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Identity formation through culture and arts

Text by Ralph Chan

Illustration by

Navigation between two worlds

Am I an Austrian or a Filipino, European or Asian? I often asked myself this question at a young age -being part of the 2nd generation Euro-Filipino. Anyone growing up in the diaspora quickly learns to navigate between two worlds, recognising and understanding that he neither belongs 100% to any of the communities.

This is especially noticeable in situations when you don’t know or aren’t familiar with certain nuances. Others, for example, struggle to understand certain words that can only come with knowledge of the local culture. For Filipinos born and raised in Austria and who have limited knowledge of the Filipino culture, they might wonder what Jologs or Jejemon means. On the other hand, Filipinos who migrate to Austria as adults would not necessarily know what a Krocha is.

Someone born and raised in the diaspora would eventually ask the question: Who am I? The search for an answer could last a lifetime. In my case, I found the answer while growing up. I have come to the conclusion that I am a Filipino born in Austria. Many ask me: Why is that so? Why don't you label yourself an Austrian? You were born in Austria. My answer is: There is no simple explanation for it! But what always mattered to me was the fact that I was fortunate enough to have learned Tagalog at a young age, which enabled me to converse with Filipinos in the Filipino language, but also to (better) understand Filipino culture. Obviously, this is a huge benefit because even though I was not born, raised nor have lived in the Philippines, I understand the ‘Filipinoness’ of my identity.

Identity formation is like a playing a puzzle

In my previous RAW article "Ready for the next generation of Austro-Filipinos" [1] I already addressed the issue of identity formation when I described this process as playing a puzzle. To see the full picture, you need to put these weirdly shaped, interlocking, mosaicked pieces together first. This is basically how identity is created. The interaction of the different parts shapes the personality and character of a person. Language plays an important role, along with cultural elements. Culture can be especially important when someone is trying to understand who he or she is – particularly for the young 2nd or 3rd generation Euro-Filipinos. For example, culture and art played a significant role for me. During my childhood, my parents regularly borrowed VHS tapes from the then popular TV series Home Along Da Riles. In retrospect, this TV series was not only formative for many Filipinos in the Philippines, but also for me because the TV series paved the way for my fluency in Tagalog today, how I perceive Filipino society and how Filipino culture (norms and traditions) shaped my identity. What made the TV series special to me were the various topics that were brought up, such as the great importance of family and the resilience of Filipinos. By watching it, I learned to appreciate Filipino traditions and norms, but I also learned how to speak Tagalog through this series. Regular viewing encouraged me to imitate pronouncing the strange-sounding words. One should keep in mind that a person who grows up in the diaspora is raised at least bilingually. In my case, in addition to Tagalog, I also spoke German. The series was also formative because it showed a world I didn't know. Growing up sheltered in a protected family, I didn't really know the concept of being poor. The TV series was an eye opener because even though you were born poor does not have to determine in any way how you lead your life and how you behave towards others. While people in Europe grapple with First World problems, which often revolve around the loss of individual freedom, the problems that many Filipinos face in the Philippines are more serious. Nevertheless, they keep a smile and do not complain.

The influence of Filipino TV series, films, and music

The Filipino TV series and films (especially the classic obras of Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, Marilou Diaz-Abaya or Peque Gallaga) influence my everyday life and mold my identity. The more I deal with them, the more I learn something about myself. Films do not just portray fictional stories, they tell things we may not always be aware of. They also serve as eye openers to social inequality and change. An example film is Dekada '70, which shows social tensions and potential for conflict in Filipino society at the time.

Music also plays a particularly important role in my life, especially OPM songs (Original Pilipino Music). Read the lyrics and try to understand what the message of the song could be, then also learn about Filipino society and culture. [2] I am not alone with this opinion because if you look around in the digital world and watch reaction videos, you will find many non-Filipinos who enjoy performances or music videos by OPM legends like Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Ogie Alcasid, Regine Velaquez, Jaya , Zsa Zsa Padilla, as well as by younger musicians like Sarah Geronimo, Moira dela Torre, Morissette Amon or Ben & Ben. Not only OPM singers influence these days, but also P-Pop bands like SB19, BINI, BYGO, MNL48 or Alamat, who sing about Filipino customs and traditions or use different Filipino languages ​​in their songs.

Concluding thoughts

The bullet points and the list could be longer. What I would like to convey to the reader is that we should not underestimate the importance and effect of art and culture for identity formation. At the same time, this article is also an appeal that we should support Filipino productions, be it films, theatre plays, literature, or music, as this affects not only our daily lives but also our identity - such as the art project Batch 1 [3]. This is a documentary about the 1st generation Filipino nurses in Europe. With this documentary, the group of young Euro-Filipino artists would like to create a space for our lolas, nanays and titas, in which they want to trace their root and exchange their experiences. With this film they want to illuminate their stories and also learn more about themselves in the eyes of others.


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