In the recently held election, there was an issue raised in our city about identities of certain major candidates. It was not a question of ethnicity because that is too big – the notion of a group of people sharing a cultural trait; rather, the question was who is to be called a Nagueño. The idea being in these questions and concerns is the assumption that only those who are from Naga have the right to administer the city.
We always have this notion that the locals have the right to rule themselves. For it to be otherwise is almost a smaller version of colonialism or imperialism.
And yet the questions persist: who has the right to be called a Nagueño? What makes a Nagueño?
We call this tendency to rigidly separate groups of people from each other essentialism. The essentialist in a sense generalizes about how different we are from each other, how crucially singular or unique is the Nagueño from other human cultural groups.
For those who have gone abroad and have met some Bikolanos, have you not noticed how some would readily identify themselves always as from Naga? Picture this conversation in the plane:
“Where in the Philippines are you from?
“Ah, where in Bikol are you from?”
“Really, I am from Naga, too. Where in Naga do you live?”
From that response the dialogue drifts. Either you say, “Ah, really…” Being Filipinos and, more so, being Bikolanos, we seldom pursue the topic. We do not want to embarrass the person we are talking with so we do not tell him to his face: “But Magarao is not Naga!”
When I started writing my essays and began collecting tales from Ticao, the island of my birth, my aunt – the sister of my mother – called my attention about my claim as a Tigaonon, a toponym for anyone or anything related to Ticao. She reminded me, well almost reprimanding me, that I was no more a Tigaonon or somebody from Ticao because I never grew up there. She was correct: we left the island when I was in Grade 2.
Indeed, I finished my elementary years in Naga, completed my high school and college in this city. After graduation, I worked for some three years in Naga. I left the city when I was 26 and spent more than forty years in Manila. Now, here is the personal scenarios I painted for myself: When I was in Naga and when I am here, and people asked me about my origin, I would tell them, I am from Ticao. In Manila when people ask me where I am from, I tell them I am from Bikol, in Naga. Extend that abroad, when a non-Filipino asks me where I am from, I would say, “The Philippines.” But if it is a fellow Filipino who would ask, I have two options: “I am a Bikolano” or “I am from Naga.” Probed, I would finally say, “but I was born in San Fernando, in Ticao.”
Giles Deleuze, the philosopher, asks this question: “How many people today live in a language that is not their own? Or no longer, or not yet, even know their own and know poorly the major language that they are forced to serve?”
Well, at least, I speak the language of Ticao, I am able to write in it, I can intellectualize myself in it. But if we follow Deleuze then I also live in the language of English, which is not my own. The only difference is that I know excellently the major language that I have, by colonialism, forced to serve.
Our concept of space has changed. With that change, our notion of location and geography has also shifted. We have been deterretorialized. It is already difficult presently to define the local from the regional and the smaller territories to the global.
Migration and globalization are two forces that have affected our notions of origins and directions. Where did we come from and where are we going?
When a Bikolano migrates, he does not cease to be a Bikolano. He has changed abode or geography but he would still consider himself a Bikolano.
Listen to what Arjun Appadurai, an Indian-American anthropologist famous for his works on globalization, says in his 1990 essay “Disjuncture and Difference”: “Deterritorialization, in general, is one of the central forces of the modern world because it brings laboring populations in to the lower-class sectors and spaces of relatively wealthy societies, while sometimes creating exaggerated and intensified senses of criticism or attachment to politics in the home state.”
Listen to the “Balikbayan” and the OFWs with their “exaggerated and intensified senses of criticism or attachment to politics” in the Philippines of their imagination.
The Filipino who lives abroad is either severely critical or emotionally attached to the cultures and politics of Philippine societies. Most of these attachment and memories, however are, well, memories or imagined.
Listen to them rhapsodize about the past, of their childhood. If there was poverty in childhood, the remembrances of those days become gilded. The simple food that they used to despise becomes now the haute cuisine of their recollection. There was even a FaceBook post from a y0ung lady who missed the dust on the streets of her beloved city!
For those who have left Naga, they could still be Nagueños as they post old photos of their childhood and adulthood in the city. For those who have come and have resided here in this city, who can stop them from claiming to be Nagueños?
For good or bad, after the unique showing of the opposition votes from this city in the last election, many wanted to be – like us – Nagueños. Or Nagueñas.