To grow and thrive

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

Workplace culture. Culture wars. Culture shock. Culture is one of those words that get used as shorthand for many things, a word many of us are familiar with but without having a single clear meaning of the word in our heads. That’s perfectly reasonable, as culture is one of the most complex concepts in human society, one which can have a variety of meanings, depending on the context within which it is used. The word in English began as a word for a process – a tending of something, usually plants or animals, from the act of “cultivating” and all that goes into making life thrive and grow. It was later applied to the development and education of individual minds and the progress of human society… but with the advent of industrialization and the perceived divorce of many aspects of human life from the symbolic aspects that historically gave it meaning, so too did the meaning of culture diverge from related words such as civilization.

Nowadays, when people speak of culture, they usually have one of several related but distinct meanings in mind. They could mean bodies of artistic or literary work, whether from the present or the past, from modern cinema to tattoo designs passed on through the generations. They could mean the traditional customs, beliefs and practices of a particular group, rooted in the past and which may or may not have been carried through to the present. Finally, they could mean the way of life of the people as a whole, in the present day, encompassing everything from the way they eat to the way they work, from the way they play to the way they pray.

I say all this as preamble so that when I say that it is important to promote and celebrate Philippine culture, I mean it in all those ways, all those meanings – but the different meanings of culture will require different ways to promote and celebrate them.

It is important that we promote and support Philippine culture as found in artistic work. Those that work as artists, as “culture workers,” play an essential and indispensable role in our society. As I’ve written before, art is an essential element of what makes us humans, but our appreciation for art must not leave behind our appreciation for the humans behind every piece of work. When I say that we must support art, I mean primarily that we must support artists, that to support culture we must support cultural workers – give them the resources to better their craft, the venues to share their work with an audience and the financial security to allow them to do all these things without neglecting their daily needs. Many artists work as freelancers or with irregular employment, usually without the assistance of professional organizations or labor unions. We must see to it that they are protected from unfair exploitation, for taking joy in your work does not mean you should be paid any less for it.

It is also important that we promote and support Philippine culture as found in the traditional customs, beliefs and practices of particular groups, particularly our indigenous communities. Last Aug. 9 was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, as well as National Indigenous People’s Day here in our country. So much of what characterizes our national identity comes from the customs and traditions of our indigenous communities, yet they still remain some of our most marginalized people. In spite of the enactment of legislation such as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, there are persistent and continued reports of indigenous communities being illegally dispossessed of their ancestral lands, such as the case of the Manobo-Pulangihon tribe in Bukidnon. These lands may not be sold under the law, but false land titles, desperate financial straits and armed harassment can lead to indigenous people being forced into landlessness on their own territory, and because of the unique relationship that they have with their land, this can have devastating consequences. Supporting Philippine culture means supporting indigenous people. It means improving their economic prospects so that they are not driven to desperation, it means addressing legal loopholes and ambiguities in the enforcement of their rights, it means oversight to ensure local governments are part of the solution and not the problem.

Finally, it is important that we promote and support Philippine culture as the way of life of Filipinos as a whole, in a manner that acknowledges our diversity and which does not discriminate against new ways in favor of the old simply because of age. Just as people and societies grow and change, so too do cultures – a culture is a dynamic thing, welcoming and co-mingling old and new. The past can and must be respected and preserved, but this can be done while allowing new ways to come into being, while giving space for the youth to find their own paths. Culture can be unifying even as it acknowledges difference, just as different styles of Filipino cooking and different Philippine languages can co-exist side-by-side, enriching the whole.

For all its complexity, I think there is much to be said about reminding ourselves of what lies at the heart of the concept of culture. Culture should not serve as a gatekeeper, a measuring stick to determine what is or is not Filipino, what is or is not “art.” Instead, it is at its most pure when it is seen as a way to share and emphasize the best in our natures, that which brings us together as Filipinos, as human beings. At the end of the day, any effort to promote Philippine culture must revolve not around hair-splitting definitions, but in bettering the lives of Filipinos by allowing us to form bonds of shared meaning.

So that we may grow. So that we may thrive. Together.

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