.


One thing I noticed even more during this experience as well as trips that followed since my first stay was one group of Pilipinos in Japan: Japayukis. A slang term used to describe non-Japanese Asian entertainers, Pilipinos make up a considerable portion of this group. Walking into Shinjuku's Kabukicho red light district wouldn't be complete without seeing a sign or tout advertising a Pilipina hostess club.

During my final weekend in the country, I attended an event hosted by the Association of Filipino Students in Japan (AFSJ) and the Philippine Embassy known as Pinoy Talks. I've been meaning to meet with AFSJ ever since I was a member of the Hokkaido Association of Filipino Students (HAFS) and the Pinoy Talks forum gave me that chance after nearly a decade of eagerness. The eclectic mix of topics discussed included Mabini's Decalogue, personal finance for OFWs, and how to handle depression in a foreign country. Thankfully for my comprehension, much of the discussion was in English but I couldn't deny the comfort in hearing the familiarity of the occasional Tagalog after spending weeks working in Japanese!


Unlike Sapporo, the Pilipino community in Tokyo is larger by leaps and bounds, enough to have sizable groups and clubs for certain regions of the Philippines unlike the much more general Samahan Pilipino ng Hokkaido or HAFS. In the greater Kanto area, there’s even a Fil-Am group, albeit one that caters to servicemen and women based in the local American bases. One group I grew close with was the Philippine Association of Panay Islands, a group compromised of kababayan from the home island of my parents and whose leader was presented the Mabini segment of Pinoy Talks.

As I tried to find my way to Meguro Church for the group’s meet-up, the Japanese I would hear would eventually make way for the occasional Tagalog which would then get louder and eventually switch to the regional dialect of Hiligaynon…I knew I was getting close. Much of the group that I met was mainly compromised by those whose occupation I would normally associate with Pilipinos in Hong Kong or Singapore but not in Japan: domestic helper. Many of them have been in the country for over a decade or two, longer than I imagined for those who aren’t married to Japanese spouses. Another job that I noticed among the Pilipinos I met is teaching English, an occupation that could have potential for OFWs. I'd listen to their experiences as I was treated to the familiar hospitality of being constantly fed; hearing differing viewpoints on the lifestyle choices of Japayukis while dining on bistek with a chopstick was certainly something I’ll constantly look back to!


After a couple of hours enjoying the company of these Tokyo-based Ilonggos, I had to continue my whirlwind tour of last day meet-ups with other friends. As I was escorted by Kuya Josel, the association president and presenter of the Mabini Decalogue presentation the day before, I couldn’t help but realize how I ended my experiences with Pilipinos in Japan the same way I began it when I lived there for the first a church.

Speaking of stereotypes...

10447052_10152477472153908_3632698563815801369_n (From the anime Nobunagun)