With Independence Day upon us, the controversy around Tony Meloto’s University of Hawaii speech reveals much about the racial inferiority complex and machismo culture still deeply entrenched in the Filipino psyche. It reveals how even someone pro-Philippines, pro-poor, and pro-women can succumb to these. More importantly, it reveals how we as a people see ourselves.
Here and then, something comes up and reminds us how our society has a long way to go with nationalistic awareness and racial sensitivity. A while back, I wrote on the blatant “white skin is good, dark skin is bad” message of an FHM cover. Then there was the BAYO campaign that advocated “mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood” as a “sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class” with a “fighting chance to make it in the world arena in all aspects.”
I wasn’t thinking to write another one; Meloto’s statements have been reported and commented on a lot. But I look up to his achievements. My family patronizes the projects of social entrepreneurs like him, down to our Bayani Brews and Human Nature toiletries. I get a lot of mail from young readers of my blog who feel insecure about their skin color or nose or some other thing that makes them wish they were white instead. I see how a lot of us view Filipino-white marriages as success stories, how perfectly acceptable it is to say, “She hit the jackpot with a foreigner. Her kid should be an artista so she can be rich and high-class!” and elicit agreeing nods rather than looks of discomfort. In light of all these, I feel I have to weigh in.
Meloto is a hero and an inspiration to many, myself included. As one commenter pointed out, his life’s work fills gaps that current government policies are unable to address. Many of us see the country’s problems and do little beyond complaining. Some choose to leave, some choose to look out only for their families. Every day, Meloto chooses to do something. Gawad Kalinga has made a huge contribution towards sustainable development and have spurred others into taking action.
When news of his speech broke out, my initial reaction was that I wanted to see the transcript and hear from people who were there. In an age of political correctness, one can’t be too careful with their words lest they be taken out of context. The Internet mob can be cruel. Things can be exaggerated for sensationalism. Verdicts can be readily passed without hearing all testimonies. Surely we could cut slack a man who serves the poor and the homeless, chalk it up to a lapse in judgment?
Then again, a few who attended his other speeches claim that it wouldn’t be the first time his statements were peppered with sexist and racist punchlines. If this is true, then I’d be inclined to see his words in Hawaii as a reflection of his long-held opinions rather than a one-time blip that could be easily forgiven. Not that he asked for it. In lieu of an apology, his response to the criticisms was to express hurt, reason that he was just trying to be funny, and remind people of the good he’s done.
Say we give Meloto the benefit of the doubt.
He reportedly called the poor hopeless and violent, and practically typecast the men as criminally inclined. Perhaps he developed this way of thinking over two decades of working around them, and it was an off-hand expression of his growing jadedness given several unfortunate incidents he has witnessed through the years.
He reportedly expressed that white men could come here to inspire poor Filipino men to be better. Perhaps he sees their potential to become decent husbands, caring fathers, and effective providers, if only there were white role models to show them how. Perhaps he sees the good traits of foreigners like his two sons-in-law and wants more Filipinos to emulate them, like when we see efficient transportation systems abroad and wish our government would follow suit.
He reportedly said that the beauty of Filipino women is one of the country’s best assets. He recommended that we use this asset to entice foreigners to come here and help make our nation prosper. With the image of a poor Filipino man as hopeless and violent—a chain-smoking, womanizing, compulsive-gambling, alcoholic bum who makes his family’s life hell, perhaps Meloto only wants our beautiful women to be saved by the white knights.
The “success story” can go two ways: rich foreigner rescues Filipina from poverty, or handsome foreigner helps Filipina produce what Meloto jokingly called “cappuccino babies.” He is not alone in believing there is a higher success rate for them, and a lucrative market particularly in the local entertainment industry. Beautiful Filipino women are assets, and cute cappuccino babies are commodities. To that effect, women like me could contribute towards a better Philippines by securing for ourselves a suitable Caucasian husband, nowithstanding our education, skills, and determination.
In all likelihood, the motivation behind Meloto’s statements is good. After 20 years, the ripples of change that he started have yet to make tidal waves. Perhaps he so desperately wants to see our nation rise above our difficulties, to finally be able to go toe-to-toe with the First World, and as far as he can see, the things he mentioned would work. Perhaps this is why he is unapologetic about his words being sexist, racist and elitist, maintaining that his deeds go toward the opposite of these.
Whatever the case, the reality is that many Filipinos share these beliefs, learning from their elders and passing on to their children. Most of them do not even recognize the implications, and thus the need for a paradigm shift.
Among those who do, this may be the reason for the outrage: Meloto was the last person expected to be expressing such notions. As Builder of Dreams, it is his responsibility to advocate not only change, but also hope. Hope is the last thing you bring to the table when you suggest that your people aren’t good enough to make it on their own. Dreams are not what you build when you perpetuate rather than challenge the idea that the success of your country lies on its dependence to foreigners.
Bringing lasting change includes fighting against the things have kept us from growing into our own as a nation: our largely patriarchal culture, our racial insecurity, and our tendency for white worship. These are the ills have oppressed the Filipino people for centuries; poverty and corruption are merely their symptoms.
Many are called, few are chosen. As one of the few, changemaker Tony Meloto has both power and passion to lead this fight. His work inspires us to believe we can turn things around for ourselves.
It would help if he continues to believe it, too.
Image Source: http://philnews.ph/2012/10/29/tony-meloto-wins-social-entrepreneurship-award-in-france/