Mainstreaming and Marawi rehab
As a practicing cultural anthropologist for more than four decades, I have engaged in interminable debates with a few colleagues regarding the oft-repeated theme of “unity in diversity.” In my early years of teaching, as a neophyte in my profession, I found the notion of being one despite our differences very alluring. I used to be enamored with it that I pushed for it not only in my classroom lectures but also in every opportunity given to me for intercultural exchanges and dialogues.
The policy of mainstreaming has been the fatal flaw of many leaders in the world who continue to think that their constituents can just blend in smoothly with each other, just like the figurative melting pot of diverse ingredients. In this analogy, all differences are “smoothened,” or “homogenized.” Diversity disappears and the main or dominant ingredient becomes the marker of a dish. I can think of the simple pumpkin soup as a perfect example of this melting pot analogy. For sure it is not only its main ingredient — the lowly pumpkin — that makes it tasty. Without the distinctive aromas of sautéed garlic, onions and other condiments, and of course, water — it will not be what it should be: a tasty, smooth, yellow creamy soup that can be a real gastronomic treat.
The national government has tried to impose homogeneous “mainstream” or “mainstreaming” policies on our widely diverse populations. Such policies have further widened the chasm that marks the difference between majority and minority populations: the “main” huge stream and the small creeks and brooks that meander into the “main” river or stream. The small brooks and creeks are indistinguishable or hardly noticeable, and even unnamed bodies of water. In the human realm, these are the marginalized, impoverished, indigenous populations whose voices have been “drowned” out by the “main” streams of the identity of the majority.
In the aftermath of the Marawi siege, the Philippine government has earlier feverishly moved toward the crafting of a rehabilitation plan for a “new, modern, and progressive” Marawi. This vision of a “new, modern, and progressive Marawi” is not based on the distinctiveness of the Meranaw way of life but rather on the views of our national leaders who tend to think that mainstreaming is the way to go. In this line of thinking, homogenization of distinctive cultures is highly acceptable, since this is how the world has been designed in the liberal, capitalistic mold.
In my previous columns, I have constantly questioned this perspective of rebuilding Marawi. The exclusion of the Meranaw voice and agency in the rehabilitation of Ground Zero and of Marawi as a whole, is an explicit strategy of mainstreaming, of drowning out the Meranaw’s unique sociocultural identity.
Diversity is not a liability; it is a wellspring of resources that can contribute in the crafting of more creative and innovative programs and policies that lead toward a more inclusive and, therefore, more fair and just society. Diversity is what we see in the ingredients of a salad bowl, where everything retains its distinctive taste and aroma; unlike in a melting pot of soup where all diverse ingredients become smoothened and overpowered by its dominant ingredient.
But the national government has not only disrespected the distinctive Meranaw way of life in its pronouncements of its vision for a “modern” Marawi; it has also continued to cause more frustrations and anger among the survivors of the siege by the long delays in its rehabilitation.
The protracted rehabilitation of Marawi might lead to its becoming a veritable petri dish for nurturing the seeds of ideologies more virulent than those that allegedly caused the bombing of Marawi more than two years ago.
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