When I was in grade school, my Sibika teachers taught me that very familiar lesson on the “Filipino race” on United Nations Week. I was the palest kid in class, so I wore the suit and tie and represented the United States. The darkest kid in class represented some African country, and there was always someone dressed in Filipiñana. We were all called to the front, and ‘Tcher started the lesson:
When you mix white blood (pointing to me) and black blood (pointing to my classmate) together, you will get… (the class recites, “Filipino!”).
We started sampling foods in the school potluck, which pretty much reinforced the day’s lesson. Dessert was very poignant: Halo-halo is a mixture of different ingredients from all over the world to create a Filipino dessert.
Taking up Anthropology in college was a scholarly adaptation of United Nations Week, without global cosplay and potluck buffet but with the addition of thick readings, but it still reinforced the notion of “mixtures.” H. Otley Beyer, for example, defined two weeks of migratory patterns on a class one semester. Waves of migration, as well as colonization, affirmed the mathematics of bloodline: black + white = brown. Drawing pedigree charts would trace your lineage to anything but a “Filipino race,” but affirms the family story of coming from China and Spain, unearthing some possibility of a “dark” ancestor being married – or raped – by a “white” colonizer.
The cosmetics aisles of the supermarket are filled with shelves of whitening soaps, whitening lotions, and everything else to make you “white.” There is a methodical detaching from “brown” that goes beyond skin care: the voluminous rants and raves of “Only in the Philippines,” and “Kasi naman ang Pinoy.” It’s a kind of bleaching that goes beyond papaya soap, like adapting a “conventional” name and place when you work in a call center, for example. Or to leave the Philippines is to “seek greener pastures,” no longer pakikipagsapalaran. A word that, in itself, connotes poverty, promdi, and degradation.
Every undertone and overtone of it is racist: from the Sibika classes to the Anthro lectures, from glutathione creams to kutis-mayaman billboards in EDSA. Or adjusting color and hue in Photoshop pictures to make one less brown than he or she should be. It is the 21st century rebuilding – and reaffirming – of indio.