Pinoy Kasi

Pinoy generations

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I’ve been preparing for a lecture on demography (the study of populations) and anthropology (the study of culture).  One of the case studies I’ll be using is that of American-coined generations of “baby boomers,” “Gen X” and the “millennials.” The premise here is that a shared exposure to key historical events, social developments, even technological change, results in a generational culture.

Summer of Love

A recent issue of Time magazine focused on the millennials but explained how the members of each generation came to be what they were. For example, those born from 1943 to 1960 are referred to as baby boomers because right after World War II there was a surge in birth rates.

The baby boomers are described as a generation “who came of age in the Summer of Love” (meaning the late 1960s). It was a generation that saw affluence, but many of the yuppies (young upwardly mobile professionals) “lost fortunes in the stock-market crash of 1987,” and many are unable to retire because their savings were affected by the crisis in the late 1990s.

Generation X, those born from 1961 to 1980, are characterized as “kids of working moms and divorced parents,” growing into adulthood “marked by a sense of ennui,” with economic prospects somewhat bleak, meaning this is the first generation that may not be able to earn more than their parents.

Then we get to the millennials, also known as Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000. This is the generation that grew up with the Internet, and older ones are now carving out careers, but still amid an uncertain economic environment.

The Time articles give more details on how each generation was shaped by its times. The millennial generation is said to have a stronger sense of entitlement, growing up in an environment of numerous consumer goods. Despite continuing economic uncertainty, this generation’s access to the Internet means its members get more information at their fingertips, which means more opportunities, so this generation is not as rebellious as previous ones.

There’s much more in the Time articles but reading these made me think: Do these generational divisions, and characterizations, apply to Filipinos? What are the main forces—economic, technological, social—that shape the culture of whatever generations we might identify?

Great optimism

Let me give a very tentative breakdown of our generations, at least with the middle and upper classes, with readers encouraged to jump into the discussion, perhaps from your own experiences of a generational culture.

I think we have much to share with the American baby boomers. I am from that generation and saw how the Philippines went through a period of great optimism in the postwar period. We were, after all, one of the most advanced countries in Asia. There was probably more social mobility at that time, greater chances to move up the economic ladder as long as you got to college.

Like their American counterparts, Filipino baby boomers saw challenges to social and moral norms. We aped the American hippies, rocked and rolled. There were mind-altering drugs, too, mainly pot (marijuana) and downers. Many from the baby-boomer generation were caught up by the nationalist movements, the First Quarter Storm of 1970, and then martial law, and for some baby boomers, a life underground.

The baby boomers struggled through the last years of the dictatorship, and rejoiced at Edsa with high hopes for a better future. The baby boomers are now approaching, or have reached, senior citizenship. Some are lucky to be financially stable but others face uncertain senior citizenship because of global financial problems.

We can probably retain the American generational divide and talk about our version of Gen X—those born between 1960 and 1980. This was a generation that grew up knowing only one president—Ferdinand Marcos. I began to teach in 1985, and I remember how difficult it was to get students to challenge the status quo. They were lucky because they came of age in an age of restored democracy. Some were brought to Edsa in 1986, sharing their parents’—the baby boomers’—euphoria.

Edsa

This was the generation that left the country in large numbers, as overseas work became the major economic activity for the country. If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could keep herself in power for a decade, it was because overseas work provided a safety valve that prevented discontent from boiling over. Besides that, our Gen X was more cynical about politics, seeing how Edsa I and II have been betrayed. I’ve wondered if Gen X’s problem drugs—shabu, for example, with its terrible mood upswings and crashes—reflect a change in ethos.  The baby boomers downed themselves, chanting a mantra of “Peace, man.” Shabu is different, ambiguous, X-factored.

Our Gen X is now in midlife, fascinated by the new technologies but not always comfortable with them. Like their American counterparts, many have not been able to do as well as their baby-boomer parents. Many in fact have some degree of dependence on their parents, which can translate into less personal autonomy.

Then the millennials, born from 1980 to 2000. Again, like their American counterparts, Filipino millennials have seen, and are captivated by, the new technologies. Although the Philippines has lagged behind its neighbors, there is still enough of Asian prosperity spilling over. Many of this generation have joined or will join the diaspora for a better life abroad, but large numbers now stay, benefiting from the world of outsourcing, which has allowed young people economic independence and, often, strong consumerism: Buy, buy, buy. Businesses rejoice, calling this a demographic dividend. Many of this generation are innovative and entrepreneurial, but I worry, too, about extravagance and of a generation that might find itself struggling later in life, with little savings.

All said, if the descriptions of these generations bear close similarity to those of the Americans, it is because we speak of the middle and upper classes. For the poor, the similarities are superficial: shared sartorial fashions, for example. Poor or rich, we wore bell bottoms in the 1970s, with jokes sometimes about the SDK, not the radical Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan but Samahan ng mga Double Knit. From one generation to another, the poor have limited mobility, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials not carrying any significant meaning.

What will the next generation be called? Your guess is as good as mine. I thought of K to 12 and smartphones and tablets shaping this generation. You tell me what you see in your children.

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E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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  • agaylaya

    Mr. Tan, looking at Philippine society from American colored glasses (American colonial mentality) leaves out a lot of other influences which shaped and continue to shape our country’s socio-cultural development. We should stop using American glasses in looking at our past, in analysing the present and in painting the future.

  • buninay1

    As the biggest copycat of whatever American, the Philippines demographics can easily fit into Time magazine’s tentative generational subdivisions. Though this segmentation simplifies our understanding of different cultures and prevailing mores that made deep impact on the aforesaid generations, for the purpose of defining the Filipino experience it still falls short in that it does not capture the truncated and therefore marginalized lives of the Filipino poor who make up the majority. In fact, a Freudian slip from Michael Tan himself proves that this segmentation applies only to the upper class, His exact words run thus: ” Let me give a very tentative breakdown of our generations, at least with the middle and upper classes, with readers encouraged to jump into the discussion, perhaps from your own experiences of a generational culture.”

    How can we therefore categorize the poor Filipinos who seem to have been bypassed by the generational changes over several decades to the extent that one can discern a gripping sense of being excluded from the mainstream modernity? Let me offer my humble alternative so that the Filipino poor can have some kind of generation to get identified with.

    Pre Marcosian – those who experienced to be ruled by post-war Presidents and to be deeply influenced by anything American from Marilyn Monroe, to JFK and to Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Starts from liberation to the last day of Marcos’ predecessor in power. They pulled off Edsa revolution against Marcos.

    Marcosian – those who were born during the reign of the dictator, In fact I developed a liking to Marcos because of his photographic memory. Many from my generations continue to slyly post in Facebook nostalgic video of less problematical past under Marcos regime, believing wrongly that those documentaries present the comprehensive picture of reality of life against the backdrop of Martial Law. They are the ones who made Edsa 2 against Erap possible only to be frustrated and grow cynical with GMA’s excesses to the point that they would not budge from inaction when calls to oust GMA started to fill the air, reasoning not without justification that there was no credible replacement anyway.

    Edsian or Post Marcosian – Euphoria marked this generation. Tainted with the energy shortage and series of coups, this period clinically cut the generation born to it from the images of Marcos and his harsh and corrupt administration. The Edsians will share the collective guilt after so many years that the promises of EDSA people power remain elusive. They are the ones who are making up the bulk of youth today, high tech savvy yet politically immature to be made catalyst of the country’s future.

    So there, our three generations simplified and neatly qualified for your delectation.

    • agaylaya

      Bauninato, your classification system is better than Mr. Tan’s Americanized system.

    • Edgar Lores

      Wonderful concept. However, I would hesitate to demarcate generations or eras by a name so steeped in infamy. May I offer an alternate naming convention, based on a phenomenon that stems from the time of the dictatorship: Before-Diaspora (BD) and After-Diaspora (AD). This is in honor of the OFWs whose economic contributions have been lifeblood to the nation. Their influence in political thoughts and deeds, gained from first-hand experience in foreign lands, continue to uplift the state of the nation.

      And OFWs come from all strata of society.

  • SatansDisciple

    Come on Dude Michael Tan, where did you grew up, there is no comparison whatsoever to Filipino generational demographics. There is only two social demographics that is the bourgeousie like you who can relate to Americans and the hopeless majority of us, whose mentality has not change for generation inspite of copycat of American culture.

    Here’s I call the Pinoy generations.
    1945 to 1972 too many baby booming generation.
    1972 to 1987 marcos era more baby are booming
    1987 to 2000 walang tigil baby booming
    2000 to present they will make more baby booming generation.

  • JLFS

    There is no definitive differences between generations of Filipinos whether political, technological or cultural. What happened is just a changing of the elites in politics. Many maybe adept at computers now but we don’t have a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and we are still watching the same Telenobilas as our grandparents.

  • prong_00

    Why don’t we look on ourselves first? We tend to compare our generations with other nation, well it is not so bad, however it is dangerous sometimes. Why don’t we use the lens of our nation, lens of being a Filipino? Well another question will rise, do we have nation at all?

    Anyway, each generation failed to bridge the gap between biography and history. We always look on our biography, and then forget about our history. We forget what happened to our past generations, or we don’t care at all.

  • Marian Tadefa-Kubabom

    I can agree with the reaction that the framework for generational analysis used by the aritcle is very much seen through American lenses. I can relate to a significant part of it though perhaps because I belonged to the middle class that had access to local education, consumerist market and media that are so much Western influence. It is critical, however, to integrate the experiences of our C and D sectors in order to understand how they lived through the politico-economic crest and trough of the past decades. Such comprehensive picture will be a significant input to a societal dialogue on moving the country forward. Perhaps an initiative with multi-disciplinary composition including Filipino sociologists (including my fave Professsor Randy David), political-economists and psychologists can be put together to complete the said generational framework. I enjoyed the article to say the least. Thank you Mr. Tan.

  • KurakotNaPinoy

    Iisa lang ang generations ng mga Filipinos: BOBOTANTE…

  • http://jaoromero.com/ Jao Romero

    the next generation will be called Generation Web. because there won’t be countries or barriers in this generation. there’s only internet speak.

    we’re in for a really exciting yet chaotic times. technology is developing so fast it would soon outpace institutions’ capability to adapt to social change. and with that comes the collapse of institutions. we’re gonna see some pretty big changes soon. big global economic collapse coming soon.

  • cogito728sum

    They will be called the TEXTER GENERATION! Merci!

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