Are Filipinos Asian? – Part 3: A Search for Cultural Identity

Part Three in the Series

This article is part three of my original article, Are Filipinos Asian? and Are Filipinos Asian? – Part 2.

I recently noticed that I STILL receive a big percentage of traffic from Google with the following search phrase: “Are Filipinos Asian?”

And The Question Remains

Though I’ve written three prior posts on the subject, it doesn’t really help the fact that it seems most Filipinos (and non-Filipinos alike) think The Philippines is a “Pacific Islander” nation rather than an “Asian” one.

But the search for an answer continues it seems, while my Google Analytics for this site points out the fact that, other than my homepage, the top three pages are about articles I’d written about whether Filipinos are Asian or not.

analytics

Chowking Billboard

What Does The Philippine Government Say?

So, I was thinking well, what does the Philippine Government say about all this?

Upon visiting The Philippines “official” website at http://www.gov.ph, there is this paragraph in the “General Information” page in the “About The Philippines” section that states:

“The visitor to Metro Manila commonly sees the Philippines as the most westernized of Asian countries and in many ways, it is. But there is also a rich underlay of Malay culture beneath the patina of Spanish and American heritage.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere!

The Philippine government states emphatically that the Philippines is an “Asian” country with a “rich underlay of Malay culture”.

“Asian” and “Southeast Asian” are in the Philippine Government’s Vocabulary

Now most people know (hopefully) that the Philippines was a colony of Spain for some 200+ years, and after that was a colony of the United States of America until its independence on July 4, 1946. So, there has definitely been a strong European and Western influence in the country, that may have affected how people in general have perceived the Philippines.

The Philippine government site goes on to say:

“The most lasting legacy of the Spanish rule was the Catholic religion which makes the Philippines the only Christian nation in Asia.”

Ah, two words, “in Asia”. But yes, with a strong Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) upbringing, this can very well distance Filipinos from that whole identity of being Asian, as most other Asians are either Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or some other religion that is more associated with other Asians.

A few more paragraphs down the page we read:

“Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their Western visitors. Perhaps due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life, in a way that seems more Latin than Asian.”

Well, there’s that word once again, “Asian” and now we see “Southeast Asia”. So, now the government site is identifying Filipinos as being specifically from Southeast Asia. No, really?

Incidentally: For those of you thinking that Filipinos are “Pacific Islander”, this term was mentioned not even once on the Philippine government site.

. . . .

Location, Location, Location…

philippines

Now looking at this map of the Philippines, it appears that the closest country is Malaysia, which if I am not mistaken is definitely considered an Asian country.

Ethnic Identification

According to the Philippines’ government website, most Filipinos are considered to be Malay in origin, and a small percentage Chinese and other ethnicities…

“Ethnic Groups: 91.5% Christian Malay, 4% Muslim Malay ,1.5% Chinese and 3% other.”

Apparently, although many Filipinos were somehow “christened” or had adopted “Spanish” names, there is really a very small percentage of Filipinos with Spanish blood.

Wikipedia’s Definition of Filipino Ethnicity

According to sources in Wikipedia.org, Filipinos are ethnically Asian, specifically of Indo-Malay origin.

“Many Filipinos are an Asian ethnic group, a Mongoloid people, part of the Austronesian group, a group of Malay/Malayo-Polynesian speaking people. Non-Malay/Malayo Polynesian ethnic groups also form a part of the Philippine population. These include Europeans (Spanish, and other European people), Chinese, American, and other ethnic groups. There are also mixed blood individuals known as mestizo. Mestizo refer to those of mixed Spanish/Latin American, and Malay/Malayo-Polynesian descent, but may also refer to those of other European ancestry. Mestizos may also refer to other foreign descent.”

Of course, the “Mongoloid” race is thought to be the origins of modern-day Asians.

There is some talk going around that Filipinos are from the Austronesian group, but this is just a sub-group of the Malay/Malayo-Polynesian peoples. Oh, there’s that word “Polynesian”. And I think this leads (or mis-leads) us to a lot of confusion because the actual Polynesian Islands are a sub-group of the peoples of “Oceania”, along with Melanesia and Micronesia.

But, recent evidence has pointed out to the theory that Pacific Islanders originated from mainland Asia, particularly China:

“China had a sea-faring civilization as long as 7000 years ago. Archaeologist Tianlong Jiao says, one day, these mariners sailed their canoes into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and stayed. He points out, “Most scientists, archaeologists, historical linguists and human biologists agree that today’s southeast China, Taiwan and Northern Philippines, the whole region is the ultimate homeland of the Austronesian people.” The Austronesians include today’s Polynesian, Micronesian, Melanesian, and the indigenous people in Philippines, in the Southeast Asia archipelago, and in Taiwan.”

And further studies have pointed to the theory that Austronesians originated from the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan:

“These findings provide the first direct evidence for the common ancestry of Polynesians and indigenous Taiwanese, and suggest that Taiwan genetically belongs to that region of insular Southeast Asia that might have been the point from where Polynesians started their migration across the Pacific, followed by later cultures that developed from their descendents in east Indonesia and Melanesia.”

So, if you’re thinking that Filipinos are in fact, Pacific Islanders, there surely is a connection, but only because true Pacific Islanders originated from Taiwan and mainland Asia, according to the above two sources.

If anything, Pacific Islanders came from Asia too, but Pacific Islanders would’ve had to originate from Taiwan, mainland China, and Southeast Asia. And not the other way around.

Surely, the Philippine Government’s Website is Correct

In summary, the Philippines is a culturally rich nation, with influences coming from various surrounding Asian nations, and also influenced by Spain and the United States. The country is a member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), so whether you don’t consider Filipinos to be Asian or not, they are politically, culturally, and geographical bound to Asia.

But also, the Philippines has been influenced by Western Culture through Christianity and via European and American colonization.

Filipinos are a unique Asian people. And their origins and cultural heritage definitely set them apart from other Asians. It is this “uniqueness” that possibly contributes to many Filipinos having an “identity crisis” of sorts, yet they are very similar in many ways to their fellow Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors.

Life in Rural Philippines

7,107 Islands in the Pacific Ocean

Okay, it doesn’t help the fact that The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands in the Pacific Ocean. Logically, one would assume that Filipinos are Pacific Islanders then. But I keep thinking that Japan is also a nation of islands in the Pacific Ocean as well, though they don’t have as tropical a climate as the Philippines, with coconut and palm trees and a very humid climate.

But wait, other countries in Asia have that same tropical climate and coconut and palm trees…. oh, and the Philippines abounds in rice paddies, just like those other Asian countries. Rice (like in other Asian countries) is the main staple of The Philippines.

Understandably though, the confusion remains. And whether you consider Filipinos to be Asian or not, it is up to the individual to decide, obviously. But just consider the entire continent of Asia and all of its peoples, and you’ll see that there is so much diversity. In the end, I am grateful that there is such a varied cultural and ethnic diversity… otherwise, the world as a whole would be an incredibly boring place.

. . . .

Note: For more on this topic, please visit Are Filipinos Asian? – Part 1 and Are Filipinos Asian? – Part 2. Thanks for reading…

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Carlos Rull

Carlos Rull is a musician living in the San Diego area. His interests include Yoga, Eastern Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and Gardening. He plays drums, piano, and composes New Age & Ambient music, and his albums are available on iTunes and Amazon.com.

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