Behind the labels | Inquirer Opinion

Behind the labels

Have you ever found yourself labeling someone as “crazy” during high school? Or perhaps categorizing them as someone recently discharged from a mental hospital? Because they act against what you preach?

Well, labels are a funny thing. They are made-up words to categorize and name things, but they can also have a profound impact on how we see ourselves and how others see us. I have been many things in my life—I was just a passenger 30 minutes ago, an ex-boyfriend a month ago, a high school student labeled “Bonjing,” but what does all that really mean?

I was labeled “Bonjing” in high school, and for some reason that was a defining moment for me. It was a word used to describe someone taller than everyone else, but to me, it felt like a weight on my shoulders. They didn’t mean the literal meaning; they meant someone immature who never grew up past childhood. But I was never that. Instead, I’m advanced compared to the guys that teased me. I never understood why they needed to label me like that.

I spent many nights awake, losing sleep over why God made me the way I am. I could have been called “smarty pants” because of the way I was acing every exam and coming on top of my class. Yet they only saw the tall guy, not the tall guy who excelled in academics. I had to get through this for six years of high school. I tried labeling myself on the positive side, even trying to hide myself when I entered a new class every year, but to no avail. I was that popular being called “Bonjing.” I graduated with high honors, but I was not remembered that way; instead, I was remembered as the tall guy in the class called “Bonjing.”


The bullying and teasing that came with this label only added to my internal struggle. But despite the pain and insecurity it caused me, I am still here, standing tall and proud of who I am.

The same goes for our society; we often label people based on what we see on the surface. During the election, people called someone “Kakampink” if they were wearing pink and scrutinized them for choosing their preferred leader, even calling them “lutang or “lugaw.” More than anything, that degraded someone at the time because of who they supported. Or labeling someone a “terrorist” if they were studying at the University of the Philippines or rallying in Mendiola. Truth was, they were fighting for what they thought was right, protesting the wrongdoings of the government. But what they saw was someone who defied “rules.”

These labels may seem harmless to those who say them, but they can be limiting and dreadful. We don’t see the person behind the label—their struggles, their dreams, their fears, and their choices. We don’t see the reasons why they wear certain colors or why they may be rallying.

People see “just that” and not “why that? ” We reduce people to a single word or phrase, stripping away their humanity and individuality, even calling them labels that they are not, or judging them by labeling them based on what they preach.


What we don’t see are the stories behind the labels. We don’t see the kid who comes from a broken family or a mother struggling to find employment. We don’t see their reasons why they prefer a particular leader or why they are holding placards and rallying in scorching heat. We don’t see the pain, the resilience, or the love that lies beneath the surface. We don’t see the complexities of each individual or the layers of experiences that shape who they are.

I refuse to be defined by labels. I am not just a passenger, an ex-boyfriend, or a “Bonjing.” I am a human being with a unique story and a complex identity, someone who has faced adversity and emerged stronger.


I refuse to be reduced to a single word or phrase. So should you.

Labels may be a part of our society, but they do not define us. We are more than the sum of our parts. We are individuals with our own stories, our own struggles, and our own triumphs. The next time you see someone, don’t just see the label. See the person behind it, even ask why. See their humanity, their complexity, and their beauty. And remember that we are all more than just anyone’s anything.

Anyone can wear red and not be a supporter of BBM, or I can study at Mariano Marcos State University and not support the Marcoses.

I may be remembered as “just the tall guy” or “Bonjing” in high school, but I am more than what you see outside. We are more than these labels.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Vinz Thyrone C. Asuncion, 19, is studying English at Mariano Marcos State University. He’s a tired author who once published 102 poems for his crush.


© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.