BY JOHN TOLEDO
There’s a specter haunting the Filipinos today. I came across its presence when I stumbled upon a Facebook post by Gio Caligiua, a fellow scholar in the university, one cool September evening.
He was analyzing the emergence of #Filipinx and #Pinxy. This month, media made a buzz about Dictionary.com’s standardization of these words as the name, term, or signifier for all native inhabitants of the Philippines! Imagine, we will be calling ourselves Filipinxs if we want gender-neutrality.
Gio observes that Filipinx is rooted in US multiculturalism where gender neutrality is part of the culture’s consciousness. Implying that we shouldn’t be surprised at all by the popularization of such word because Filipino Americans are battling the system of gender oppression and racism in the United States. Ergo, carve a name for them, Filipinx. He adds that the suffix of -x can be read as homage to gender-neutrality of Filipino culture (doubtable because we are still haunted by the specters of patriarchy, misogyny, and gender discrimination from the Church and the State). US made it just more explicit. Then, he says we should not act like purists in our country crazed by the conflict between national and regional languages, for calling Filipino a language is problematic because it’s really just Manila Tagalog.
It is quite unsettling at first to encounter new words. And to read them on a Facebook post critical of “Filipino” itself as a national language and conflicting it with our identifier of ethnicity, seems quite a lot to handle. I put on my glasses, opened the libraries, and for once, read on why this word seems to be popular among Twitter users today.
The practice of gender-neutralizing all gendered words began in the 1960s with the purpose of supporting gender equality. Though we may see Filipinx as something to be celebrated for its obvious acknowledgment of gender-neutrality borrowed from the Latinx and Chicanx communities in the US, we must resist such adverse essentializing of our identity.
If we use Filipinx here in the Philippines, many people, referring to the 110 million Filipinos (named and recognized by Catriona Gray in representing Miss Universe Philippines 2018), would bat an eyelash. Probably in shock of such a strange word, they would immediately resist such naming. Think of it too when applied to the department where I graduated, Departamento ng Filipinx at Panitikang Filipinx (the millennial child in me might even ask, “Is Filipinx the Pinoy version of Winx?”).
Absurd as it may seem, these Filipino American digital natives have proved once again the naming power of the American establishment to coopt identities in their own sense. Haven’t we learned from history? The Philippine revolutions… the massacres… the campaigns for sovereignty… our fight to wield the Philippine flag, sing the national anthem, and freely express the song “Ako ay Filipino.” To legitimize Filipinx as gender-neutral is to efface and silence Filipino as gender-neutral.
Filipino, despite the letter o in its spelling denoting maleness, is not quite the same as before. Especially in 21st century Philippines, the ethnic identifier denotes a collective identity, a mass of people –
Indigenous peoples, women, peasants, fisherfolk, working class, unemployed, youths, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, non-binary, and many more. Filipinx alienates us who produce and reproduce language on the Philippine shores.
I told Gio that Filipino transcends binaries and should be acknowledged as a gender-neutral word. Even though we have other gendered words such as Filipina, Pilipino, Filipina, Pinoy and Pinay, Filipino is us instills that collective consciousness which ties us to our fellow Filipino by mere ethnicity.
The Filipino is inscribed and involved in the conditions of crisis throughout history (colonization, Martial Law, pandemics, extrajudicial killings, US and Chinese imperialism, and global war on terrorism).
The Filipino endures as our local way of seeing, despite its origin to King Philip II of Spain. Filipinx is Filipino American and should be redefined in the Dictionary.com as Filipino American usage.
The Filipino also sees that she/her or he/him is “niya” and “siya.” The same words are also found in Bisaya and Hiligaynon. In Ilocano, “kunana.” What could be more gender-neutral than the Philippine languages itself spoken by our fellow Filipinos?
American culture invades our linguistic agency. However, I am not dismissing the fact that we need gender-neutral terms however, isn’t it much more empowering if we own the word Filipino than recreate a post-postmodern name that alienates many of us? I lodge this question to fellow Filipinos in the virtual world to be more nuanced in sharing or engaging with something viral as #Filipinx.
I noticed that in America today the term for people of African descent has returned to identifying as “Black.” They used previously African-Americans, as more neutral than the word for color black itself. However, with the rising number of murders and police brutalities in America among members of the black communities, we saw how they owned again the word that used to be oppressive.
Why can’t we own “Filipino” like that? Why can’t we equally use the three together, Filipino, Filipina, and Filipinx, as all simultaneous ethnicities in different realities across the globe? Despite the deeply rooted conflicting debates on national language, the resolution is simple. Acknowledge that language is fluid and that it is lived and constantly shaped by a community of speakers.
As long as we let the specter, called excessive political correctness, haunt social media, we will always fall in the trap of the “woke” whose opinions are immediately validated by hashtags, likes, shares, hearts, and retweets.
After a string of comments on his post, I wasn’t able to talk again to Gio. But this message responds not only to Gio. We, the Filipino virtual community, have to resist this Western hype and empower our languages in the Philippines. We are all Filipinos. Our concerns are more deeply rooted in our social realities than the post-postmodern neutralized revision Filipinx. Isn’t it much more important today to battle the rhetoric that our mother nation is a province of another nation?
Have we really broken the chains that oppress and colonize us even in language, or are we seeing another symptom of what is yet to come? (Bulatlat.com)
John Toledo, 27, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities, University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Very good piece, John Toledo. I urge you to continue this discussion with colleagues in UPLB and elsewhere in the Philippines.
To Bulatlat staff: I wrote a similar comment about this article earlier, but there’s no sign of it here. What’s the problem? If you can’t post it, can you at least relay this to the author?
Good article, John Toledo! I hope you can get a discussion going about this among colleagues and students in UPLB and elsewhere in the Philippines.
Thank you Bulatlat.com!