By Ysh Cabana
There’s a good story that illustrates the energy young people exude.
How do we intend to replace the bad rotting system of self-interest and to realize the change we want for the Philippines with youthful vigor? Let’s take a cursory look.
I. The youth has its potency but since it is a sizeable, heterogeneous group, it also has limiting factor: they have flexible class interests. The present lack of unity among us is an apparent weakness. There is so much diversity in perspective and practice.
Youth come from various background, and more than half of the population of the Filipino community in Canada come from this sector. Their social circumstances vary since they can be found working in broad occupational patterns. Being a member of a certain class is not a passive state, youth’s consciousness is something that can stagnate or grow depending upon which environment it is nurtured.
Will we ever have a united front? In assessing the past efforts to bring together people from a wide spectrum, a section of the young people are profuse with dialogue with anyone that cared to engage without any clear objective.
In the past decade, the work in organizing cross-Canada to talk about topics garnered from the broader Filipino community has often been undertaken by a group of activists: Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas (2001), Pagsulong (2006), State of the Filipino Union (2009) and often with the support from other groups such as academics: more recently Young Filipino Canadian Leaders Summit (2014) and Filipino Canadian Action Research Summit (2015).
Has change already taken place? These collective encounters still deserve recognition to be markers of the re/orientation of the Filipino youth (and student) movement in Canada. Repeated failures may have not turned out to the radical system change we aspired to achieve, but we continue to move forward to victory, and not another failure. That is precisely directed against the neoliberal containment state, a government whose foreign policy is corporate extraction of resources and trade is trumping everything including oppression of people (i.e. imperialism).
There is a need to get to the ground with forms of organizing that actually acknowledge the dynamic of everyday life with our conditions of living, that is economic, of which these interests are constituted.
II. The youth is at a critical point of identity and ideological formation. The youth have been at the forefront of each new era. This is one of the lessons of our people’s history.
If we are to explore how Filipino youth forged and live identity, we have to examine our roots, not in a mythical pre-colonial indigenous past, but in the intergenerational struggles for liberation. This includes construction, performance, acceptance and rejection of being and becoming Filipino ourselves and by others.
The youth are the bearers of traditions, customs and cultural heritage. Furthermore, they are the bellwethers of the next generation. Standing as the wellspring of the mass movement, the values of determination, enthusiasm and idealism that young people imbibe also penetrate deeply to the challenges and controversy the nation face.
As literary giant Nick Joaquin wrote in his essay Culture and History: “The identity of the Filipino today is of a person asking what is his identity.” Discovering the timeline of our epic struggles, a young person would understand that we had matured politically. We are no longer foundling as we had learned from a civilizing Spanish-Catholic era our rights and responsibilities. When US granted independence to its colony fifty years after in 1946, a good number of Filipinos felt it was quite meaningless. In the following decades, a rapid growth of radical nationalism and student movement took off as a break in historical consciousness. In the post-dictatorship era, Filipino youth in the diaspora are a product of the community’s migrant experience.
Thus we interpret the 1896 Philippine revolution as unfinished. Over a century hence, the struggle for independence and liberation from colonialism and imperialism continues through the expression of international solidarity between people in the tropical archipelago and the people all over the world.
III. The youth is only political if they, through conscious critical assessment with other people about their relations to the world, act upon their concrete conditions. Knowing history, and eventual knowing oneself is one thing. Changing it is another. And because individual actions always affect others, practical activity is inherently political.
Youth hold within themselves the potential to be authentic actors for social change beyond the mere performative. Instead of considering young people as passive recipients of social charity, they should be encouraged to develop praxis–a creative actualization of oneself that pushes for reflective and reflexive action in order to make progress.
We strive to reach that turning point when we could have a society based on economic freedom and development rights. But any ideology is only as good as the masses of people who concretely meet existing needs based on objective realities.
Our nationalism stimulates feelings of rage and protest. On the other hand, youth are all too often extinguished by a sense of shame because of the invisibility of role models or inherent racism. So it goes: what kind of narrative are we now writing?
If we are to sum up what we need to study from our heritage is that heroic effort is a collective leadership. We are not short of examples of youth who took the side of the have-nots in this paradigm. Examples abound but there are just a few: the legacy of the Katipunan, the Kabataang Makabayan, the roiling flood of youth who have fled to the mountains have fiercely confronted the rough-and-tumble prejudices and discrimination against the oppressed workers, landless peasants, and indigenous peoples.
Just as they struggled hard and lived in the spirit of simple living, so are we also called to step outside our comfort zones to seize the world in unprecedented numbers in support of pro-people social reforms.
IV. The youth is only revolutionary if they engage in militant struggle. How do we march forward to a brighter future? The collective unlearning of old ways and learning of new ones is never a smooth process. We are never to ‘vegetate’ nor to give up on the kind of change we want to see because of the time it takes to be accomplished.
Forty-six years ago a series of student demonstrations against then President Ferdinand Marcos led to the declaration of Martial Law. Dubbed as the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970, it revved up the nationalist struggle at an epoch of worsening crisis in the country. It caught the attention of people even at the international scale.
From the FQS, many were baptized in the protest movement and would later be leaders in the campaign for democracy and independence in the Philippines. It was a watershed moment as huge forces joined the underground movement because of state terror, journeyed along mountain passes and fell down as martyrs in the countryside. Meanwhile, others in Canada continued to fight for people’s rights and emerged as community leaders in local issues in political economy.
Even in contemporary times, reportedly there is an upsurge of youth exposed and awaken by their social realities, then becoming born-again in the heartland of people’s war. The necessity to arouse, organize and mobilize groups of volunteers for trips from North to South is even more pressing with the seething global and Philippine crises.
So deep are our history of principled resistance that we can only touch on some points. But the sense of urgency is helping us to put down roots, blossom and produce fruits that are bound together.
In the last analysis, to allude a revolutionary, without a renewal of progressive-minded and militant youth linking arms together, a nation cannot have a deep effect on the politics, ideology, economics, and culture for a better next day.