Marthy Angue, Manila
Drawing by Alexander Fulcher*9, Vienna
In 1521, the eastern and western ends of the world met on an island chain in the fringes of the vast Pacific. Strangers bearing strange goods and stranger gods, meeting each other at shore, wondering how different must these other strangers be? When blood mixed with blood at the Compact, we decided we must not be so different to bleed the same. When we drew each other's blood not soon after, well, we proved for certain that we both die the same. Through Feast and Ritual, Barter and Battle, the rounding of the Earth - and perhaps all human fortune - was sealed on Philippine islands.
Five hundred years later, we celebrate Christmas with a child who has been with us for just as long - the iconic Santo Niño de Cebu - and may very well be the symbolic clasp holding the extremities of the Earth together. This carpenter's son decked in royal finery, this Flemish masterpiece paraded with Austronesian devotion, this sacred point-of-contact for both Conquistador and Revolutionary - here they find quiet if tenuous resolution.
It is said that in the 44 years between Magellan's death and the arrival of Legaspi, how the Christ Child arrived to Cebu had all but been forgotten. The Child, they believed, had always been in Cebu and belonged to the Cebuanos. Legend has it that attempts to enshrine it in Manila were met only with a strange disappearance followed by an even stranger reappearance back in Cebu. Some say you can still see cut marks on the icon's legs where the friars once sawed it off to keep it from leaving. Clearly, it did not work.
Perhaps this is what it means to call the Philippines home. We, the English Speaking, Hispanic-named, K-Pop-loving Indios of South-East Asia; we who cross oceans and continents to find our fortunes for the families we leave behind, all this finds similarly tense resolution in being Filipino. And while we may find it easy (almost instinctual) to dismiss the foreign as imposition or the local as inferior, all attempts to "purify" Filipino culture along any single direction has fallen flat. This is like purifying a Noche Buena to have only Sinigang. It's purely Filipino, certainly, but is it not also Filipino to think there's something missing?
This is, of course, not to say that all's well that ends well. All is certainly NOT well and one hopes that we aren't quite at the end either. Centuries of Empire has taken from us so much of who we could have been and given back so much to be unsure of having. Is our enduring faith worth how it was used against us by the Friars, one might ask. Is English worth the Philippine American War? Then again, I'm asking this in English as someone who identifies as fairly devout. You can only question your identity so much before realizing it is a tricky thing for a hammer to hit itself.
Is it better then to simply let go of the tension? To just embrace our halo-halo? To go into another new year celebrating Sinulog to BTS and giving Ikea gift certificates in ang pao? Honestly, maybe. This is not to forget the harsh realities of the last 500 years but it is also not to necessarily BE a harsh reality. We may not be some notion of "pure" but we are definitely something. We're pancit with quezo de bola. We're watching Christmas movies on Netflix while drinking lagundi tea. We're greater than the sum of our pre-colonial and colonial histories combined (at least, if that's what we'd like to be.) We're that kind of something.
And if the Santo Niño has found a home here with us, we may be something truly special.
*Parol at Christmas in Philippines
This Parol is a star decoration we see every year in Philippines during Advent and Christmas time. They are hung usually outside the balcony or front porch of the house. These Parol are all beautiful and colourful. My Mom told me it is a symbol associated with Christmas. I think every home have at least one Parol.
I think it is a symbol of light and love.
It reminds me and my Mom of Philippines.
It reminds me of my Lola (grandmother) and Titos (uncles) who I miss a lot.
It reminds me of my cousins who I love to play with.
It reminds of how happy and friendly everyone.
It reminds me of Christmas.
Alexander Fulcher, 9 years old, Vienna, Austria