National pride

On Lilibeth Nacion’s radio program the other morning, there was a spirited discussion on whether Filipinos are still proud of their country. The callers were divided.  Many felt that national pride is something that should not fade no matter what Filipinos do to their country or to themselves.  Others admitted it has indeed become harder to be proud of the country and to respond with self-assurance when asked abroad if they are Filipinos. They think the country has sunk too low in the eyes of the world for it to be a source of self-esteem.

Listening to these engaged citizens pour out their sentiments, I had no doubt in my mind they all loved their country.  Many were disgusted over its present state. But love of country and anger over its current situation are not contradictory feelings.  Both are expressions of a strong identity with the nation and a passionate interest in its affairs.  Such emotions probably exist in equal measure among Filipinos who migrate and those who stay.  The ones who have turned their backs on their country are those who have become indifferent to its problems, even as they may continue to whine about its hopelessness. One encounters them here as well as abroad.

“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement,” writes the philosopher Richard Rorty.  A nation that does not evoke enough pride in its people will find it hard to tap their capacity for achievement and sacrifice.  Those with no pride in their country will have no motivation to seek their personal growth in conjunction with their nation’s needs and development.

One hundred six years after its declaration of independence, the Filipino nation grapples with demoralization.  In almost every Filipino home today, the issue being debated is the rationale for continuing to live in a nation that has failed its people. It is also the question being posed by Filipinos who miss their country, but are looking for a rational justification to come home. It is an emotional issue.

Those who are thinking of migrating ask: Is it right to continue living in a country that no longer offers any hope to its citizens? Is it wrong to leave one’s country in the quest for personal growth?  But, on the other hand: Is leaving not an evasion of responsibility? If the country is in shambles, do we not have the duty to help put it back together? There are no easy answers.

I hear this debate among my own children every now and then.  The eldest, CP, takes a firm line about the need to stay home.  No country has ever prospered, he says, without at least one generation making the supreme sacrifice of foregoing its own comforts.  For him, building a nation must be the willful act of an entire community, but particularly of those among its members who have had the fortune to acquire a solid training and have the means to act on their visions.  Those who can lead must show the way.

My three daughters argue with their brother with equal conviction, taking the standpoint of many of their cousins and contemporaries who have gone abroad to seek a better life.  Dezh, the artist in the family, is particularly assertive of the need to develop oneself before one could be useful to the nation or to other people.  If the opportunities for growth, let alone for self-creation, are hard to find in one’s own country, she asks, why should a person be faulted for wanting go abroad?  Her brother counters: It’s not a question of going abroad.  It’s a question of settling abroad and forgetting where you came from.

It’s easy for you to say that, his sisters retort.  You are not poor. You’ve studied in the best schools, and you’ve traveled.  You have not known what it is to live without opportunity. Let others find their future wherever this might take them.  And maybe, when they are stronger and more secure, they will eventually find their way home.

When will that be, he asks rhetorically. After the country has overcome its problems?  We leave when the country is in a mess, and we return when everything is fine?  It is now that the country needs us most, not after we have fully secured our lives. It is not right that other countries should reap the rich harvest of our people at their most productive years.

He knows whereof he speaks.  His sisters cannot argue against the choices he has made for himself.  Last year, right after finishing his doctorate at Stanford, he came home to resume his teaching at the University of the Philippines. He had lived by himself for more than five years, adjusting to a society known for its efficiency and basic fairness. The chance to do post-doctoral research, get married, and start a family in the US naturally beckoned. But he knew that if he followed this route, the chances of ever coming back would diminish over time.

I enjoy writing about young people who can think beyond themselves, but I feel awkward when they happen to be my own children.  While I take pride in their decisions, I hesitate to hold them up as exemplars. They did not have to work to be able to go to school. In that sense, they were privileged.  I do not want young people to think that their personal growth is secondary to that of their country’s needs, nor do I want them to feel they cannot do anything for the country if they live abroad.

There are many reasons to remain engaged in our country wherever life may take us.  The best of them is the chance to participate meaningfully in the creation of a nation that future Filipinos will never hesitate to call their own.


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