Sunday, September 7, 2008

National identity and tourism

Why do tourism meetings I attend always turn out to be a collective pondering over national identity? At a recent gathering of the National Capital Region (NCR) Tourism Councils, at the Paranaque City Hall, I had resolved to speak less and listen more inasmuch as the City of Manila was represented by someone else in the first two meetings. People trickled in mindless of the time so it took ages to form a quorum; but I could not complain as I myself had arrived late , having underestimated the distance from Manila to Sucat.

When the meeting was finally called to order and minutes approved, a Paranaque constituent asked for the floor and began to tell us about their cultural projects like preparations for the coming feast day of Our Lady, the revival of Paranaque’s once famous embroidery industry which specialized in “pina calado” ( an exquisite sample was passed around) . A barangay captain brought in a few sepia photos of scenes of Paranaque during the crepuscular years of the Spanish Empire, which reminded a young lady resident that the last salt beds of Paranaque ( two endangered hectares) had to be preserved so future generations. Another person clamored to protect the last mangroves from irreversible destruction.
Then history came into the picture when , for some reason, the Caloocan representative said that Gregoria de Jesus was born there and that she went to Manila probably because she had become involved with the Katipunan. I could not resist finishing the Gregoria story so I said that after Andres Bonifacio was killed in Maragondon, Cavite, she married his aide-de –camp, Julio Nakpil, and they spent the rest of their years in the house of Ariston Bautista in Quiapo where they raised a large family.

Before we knew it, the NCR Tourism Council was discussing Filipino national identity, its weaknesses and how it should be strengthened through the opportunities given by sustainable tourism development. It all became clear to us, the histories of cities and municipalities comprising the NCR are so intertwined , geographical and political boundaries so porous and traditions so similar that the council should draft a cohesive, collective tourism plan that will benefit the whole and all its parts.

A week after that, I was invited by the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) to lecture on tourism to a Saturday class made up of professionals, diplomats, educators, media practitioners and writers. As an advocate of cultural, historical and heritage tourism I started out by telling them about a recent anniversary of a day care center in Tondo ran by a foundation with the assistance of teachers from a nearby university. When asked to give a message, I decided to address the children, aged five to nine. I asked them in the vernacular for the name of our country. They became pensive but no one gave an answer. I was perplexed because we had just sung the national anthem. Neither did I get a response when I asked for the name of the city. However, when I asked for the name of the barangay captain, a chubby grandfather type sitting with other local officials, they all screamed his name with genuine affection.

Where does one learn about the country? Maybe we take it for granted that pre-school children know that they are citizens of the Philippines so there is no conscious effort to teach love of country, no deliberate attempt to instill in the very young the values of patriotism and nationalism; my country first; my country above all. Someone exclaimed that she learned love of country at home, where else? If you do not learn that at home, then you must learn it in school, I ventured. The room resounded with lamentations, almost like a weeping and gnashing of teeth, about the dismal state of education in the country today.

The subjects that were assiduously taught to us before merited an hour each-- Philippine history, civics, social sciences, art appreciation, English phonetics—but are now lumped together, ostensibly to give more emphasis on science, math and English, preferably via computer. So, if you don’t learn how to love your country at home, if it is no longer taught in schools, where can Filipinos learn about who and what they are? Could tourism be used as a didactic tool? Through tourism, can we acquire a sense of place and eventually a “pride of place”? Hopefully, “pride of place” can lead us to love of country. By promoting cultural, heritage and historical tourism for the domestic market, will this strengthen our national identity? (

No comments: