Monday, December 11, 2017
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Undoing a prejudiced upbringing

There is a mosque a few blocks away from where I’m staying in the city. Late every afternoon, it broadcasts a call to prayer with a microphone, and the notes of this sunset invocation waft up through my window, filling my room with a melody. The sound is faint and foreign to me, but it is arresting in its fluidity and gentleness. I usually stop and listen; this brief moment of pause is probably the most peaceful part of my day.

I have never dared tell my folks about this, though. Especially not after the siege in Marawi, when the conversations I’ve had with them—older, devout Christians—have been underlined with a subtle yet steadfast prejudice against Islam.

Here is a kind of crossroads that challenges my generation of Filipinos. We were raised with such subtle yet steadfast prejudices—not only those based on religion, but also those based on race, background, and social status. We weren’t outright taught to discriminate, but we learned it by example anyway.

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At the dinner table, our families exchanged jokes about Chinese businessmen and round-nosed natives. The TV shows we grew up with featured mestizo actresses covered in makeup to look dark-skinned and lowly, and domestic maids with silly speaking accents as they were supposed to be Bisaya. Our grandparents passed down sly nicknames for Muslims and Indians and various minorities—nicknames that may have been considered humorous in the 1960s, but are clearly seen today as the alienating labels that they are.

Now, as we come of age, we see for ourselves that diversity is fundamental and beautiful, and that there is an essential need for tolerance and cooperation among diverse peoples. We see how various forms of discrimination are still robbing certain groups of their rights and opportunities, and we want to help change this. We see how longstanding yet pointless bickering over philosophies estranges groups and leads to conflict, and we want to help change this, too.

But when the changes we want to effect are at odds with our upbringing—at odds, even, with the principles of our parents and grandparents—where do we go?

It is not at all easy to depart from this aspect of our upbringing, and I find proof of that among my circles and even in myself. There are some among my friends who still use those denigrating nicknames for ethnic groups, still ridicule others’ religious practices, and still actively avoid any acquaintance with anyone from groups they unthinkingly spurn. Admittedly, even I sometimes catch myself creating an image of an individual based on the outdated stereotypes associated with his or her group.

This tendency to be narrow-minded I struggle to undo. And plenty of millennials are doing the same. At the height of the crisis in Marawi, Christians my age were among the volunteers and leaders in efforts to provide culturally sensitive aid for the displaced, many of whom are Muslims. There was an outpouring of donations and support from across the board, and religious affiliations—or differences—were no hindrance for the generous.

Such was the very picture of a world without borders, where kindness, generosity and amity flowed freely through perceived barriers. Though faiths, backgrounds, and affiliations varied, these were not used to maintain separation or to establish one’s superiority over the other. These differences played no role at all. Everyone was just being human.

My city, Cagayan de Oro, is a little over 100 kilometers away from Marawi. That’s about two to three hours of land travel. Some fear that the terror would soon spill over to this part of the island, and certainly, vigilance is due. To that end, older folks have warned me about being in the vicinity of Muslims, and while I am sure their reminders are well-intentioned, the generalization is something I choose not to stand with.

Because, with all due respect to our generation’s beloved elders, I am trying to undo my share of the deeply inculcated prejudice that breaks this world into pieces. And along the way, I have come to appreciate the sacred, peaceful melody that emanates from the minaret as it calls Muslims to pray. I have never had the courage to openly admit that. Until now.
hyacinthjt@gmail.com

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