The Filipinos

By Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo |June 23,2017 - 10:11 PM


After almost a year of following up on the status of his report of birth abroad — a Filipino born in the USA that is — I finally got word that our third and youngest child had been registered as a Filipino citizen.

It was a cause of excitement in our home. I have a video of Nicholas saying that “JJ is officially a Filipino!” We were jumping up and down the bed when Antoinette asked me: “What’s a Filipino, Nanay?”

That discussion would have been easier if I just said that in some countries in Europe, “Filipinos” is the brand name of chocolate-covered biscuits or cookies. I learned of this in 2010 when my Spanish classmates in Shanghai told me that before they met me, a citizen of the Philippines who refers to herself as a Filipino, all they know about “Filipinos” is that they are snack food sold in supermarkets.

I didn’t know if I should have been offended or amused. I settled on amusement as I told them that Spanish sardines and Vienna sausages are sold in cans in the Philippines.

I “Yahooed” — not Googled because there was an issue between Google and the Chinese government around 2010 impacting the use of the search engine for those living in mainland China — the name “Filipinos Cookies” that same day and what I read piqued my interest.

In 1999, then Congressman Heherson Alvarez claimed that naming these chocolate-covered cookies after the people of the Philippines is offensive because its color, “dark outside, white inside,” is a reference to our skin color. Then-president Joseph Estrada called it an insult to the Filipino people. A diplomatic protest was later filed to the Government of Spain, the European Commission as well as Nabisco Iberia, the cookie manufacturer.

It looks like nothing ever happened to that protest because the cookies are still on the shelves of supermarkets today; and the president who called the cookies an “insult” was convicted of plunder and sentenced to reclusion perpetua by the Sandiganbayan in a 211-page order. This same former president is currently the mayor of the City of Manila.

That, to me, is an insult.

A major one — and it’s not even covered with chocolate or coated with sugar.

Inside the children’s room that night, I stopped jumping with the boys and told them to sit down so I can tell Antoinette about the Filipinos, the citizens of the Philippines.

I told her that the Filipinos are a strong race with the power to dream and turn those dreams into reality when they work together in the spirit of teamwork, honesty and creativity. I’m writing the explanation in one sentence in this column, but it has been extremely challenging to explain this to her. My daughter is three years old. She’s turning four in two weeks. While this is happening, her twin brother is standing by the foot of the bed and the baby brother is lounging inside his crib listening to the conversation.

“Are you a Filipino, Nanay?” she asked again.

“Yes,” I replied.

“What about me and Toni?” Nicholas piped in.

“Yes, you are. As Filipinos, you need to learn the national anthem, read the stories of our heroes, speak more Bisaya and eat Filipino food,” I said.

They stared at me as if I was talking in an alien language, and then Antoinette stood up and said, “Manindog ang tanan. Ibutang sa walang dughan ang tuong kamot ug atong awiton ang nasudnong awit (Let’s all stand. Place your right hand on your left chest and together we sing the national anthem).”

We all stood up, including the baby in the crib, and we sang “Lupang Hinirang” with fervor burning.

Afterwards, Nicholas announced: “Please be seated for the next part of our program — dinner!”

Served that night were home-cooked chicken adobo and utan Bisaya.

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