By Leani M. Auxilio
New York City
College students with Filipino heritage from all over the East Coast gathered together to join this year’s Phillipine Independence Day Parade, wearing red, blue, yellow, and white. In the sweltering heat, they gamely marched behind singer-actor Gary Valenciano’s float, smiled for the sea of cameras that stretched ten blocks down Madison Avenue, and chanted “We are FIND, we are Pinoy!” To those watching from their apartments and offices above, the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking and Dialogue organization must have looked like a living, breathing human Filipino flag.
I, despite just having had surgery done on my thyroid two weeks prior, was a tiny blue speck in that flag, screaming and laughing myself hoarse just like everyone else.
Though we were celebrating our 115th Independence Day that day, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is the Philippines truly free?
Instead of being in the homeland on June 12 to celebrate our Independence Day, we spend it in a foreign land on June 2 because living conditions back home would most certainly turn atrocious, near unbearable and bleak if those of us here were to return home for good. We do not even have the freedom to go back home, yet here we are in New York City, celebrating our hard-won victories over the Castilla, the Kano, and the Hapon.
Under the heavy heat of the sun during the parade, this was the thought that crossed my mind: Freedom remains an illusion for us, this gentle race of people who even up to now, 115 years after fighting for our freedom and winning, continue to name ourselves after the King who trampled upon our culture and stole land from our forebears. Though we have no physical colonizers these days, older Filipinos are still trapped, colonized within their own minds. We of the younger generation fare no better, as we are still searching for a collective identity that would finally, completely define us.
The Philippines is still not our own.
The fight for Independence is not over yet. It is just that instead of pitting our bolos and machetes against their guns, we are now waging war against our ghosts, our insecurities and uncertainties as a people. Our flag isn’t just a piece of cloth hung on a pole, waving uselessly in the air like a dead man hanging from the gallows. Our flag isn’t just red, blue, yellow, and white.
Our flag is a living, breathing, sentient being. One that not only laughs and screams itself hoarse at times when excited, but also one that cries and becomes outraged when faced with injustice. It stretches farther back than just ten blocks down Madison Avenue, farther back than when it was designed by Aguinaldo and sewn by Doña Marcela Marino de Agoncillo, Lorenza Agoncillo, and Delfina Herbosa de Natividad. The Philippine flag begins with the warriors who first fought to protect their families, lands, heritage and future against Spain, and as of this moment, ends with my generation.
We call ourselves the Filipino Renaissance. We are the Filipino youth, and we will make it so that true Independence for our nation will finally be ours. (Photos by Marivir R. Montebon)