The ‘Barkada’ brouhaha
WTF! That was my initial reaction to the brouhaha incited by Filipino-Americans who cried “cultural appropriation” over the word “barkada” that was used—appropriately, in my opinion—by four white dudes to name their upscale Washington, DC wine bar. Obviously, the Fil-Ams did not know that barcada is a Spanish word also “appropriated” by Filipinos—“indiogenized” with a “k” and made our own. As a matter of fact, four of the six definitions of barcada listed by the Real Academia Española, the entity that protects the Spanish language, are considered “Filipinismos.” Barcada in Spanish means “a boatload or cargo transported on or carried by a boat on each trip,” or “every boat trip.” Barkada, meanwhile, means “a gang of youths,” “a member of a gang,” “a person who walks in the company of others,” or simply “friendship.”
I found ridiculous the insistence of Fil-Ams that the Barkada bar sport Filipino décor and serve Filipino food. I found it demeaning that some said the Barkada bar should be true to its name by serving beer and pulutan instead of wine and cheese. It would be unthinkable for a Pinoy to expect Aristocrat to upgrade its menu from its signature barbecue chicken and dinuguan to champagne and caviar. Nobody has asked Indonesians if they are offended by Aristocrat’s famous Java rice either. Filipino children will never understand “cultural appropriation” and will continue to choose their party staple of spaghetti with banana ketchup, hotdog slices, and Quickmelt over the original Italian version with a tomato and basil base, sprinkled with authentic parmesan or pecorino.
The uproar over the Barkada wine bar is similar to the recurring issue over the Spanish biscuits named Filipinos, that, depending on who is interviewed, can simply be chocolate-covered biscuits or an insult to our nation and identity. Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez was the latest victim, taking the bait of a TV reporter in search of controversy instead of news. Off the cuff, Lopez cited Philippine trademark law that disallowed the use of a country or nationality to apply to another nation’s products. So how do we deal with Argentina Corned Beef, Vienna Sausage, Chorizo de Bilbao, and Pancit Canton? To my knowledge, there is no mini-sausage in Vienna, no such chorizo in Bilbao, and no such noodle in Canton. Lopez invited the public to file a complaint on cultural grounds, for the Commission for Culture and the Arts to determine if we should take offense at the dark chocolate version of Filipinos because of the N-word, unspeakable in the United States and insulting to Pinoys.
In 1999, Congress egged the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest with Spain over Filipinos. But those who imagined a slight were put in their place by then Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon, who declared: “Why should we complain? Do Austrians complain about Vienna Sausage?” In retrospect, I do believe Austrians should complain to defend their manhood, because “Vienna Sausage” was invented by an American company that did not know they were smaller than “Wieners” made of beef, pork, or chicken. “Wieners,” by the way, sometimes pale in comparison with “Frankfurters,” which are made of pork and significantly bigger.
Based on online comments, it is clear that natural-born Filipinos are more open than uptight Fil-Ams on the Barkada bar issue. They see nothing wrong with a Washington bar named Barkada, and some were even happy or proud of it. I empathize with Fil-Ams in the racism they face, their very rootlessness used against them; they will never be seen as Pinoys in the Philippines, or as Americans in the United States because of their ethnicity, the color of their skin, or the shape of their nose. Fil-Ams would do well to look back on Philippine history and take pride in Rizal, who was so sure of himself and his identity that, during the 1889 Paris Expo, he took the derogatory term “Indio,” turned it around, and used it as a badge of courage to form the barkada he called “Yndios Bravos” (Brave Indians).
Pinoys should appreciate that when Rizal and his generation appropriated the term “Filipino,” it was originally reserved to Spaniards born in the Philippines. But Rizal et al. did not see Spain as the mother country any longer. The far-flung Spanish colony was rightfully seen as the land of their birth, their true motherland, their country. The transition from Indio to Filipino was a long process, but once the seed of revolution and independence had been planted, there was no other option but to nurture it to maturity: toward freedom and nationhood.
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