3 Things I Love about Filipino Culture Today

Focusing on the light –

At a dinner gathering with Filipino American teachers last night, someone pointed out our community’s lack of representation in the national news – until something shocking happens. (I am paraphrasing the convo.) So, as a counter-balance, I’d like to share 3 things I love about my Filipino culture that make me happy. They may not make the national news, but they make a difference:

🌺 Filipino nurses. Everywhere in hospitals, every day carrying on the tradition of healers. Making America (and many other countries) healthier and helping heal wounds and illnesses.

🌺 Kapwa spirit. The spirit that people are in it together, that we help each other out, that life is not just about yourself but about all of us together. I see this especially in extended families, in the way people help with whatever little money they may have, help in childcare and child-raising, help relatives move, build up homes. I see this in community projects to help the poorest in the community afford wheelchairs, help for victims of typhoons, help empower girls with scholarships, belief, and confidence, help the hungry by providing food.

🌺 OFW’s. Overseas Filipino Workers: the Filipinos on working visas who contribute to the world’s computer industries, software development, medical field, domestic services, and hospitality industries. They sacrifice to send money back to their families, often at great personal risk, with tremendous work-ethic.

🌺 All right, a 4th: I don’t know the name for it but my friend Denise Nacu calls it “welcoming”. There’s a Filipino way of welcoming people at the door, at its best a kind of warmth. You know you’ll be fed, brought into the fold, accepted. Yes, we ask you to take your shoes off at the door – and then we feed you as we all make kuwento, share stories and bask in laughter and the joy of togetherness (pakikisama).

– Mary Grace


Historical Research in the Digital Age

Yesterday, I spent the morning reading sixteenth-century Spanish reports of their Philippine colonial endeavor on my Kindle. Yes, Emma Helen Blair & James Alexander Robertson’s The Philippine Islands, 1493 – 1898 is digitized (at least partially). It was the first thing I downloaded when I got my e-reader last year. Facetime: By evening, I was sitting with other bibliophiles, artists, and writers in a real living room with people lovingly handling the binding and pages of  books written in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English with fine illustrations and gilded edges. One was 100 years old; the dust on the spine was real.

Ten years ago, cheery and beautiful YA historical novelist Harriette Gillem Robinet was the first person I heard urge writers to use Inter-library loan to borrow books from the Library of Congress. What freedom of the mind! To be able to borrow books from the national library where they collect titles you can’t find in your city or state libraries. When you’re researching something as seemingly remote (to some) and obscure (to others?) as the 16th century Philippines, it’s brilliant to have the LOC at your fingertips. Now, they’re online and you can search their catalogs. I drool.

Today, I’m in the final push…to really lock-in what I know and what I don’t know about my historical characters. So, for the last 2 weeks, it’s been a headlong rush into titles that are found regionally in Cebu – which is fabulous, except that I live in Chicago.  What can a fictionist in the diaspora do?

This morning, my fingertips took me to World Cat (World Catalog) which purportedly has 1.5 billion items online. Google Books allows you to search inside many of its digitized books (“millions”). Refdoc.fr in France allows you to buy articles in academic journals and have them sent either via snailmail or electronically.

The state of human knowledge is changing every hour. For me, way out here in the Midwest, so far from the Philippines, it’s a godsend to be able to access the work of experts in the fields of Philippine anthropology, history, and literature.

Cutting edge technology in the service of history…who knew?