Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Family

**Disclaimer: All my following culture talks come directly from my own observations. What I see is totally subjective to me and shouldn't be considered at all representative to the whole of Filipino culture. I live in a city on a fairly small island so it can hardly be indicative of the culture as a whole.**

Probably the most important aspect to understanding the rest of Filipino culture is to be aware of the power of the family. In all things Filipino, family should come first. Tardiness is totally excused if caused by a family issue. Being a good son or daughter takes precedent over all other responsibilities. This doesn't just extent to a maternal and paternal bond, but a deep concern for even far flung relatives like second cousins.

Because of this, Filipinos want to live with their family for as long as possible. A typical household probably has three generations under one roof, and if the grandparents are dead then maybe some aunts or cousins live in the house. In my current house I live with a mother and father, their three grown sons, their wives, and two grandchildren--a third's on the way. The sons probably don't have plans to move to their own homes, and probably wouldn't want to anyways. Part of this relates back to the Filipino way of using everything to its optimal level. Even if a son moved out, another relative would move in because otherwise its a waste of space. In America we take our ability to all have our own space as a given; if you think about it, that's a pretty nice luxury.

To underscore the power of the family they've developed a much larger vocabulary for family members than we have in the states. In English we have words like Grandfather and grandmother or daughter-in-law and son-in-law. We take our immediate family words (mother, daughter) and attach something to make it a different relation (grand, in-law). In Hiligaynon all these people have a different single word.

To make matters even more complicated you add in the godparent relationship. By being a godparent to a child you are also adopted into the child's family. There's even a word for two people who are the godparents to the same child but come from different families. This system is used much like intermarriages amongst the royal families of Europe. At baptisms a favorite guest is the mayor, because then your child is linked to a person who wields local power.

During our New Years out in the province, Marlo and I were walking around his barangay. To me it seemed that every third person was in some way related to him, his godchild, or a godparent to him. I see the value in this. The large family network means you have more resources to draw upon and a supportive community at your disposal. It has taken time for me to adjust to this system and some times I still have questions about it.

Marlo, because he is the oldest son and his father is retired, has to be the breadwinner for his family. He works at a job that pays more money than teaching (what he'd rather do) because most of his paycheck goes to funding his two sisters as they finish college. In exchange his family treats him like a prince. In my American mind I admire him for being so supportive, but its hard not to percieve the sisters as leeches to his resources. Maybe its just my family, but I would have a hard time in giving up my dream to pay for Jared's tuition, when he's capable of working and going to school.

Filipinos think that all Americans are thrown out of their homes at 18 and forced out onto the hard streets to work for themselves. They call this being "liberated". Its hard to convince them otherwise, especially when I explain I left home at 18 to go to college and worked two jobs to make it through. I also like that they call our lifestyle "liberated". To me it shows an underlying unease with the status quo. When we discuss family differences I tell them I don't consider myself liberated from my family, but that I'm supposed to be as self-sufficient as possible so that my siblings can have more. They understand and respect that answer a lot.

I hope that serves as a good start to the culture of the Philippines. I'm working on a food post, but I need to take my camera out and get pictures of the food.

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