Looking Back

Defining generations

History is such a long story that it has to be broken up into parts to make textbook study easier. In the Philippines, our story is usually broken up into: prehistory (not the time of the dinosaurs but the time before written records), the pre-Spanish period (from 900 AD to the time the Laguna Copper Plate Inscription was made, or 1565), the Spanish period (from 1565, the time Legazpi took possession of the Philippines for Spain, to 1898 when Filipinos declared independence from Spain in Kawit), the First Republic (1899-1901 marks the short-lived Philippine Republic under Aguinaldo), the American period (1900-1942), the Japanese period (1942-1945), and then the postwar period broken up politically under the terms of various presidents from Roxas to Duterte.

What we have is a timeline on which to lay the narrative of nation and nationhood, and within that timeline are many other divisions like the description of different generations of Filipinos, the current being the “millennials.”


Millennials are Filipinos born between the mid-1980s and early 2000. They are the “Generation Y” we encounter in today’s workforce as we wait for the term to describe “Generation Z” (for those born after 2000). Millennials are those born or who came of age in the euphoria of Edsa 1986. Many of them are the products of OFW parents or of the union of a Filipino parent and a foreign one. I used to think I was young until I was told that I fall under Generation X, being born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s—that means Filipinos born during the extended term of Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986), or those who call themselves “martial law babies,” who were born or came of age between 1972 and 1986.

Some people even divide the martial law generation into two phases: those born in 1972-1986, and those born between 1986 People Power and Marcos’ physical death in 1989.


In trying to figure out and understand the different generations we inherited from the late 19th century, I found out that the first was called the “Lost Generation,” or those who were born or came of age in the time of World War I (1883-1900). The term was coined by Gertrude Stein and made popular by Ernest Hemingway who used it as the first of two epigraphs in his novel “The Sun Also Rises” (1926).

The first is: “‘You are all a lost generation.’-Gertrude Stein in conversation”

The second is from the Old Testament from Ecclesiastes: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.”

Hemingway’s impressive generation—which includes Irving Berlin, George Patton, Mary Pickford, Pablo Picasso, and Mae West—was born or came of age around World War I but became active and made waves as a new generation was being born from the early 1900s to the mid 1920s. It was called the GI Generation and came of age during World War II, and is sometimes described as the “Greatest Generation” because its members came of age during the American Depression and grew up to fight in the war. The Silent Generation was made up of people born from the 1920s to the mid-1940s, a time when people focused on their careers rather than activism when they came of age. The prominent members of this generation are: Martin Luther King, Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama, and even Malcolm X.

Baby Boomers were born from the early 1940s to 1960, so when they came of age after World War II they had to be productive and make more babies. Generation X is my generation, born from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, and we made our reputations from the late 1980s. I feel young but realize I am old when I interact with students born from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.

My mother used to complain about a generation gap. Today I realize there are many generations and many generational gaps.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: ‘millennials’, Filipinos, generations, History, Looking Back
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