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Toxic Filipino culture?

The month of August is drawing to a close, and with its passing comes fond memories of celebratory activities that highlight this time of the year. Whether you celebrated in school or at work, it is always fun to relive iconic Filipino imagery in the form of clothing, music, dances and, of course, food.

It is refreshing to revel, in a formal and festive way at least once a year, in the tropes and trappings of Filipino culture. It is a culture that is also quite tricky to navigate; Filipino ways and mores are being subjected to scrutiny now more than ever for their supposed shortcomings. Thus the phrase “toxic Filipino culture”—a discussion topic and experience surprisingly shared by many.

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Toxic Filipino culture may come in the form of shared preconceptions over simple matters—for instance, how a coffeehouse chain is deemed a status symbol by many, or how skin color is used as an indicator of economic status, and English, the global lingua franca, as a litmus test of one’s level of education. Of course, these aren’t established correlations, but many of us can’t help but default to these modes of conditioned thinking more often than usual. Coffeehouse drinks are expensive, after all.

In such instances, the most harm these common notions can do is when they are used to form opinions of people even before we have had the chance to know them. It deprives us the opportunity to fully experience a person when we think we have them already figured out.

Toxic Filipino culture has also been used to describe family dynamics. Close family ties are tested when relatives feel free to comment on a member’s physical appearance, career or marital status and private affairs. This is how usually happy family gatherings can become dreaded occasions.

The hierarchical structures of our families also make our relationships feel a lot less democratic. It is considered rebellion to speak up and voice an opinion toward an elder; submission to patriarchs is an expectation. Laughably, it is bad manners for children to talk back to parents, but the same is true when we are dead silent.

Toxic Filipino culture can be seen in our interpersonal relationships as well. Our ironic aversion to offenses have made sugarcoating and employment of euphemisms very normal—a detrimental and counterproductive default especially when basic transparency is what’s needed. We are also deeply sympathetic and forgiving, even of those undeserving of forgiveness or leniency. On the other hand, “utang ng loob” has a maturity date reaching infinity. Also, can’t a guy and a girl maintain healthy friendships without the expectation of them ending up as a new love team? Ours is an easily giddy, deeply sentimental country so in love with love, it appears.

These all make for interesting discussions on social media. But that they are rooted in actual experiences and casual realities is indicative of the reality that the Filipino culture we like to celebrate also comes with its own faults and inadequacies.

In grade school, “toxic Filipino culture” used to mean the likes of ningas cogon, mañana habit, Filipino time and bahala na. But modern times and our shift to more urban lives have swung the spotlight to other negative traits in the Filipino psyche, at least among many young people who chafe at these norms and feel the need to speak up about them. The sense of openness and frankness that the modern era has fostered allows us to see more clearly the downside of unsavory but deeply embedded traits disguised as conventional interpersonal relations and cultural habits, and to challenge their place and purpose in our evolving society. From here, future generations will be the beneficiaries of any changes we are bold enough to apply to our Filipino-style parenting, relating and coexisting practices.

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