You ask me if I agree with what Nick Joaquin said in his essay “The Heritage of Smallness”, and here’s what I think- yes, it is true. He wrote the truth about our people in the 60’s, and when you read it now, it seems to be written for this age. And we have read the truth which was supposed to set us free. Then why are we still chained to this heritage? Why are we where we are now?
How far have we come as a nation? After many decades since it was written, have we overcome this smallness mentality?
Joaquin wrote about our peculiar traits and how we deal with the issues of our daily life, and how we deal with other matters as a people- from our economic principles, urbanization and development, political culture, and even art and culture.
Let’s start with our economic and financial principles. If there are a hundred streets in one town there will be more than a hundred sari-sari stores. The ever venerated virtue of buying in tingi is prevalent, deeply rooted, and shows no sign of dying down. The omnipresent sari-sari store that has been there since the childhood of our ancestors is the proof of our unwillingness to expand, or apathy in business, or perhaps the fear of going beyond our financial capacity due to ignorance, henceforth, we settle for mediocrity, to something that can provide immediate solutions to our daily needs.
He mentioned our hallowed patience with the use of inconvenient vehicles such as the jeepney- another product of our ingenuity and at the same time the proof of our failure to go beyond the needs of our forefathers after the Second War. Since our liberation, we haven’t replaced our jeepneys with anything that is more efficient, or even our system of transportation has never evolved.
Now that I mentioned it, let’s talk about the ever growing monstrosity of
’s traffic, or
that of Calamba, Los Baños and Manila . Words are not
enough to describe its indecency, and our disregard to employ a decisive and
effective action to solve the problem. As long as it is not expensive, or as
long as we are able to get up early to face the two-hour traffic and reach our
destination that is simply San Pablo City 5 km away from home,
we will stick to the system. Joaquin, in his essay, was describing the same
thing, but he described what was happening in the 60’s.
We have an MRT that is the cause of a cue so long and gruesome, the liners are so cramped it should be considered crime against humanity.
As for urban development, the government keeps on chopping apart regions, towns and provinces. And even now, it’s the same trend- a strategy to generate government funds and to be able to govern efficiently over districts and towns. Towns and provinces, ideas introduced by colonizers, are downsized to baranggays once again. An urban devolution you might add.
It’s the same thing with our pop and contemporary culture. Joaquin said that Filipino authors have mastered short story, and that there are few novelists in his time. What do we have now? Cheap stories written by insignificant pretentious Wattpad pseudo-writers, list of best-seller books that includes that of Liz Uy but no books by F. Sionil José, some write-ups by radio or TV personalities about frivolous things.
And don’t get me started with Philippine mainstream movies that are not anymore about the stories written by screenwriters, but more like a 120-minute product endorsements with special participation of a son of an anomalously famous tactless self-proclaimed queen of media.
It seems like I am only repeating what Joaquin wrote. But that’s the point- I am repeating this because we have a very small memory storage and we keep on forgetting certain lessons of our past because of one thing that surely sums all of our dilemma as an individual and as a people- we are a people with a short-term vision.
We do not appreciate the benefits of long-term investments. We do not see the decline of intelligence because we are entertained by foul mediocrity in literature and culture.
They say it’s because of our ningas cogon attitude. But ningas cogon attitude is the result of our present-oriented mentality. The concept of future is not part of our labour, finance and political cultures. It’s an alien concept but a favourite rhetoric.
It causes us to be divisive in politics and in governing. Instead of subduing a people under one command, we choose to rebel against an authority, split it into many factions and rule over that small portion of power. And this is why we have political dynasties in each province- households of power ruling over their little realms, pursuing their own little vision for their own little territory. And you ask why we can’t reach a future goal as a nation?
Despite the fact that this heritage of smallness is deeply rooted in our psyche and culture, it doesn’t mean that it is a hopeless situation. There are significant signs of progress- a generation of young urban professionals who are starting up smart and long-term investments; indie movies; new breed of writers who are proficient in Filipino, English, remarkable creativity and originality, and impeccable mastery of grammar and spelling; the long-term economic reforms of Gloria Arroyo that became fruitful during the Aquino administration; a breed of young political leaders who have the right set of principles and priorities.
As long as there are signs such as these, the descent towards the abyss of nothingness is hindered.
But is there a cure to our social malaise? Of course! It’s education and openness to innovation. The ilustrados and the learned men in the past who had epic visions of the future of a free people and a free nation understood that they had to battle against smallness, and that they must have a wider scope in their fight for the freedom of the archipelago. It was because of education, of having seen things beyond the borders of their little baranggays, of having compared what they have that we don’t and acquiring such techniques and bring them back to where they came from, so that they’d be able to grand things.
It is high time that we stop treading the earth under the shadows of mediocrity. It is time to get up not as a baranggay, but as one great nation.