The Filipino narrative
AS FILIPINOS, we can say that the narrative that truly speaks to us is our history, the story of our past. In recalling the past, we can sort out our memories into two categories—the positive and the negative. As humans, we will find it natural to want to remember only what was good, as we have always been taught to “think positive,” “look on the bright side,” “forgive and forget,” and “let it go.” Although memory is very empowering, often we choose to remember selectively, as the incapability of forgetting is just as crippling as the incapability of remembering. There is only half the past we want to remember. And the other half, we would rather forget and consign to oblivion.
We always choose not to reopen old wounds. But no matter how much we try to rid ourselves of the pain, the truth will always leave scars to remind us of the hardship and suffering. Often, we would have to revisit even the darkest moments of the past in order for us to learn lessons from it. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For us to live the present and build the future, we must have an earnest understanding of the past.
We still cannot deny the fact that in remembering, we cannot choose to remember every single side of the story. Naturally, when we emphasize one memory, we tend to remove the emphasis on another. If we decide to keep everything in memory, it will be hard for us to prioritize what is important. In recalling history, our challenge now is deciding what to remember and what to forget.
We must keep in mind that the way we see history now may not have been the way it really was. History, after all, is just a compilation of stories written by different people with different perspectives. History is the “eye of the world.” However, even our senses can fool us. We cannot guarantee that the history we are revisiting is the correct perspective. Although the events that happened in the past cannot be changed, the way we people view the past has changed over time and will continue to evolve depending on the context, the storyteller and the time. There is no single correct reading of the past; it is critical that we exert effort in remembering, forgetting, and asking questions in order to, at least, come close to a correct conclusion.
The way we see the past is greatly affected by social memory. Society creates memories in the same way individuals do—by sorting out which memories to retain and which to forget. What society keeps in memory is reflective of what we believe in and have always held to be true. It also reflects where we see ourselves situated in the present, and how we want to see ourselves and our descendants in the future.
Just like how individuals use individual memory, society will also use social memory in making decisions for the years to come.
Social memory reflects what certain societies believe to be true. In forming opinions, there are certain values and principles that we hold as a nation. As Filipinos, citizens of a dominantly Catholic country, we strongly believe in the concept of forgiveness, because it is stated in the Bible. Filipinos, in fact, are too forgiving, and too nice as well. We always like to narrate our history in a nice way. The only way to tell history in a nice way is to censor this history, remembering only the positive events in history and forgetting the negative, even if this means that we are doing ourselves injustice.
But we cannot blame ourselves entirely for having this mindset. What society chooses to remember or forget is greatly influenced by the dominant institutions of the time. These dominant institutions are able to impose versions of histories upon people, stories we call dominant tropes. Dominant tropes are simply what the dominant institutions are telling people to remember, what certain way people are told to think. These dominant institutions dictate to us what we should remember and forget. Although these stories are widely believed to be true, there are times in which they are not.
Throughout history, we Filipinos have been constantly forced to believe in false dominant tropes. Even up to this day, those who are dominant continually impose on us the stories that they want us to believe. With the past national elections, politicians were at it again, creating stories for us to believe, stories that we continue to accept.
These dominant institutions dictate what society should remember, but also fail to remember. In the Philippines, we do not have such things. We do not mourn the loss of the lost, and commemorate those who fought for freedom. Instead, we deny that all these happened; we continue to be a nation in denial. All of this is because, again, we have forgiven and forgotten.
We all know the saying “history repeats itself.” This is not true; history can only repeat itself if we let it. History only repeats itself when we do not see how the pattern works. When we forgive and forget, we take out certain pieces from the pattern, diminishing our understanding of the past. We tend to just accept whatever is given to us, even if this could mean that we neglect and overlook the mistakes of the past.
In reading through history, we must always be critical; we should not hesitate to examine dominant tropes, and go against them if needed. There are ways in which society and individuals go against the dominant trope. These attempts are called counter-memories. There are times in which counter-memories are lies, too. But often, we have to explore these counter-memories, go beyond our comfort zones, and question our beliefs. It is through this discourse that society and individuals are able to make changes in the way people think, and in the way social memory shifts.
As a nation, our history and our social memory are manifestations of how profoundly we understand our past and how we use our knowledge of it to create foundations of our future. What we remember is a reflection of the values we hold as a country and how we want others to see us. What we forget is a reflection of our fears and the things we want to leave behind. What we ask is a reflection of eagerness to start change and to build a better history, history that we will be passing on to the next generation.
Our task now is to remind ourselves of what is important, and leave the mark to make sure that we and the generations to come will remember and never forget.
Cristina Andrea N. Rioflorido, 19, is a senior economics student at Ateneo de Manila University.
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