Rector's Conference on Filipino Culture
by Ace Tupasi

Fr. Ysrael Bien, one of the Filipino priests here in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, served as the guest speaker for the rector's conference at Mount Angel Seminary on September 28, 2011.  He is currently the associate pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, Oregon.  He was invited to speak about Filipino culture.

In his talk he said that in order to understand the Filipino culture, one has to know the history of the Philippines as a country.  The first inhabitants of the Philippines were Malays originating from Borneo and other nearby Southeast Asian territories.  In 1521 Spaniards came and colonized the country for 333 years.  After that, Americans came and colonized the country for more than forty years.  As a result, these two countries have the most cultural influence on the Filipino people.

Fr. Ysrael posited that Catholicism was the biggest contribution of the Spanish colonizers to the Philippines.  Santacruzan (a procession), pasyon (chanting of the passion and death of Christ), and Misa de Gallo  (a series of nine dawn masses before Christmas) together with novenas and other religious devotions are just some of the religious practices brought by the Spaniards to the Philippines.  At present, 85% of Filipinos are Catholics.  As a result, the Philippines is well-known as the only Catholic country in Asia.

According to Fr. Ysrael, when it comes to American colonizers, their biggest cultural influence is in the area of popular media.  Filipinos today watch many Hollywood films and US television shows like American Idol, Survivor, and CSI.  As a result, popular songs, dances, and books reflect American trends.  Another influence is language.  In fact, American English is considered the second language of Filipinos.  English is used for teaching, government transactions, and business communication.

Fr. Ysrael said that although the Philippines was colonized, there are still values and traditions that are unique and distinct to Filipino culture, such as the act of pagmamano or blessing as a sign of respect.  This is when a younger person takes the hand of an older person and lets his or her forehead touch the back of the hand of the older person.  Filipinos usually do this as a way of greeting their parents, aunts, uncles, or any older person.

Fr. Ysrael also stated that Filipinos find it hard to say no to an invitation to a party, celebration, gathering, or any occasion.  Filipinos do not want to offend the one who is inviting by rejecting him or her.  So instead of saying no, they say maybe.  Maybe means that there is a big probability that they will not come.  Also, a yes is not exactly a yes but maybe.  So, whenever you invite a Filipino to something and he or she says yes, you need to follow up on the invitation a few days prior to the occasion to confirm his or her acceptance of the offer.

Filipinos often gather to celebrate, and the celebration is centered around a meal.  Filipinos are festive people.  This in a way explains why they have a lot of feasts throughout the year.  Every region or province in the Philippines has its own fiesta or feast.  When there is a banquet, one can expect delectable Filipino dishes such as adobo, mechado, menudo, afritada, and lechon.  Of all the foods being served, lechon (a whole roasted pig) is the most common favorite.

After the end of the talk, many seminarians came to Fr. Ysrael and asked a blessing, the pagmanano of the Filipino people.  Fr. Ysrael ended his talk by saying, "If you want to know more about Filipino culture, better to mingle with the Filipinos or get the chance to go to the Philippines."