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mendoza_pahiwatig_the_role_of_ambiguity_in_filipino_

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Unformatted text preview: Palsiwatig: The Role of “Ambiguity” in Filipino American Communication Patterns S. LILY MENDOZA LEARNING OBJECTIVES After reading t/Jis cloapter, students will be able to: ' understand a pattern of cultural communication that involves indi- rect verbal and nonverbal skills that differ from mainstream North American culture; ' develop a more complex awareness of the differing assumptions and values associated with differing forms of communication and be able to interpret accordingly; and ' consider power context as an important factor in making sense of communication behavior different from one’s own, and helping promote mutually empowering intercultural relations between indi- viduals and groups coming from different cultural backgrounds. Filioino—Englisly dictionaries generally give tlae words “not/J” and Yellow— oeing” as translations ofkapwa (Panganioan J 972; Enrigaez J 979; Odulio de Guzman 1968; Calderon J 95 7). It slyoald be noted, loowever, tlsat wben asked for tlJe closest En glisl.) equivalent of kapwa, one word tlJat comes to mind is tlJe Englisl.) word “otlJers. ”However, tlye Filipino word kapwa is rvery diflérent from tlye Englisl; word “Of/.7673. ” In F ilipino, CHAPTER S. LILY MENDOZA kapwa is toe unity of tbe “seér’ona’ “ot/aers. ” TlJe Englis/y “others” is actually asea’ in oppo— sition tot/7e “self” ana’ implies the recognition of the sef as a separate identity. In con— trast, éapwa is a recognition of slyarea’ identity, an inner self snared with otlJers. —Enriquez (1992, p. 43) emf: aloiwatig or fakiraina’anian (roughly, sensing or feeling each other out) consists of the 3 ,1 5.“va fa. whole complex of indirect verbal and nonverbal patterns of communication among Filipinos. A huge concept in Philippine culture, it has myriad ramifications in relational devel- opment, the handling of conflict, and the maintenance of social relationships in general. This chapter examines the experiences of first—generation Filipino Americans with regard to this specific element of intentional ambiguity in their sedimented patterns of communication as they navigate their way through mainstream North American culture. Using interviews, the study focuses on the informants’ perceptions of the common contexts of enactment of this indirect form of communication, the kinds of adjustments they have had to make given the difference in their communicative practices from that of the US. mainstream, and the impact (if any) that such adjustment experience might have on their sense of ethnic identification. When Words Don’t Mean What They Say A story is told of a seventeen—year—old Filipino exchange student named Tony. It was Tony’s first time to visit the United States. The Thompsons, his host family, were quite eager to meet him. His flight came in around eight o’clock in the evening. After the usual obliga— tory introductions and pleasantries, Mrs. Thompson asks Tony if he would care for some dinner. Tony sheepishly casts his eyes to the floor and mumbles, “It’s alright, Mrs. Thompson, I’m not hungry.” Taking his word for it, Mrs. Thompson proceeds to show Tony his room, the bathroom, and some towels and asks him to make himself comfortable. That night, Tony goes to bed famished. It proves to be quite a long night as he is kept awake by a growling stomach. It turns out he hasn’t had dinner and is indeed feeling quite hungry. “Say what you mean and mean what you say” is a commonplace truism in typical North American culture. But confronted with a situation like the one above, how is one to respond when other rules seem to apply? Was Tony merely being shy, too embarrassed to really say what he meant and therefore deserving of such treatment until he learned to speak more honestly? Or should the Thompsons have been more sensitive and read between the lines instead of taking Tony’s words at face value? But how could they have known? Is it possi— ble something else was going on? Consider another incident: A well—meaning White North American missionary assigned to the Philippines is noted to have made the remark that Filipinos generally “can’t be trained for leadership.” Why? Because, according to him, their yes is never a yes and their no is not a no, “so how can you trust them?” The missionary’s sad conclusion was that “not until Filipinos learn to speak more truthfully will they ever be fit for leadership and become role models of candor and honesty.” These responses, with the negative ascriptions assigned to the communication, are not uncommon among those from other cultures encountering Filipinos for the first time. The problem is particularly dramatic because language in this case is not the usual source of «.in PflHIWA/TIG the barrier (the Philippines being well-known for its facade of westernization and profi— ciency in English). Rather, something else inexplicable in the culture tends to be seen as the culprit. As one scholar (Maggay 1999) notes, “This intractability of the Filipinos interac— tive patterns tends to be misinterpreted by those used to starkly direct forms of communi— cating as rather roundabout if not downright devious” (p. 11). The result therefore is a mixture of frustration and exasperation, if not blanket condemnation of the whole culture as being “inefficient,” “confusing,” and simply, “duplicitous.” A well-documented phenomenon among scholars of culture, this peculiar pattern of “indirect” communication is known as making pabiwaz‘ig (roughly, “sensing” or attempting to send a message indirectly by putting out feelers). Another Filipino word for it is paéi~ mmdaman (feeling each other out). In Philippine psychological and anthropological litera— ture, one finds the phenomenon being linked to a complex cultural logic ordering human relationships based on a constellation of core beliefs and values that have to do with paéiézfagkapwa—tao (a way of being human with another) (cf. Alejo 1990; Alegre 1993; Enriquez 1992; Maggay 1993; among others). Denaturalizing Culture While the phenomenon of pabiwaz‘z'g has been extensively studied within the homeland con— text, a similar investigation has yet to be conducted in the context of Filipinos who have migrated to the United States. Here then is an exploratory study meant to develop some begin- ning understanding of the phenomenon as enacted among first—generation Filipino Americans. An interesting question to ask in this regard is: To what extent do Filipino Americans who have been in the United States for a period of time continue to use palzz'watz'g or patimmdaman in their communication with others? And, relatedly, to what extent is such communicative practice deemed to be expressive of their sense of ethnic identity as Filipinos? Culture, as anthropologists over the centuries have noted, operates mostly in the realm of the unconscious, that is, cultural insiders are mostly unaware of the sea of assumptions, values, beliefs, and practices they’ve been socialized to embrace growing up. The usual default position is to regard one’s learned habit patterns and received beliefs and ways of looking at the world as not just one among many, but as the only logical (reasonable) response to a world believed to be of a certain given nature (Geertz 1973). Hence, it is but “natural,” for exam— ple, that if you want to say something, you should say it unequivocally (read: directly with— out hedging, in verbal terms). Not until one encounters a different cultural system than one’s own (either by going abroad, meeting others from a different culture, or undergoing life expe— riences that seem to defy logic and all the normative rules one has come to hold) does one’s taken—for—granted world begin to get denaturalized and become Visible as perhaps only one of many other ways of being and doing. We therefore begin to think consciously about the patterns of our own culture only in comparison with something quite different. In the case of Filipinos, cultural self-awareness has been prompted mostly via the expe— rience of colonization under Europe and the West (i.e., under Spain for more than three centuries, and under the United States for half a century; as a US. neocolony for much longer). The resulting clash of cultures, along with the racist denigration and attempted era- sure of the local indigenous culture by the colonizers, caused Filipinos to suffer a crisis of identity that inevitably led to a passionate search for their own culture.1 In this struggle for 153 S. LILY MENDOZA self—understanding, Filipino scholars have sought to make sense of the cultural differences between Filipinos and their colonial masters—differences that have often been used in the past by the latter to prove superiority and justify domination. To date, there is a flourishing indigenously based scholarly discourse on Filipino culture and identity2 that is slowly but steadily displacing centuries of degrading colonial interpretations of Filipino culture and identity. It is this literature that is referenced here to help shed light on the more empirical findings and experiential reports of the Filipino American informants interviewed. Participants For this research project, ten informants were asked to share their experiences with regard to the Filipino communicative practice of pa/ai-waz‘ig. The informants were randomly selected from among this author’s contacts based on their willingness to take part in the study. All the infor- mants selected are first—generation Filipino American immigrants, thereby representing most vividly the sorts of changes and cultural adjustments Filipino Americans have had to make in the course of immigrating. A set of loosely structured, open—ended questions were asked of each of the participants, with interviews conducted either Via telephone or e—mail. Where needed, followup phone calls were made to Clarify certain points or to ask for elaboration. Because this was not intended to be a systematic survey using a large number of sam- ples, findings may not be generalized to the whole Filipino American community. The goal of the study, to reiterate, is a beginning exploration of the phenomenon of palpiwatig among Filipino Americans mainly by taking a look at the experiences of a selected number of infor— mants in this regard and, one hopes, gaining insight to be used as a takeoff point for fur- ther study. Once again, given that cultural insiders are often unaware of the hidden or underlying logic of their own habitual behaviors, it becomes necessary to complement analy- sis of the data by referencing other scholarly literature on the subject. Contexts of Pabiwatig From the responses of various informants, several contexts may be identified as instances Where pabiwatig is enacted as a communicative practice. Among the most salient that emerged from the interviews are the following: pabiwaz‘z'g as (1) a way of maintaining social relations; (2) a finely calibrated response to differing power relations; and (3) an indication of distance or closeness of social relations. “Ambiguity” as Social Maintenance Asked whether they were familiar with the practice of pabiwatig or pakiramdaman, all ten respondents answered “yes.” They were then asked to identify general contexts or situations in which they find themselves (or other Filipino Americans) resorting to the practice. Sunny, a freelance writer and editor, writes, “I think we Filipinos resort to this type of communi— cation (i.e., paéimmdaman) in our attempt to accommodate the people we are talking with, not to offend or displease them, or not to reveal our shortcomings or ignorance about some- thing.” She adds, “It is especially true if we have to impart negative news or make inquiries.” Likewise, Kristin, a computer analyst in Detroit, notes that Filipinos tend to use pa/yiwaz‘ig PAVHIWATIG or paéimmdaman “when they try to avoid arguments or confrontations.” Leny, a writer and professor, observes, “We use pabiwaz‘ig to avoid embarrassing someone; to save face, not wanting to appear demanding, not wanting to put others in a position of discomfort if they are not (yet) able or willing to meet the other’s need.” She adds, “There is also the wish not to offend or hurt the person’s feelings because to hurt her is to hurt our relationship.” The same sentiment is shared by Mae, a university researcher, who says, “We do it because we do not want to offend the other party.” She further explains: “This is already part of Filipino culture; we tend to be overly sensitive to the feelings of others so we’re careful not to hurt them (in the same way that we don’t want to be hurt by them either)” (as translated from the Filipino original). In all of these cases, one finds a delicate concern for the feelings of others, and con— versely, a similar expectation that others would be equally sensitive toward oneself. Jesse, a thirty—year resident of New York, reiterates the notion of “saving face” (for oneself or some— one else) by saying, “We resort to pabiwaflg when we are too shy or embarrassed to say what we have in mind or to avoid an outright rejection. By making paiziwaz‘z'g, we avoid getting an instant ‘no’ for an answer while at the same time, saving the other person from having to respond right away.” Several explanations have been offered by social scientists for this seeming sensitivity and over—concern for the feelings of others. Filipino psychologist Bulatao (1992) locates the underlying logic in the differing senses of self or identity between (typical North) Americans and Filipinos. He offers the analogy of Filipinos as being so many fried eggs in a pan whose experience of the self consists of a “core” (the yolk) but with the outer core (the egg white) blurring into/with the outer cores of other eggs in a coterminous fashion. Americans, on the other hand, are likened to so many hard—boiled eggs whose individual shells protect their autonomy and who then exercise the option to either open themselves (or part of them— selves) to others or not at all. Thus, it is concluded from this that for Filipinos, the “other” is part of oneself also and therefore care must be taken not to hurt, offend, or cause distress or embarrassment to someone since doing such would be tantamount to doing it to oneself. Among Filipino psychologists, this notion of a collective or communal self finds expres— sion in the core concept of kap'wa (roughly, shared inner self). Enriquez (1992) explains: Filipino—English dictionaries generally give the words “both” and “fellow—being” as translations of [€51pr (Panganiban 1972; Enriquez 1979; Odulio de Guzman 1968; Calderon 1957). It should be noted, however, that when asked for the closest English equivalent of kap‘wa, one word that comes to mind is the English word “others.” However, the Filipino word éapwa is very different from the English word “others.” In Filipino, kap'wa is the unity of the “self” and “others.” The English “others” is actually used in opposition to the “self,” and implies the recognition of the self as a separate identity. In contrast, kapwa is a recognition of shared identity, an inner self shared with others. (p. 43) The use of pabiwaz‘ig then, within this context, is consistent with a desire to treat the other with the same regard and consideration as one would care to be treated since the other is not really a separate being but actually part of oneself. Particularly in cases involv— ing delicate situations, Maggay (1999) finds it to be a “way of easing difficult interactive transactions” thereby enabling the culture to maintain mabuz‘ingpagz‘utunguban 5a [z'pumm 156 ,_,_.. p.\ ”.4..\ /‘ My» - S. LILY MENDOZA (good, wholesome social relations). Indeed, as Maggay underscores in this regard, it is “a way of confronting painful aspects of our social relations while maintaining maximum con— cern for the kapwa tao (fellow human), that sense of the ‘other’ whose inner self one shares and identifies with” (p. 22). She warns, however, that this should not be mistaken for a shallow concern for “smooth interpersonal relations,”3 of surrendering one’s deeply—held conviction (paninina’igan) for the sake of maintaining “surface harmony” or “saving face” (p. 23). Rather, she clarifies: Given the Filipino’s wholistic orientation, which sees the part as also the whole, “face” is more than just one’s public image or social standing; it is the seat of one’s integrity of being, one’s dangal [honor] or pagkatao (personhood). In this sense, to expose some— one to public shame, or z'pa/Jz'ya, as with a good dressing—down or a no—holds-barred verbal fireworks, is not only to violate social boundaries; it is to cross that invisible line where personhood suffers degradation and demands redress. (p. 24)4 Indeed, it is when that line is crossed that one begins to encounter other lesser—known aspects of Filipino culture, namely, its confrontative values.5 The section that follows describes situations when accommodative values give way to resistance. A Calibrated Response to Differing Power Relations Another context where the use of pabiwaz‘ig or the “indirect” form of communication has been noted by the study informants is in situations involving perceived differential power positionings of participants in a communicative interaction. Take for example the following observation from Sunny: “I think Filipinos tend to resort to this type of communication depending on who they’re speaking with and based on the following factors: seniority in age and/ or social status, familiarity and personal relationships, gender difference, etc.” She relates, for example, how she tends to (unconsciously) modify her language and communication depending on whom she’s speaking with. Kristin, for her part, notes that she tends to become more indirect in her communication “when intimidated [by someone in a more powerful position] and kept from speaking out.” An interesting incident narrated by Joy, a senior stu- dent adviser, is the following: A co—worker who is my senior did something which humiliated me in public. [Because I didn’t want any trouble] I just went to the restroom [and cried in secret]. [Then I went back to my work] as if nothing happened. But she can feel the animosity from then on because [I’m no longer the usual pa—sweetums towards her], just very civil. . . . [She will really feel the brunt of my] cold—shoulder treatment without [my] telling her. [with partial translation from the Filipino original] Sunny ventures an explanation for this kind of accommodative response in the face of authority, saying, “This may be a legacy of colonialism, the hundreds of years that we’ve had to survive under several different ‘masters,’ when the wrong answer or action could lead to negative consequences or even sanctions where there are persons of authority or of higher status present, etc.” Maggay (1993), concurring with such an explanation, deems it impor— tant to draw a careful distinction between what she terms “core values,” which she consid— mM WWW PAHIWflTIG ers integral to the culture, on one hand, and “survival values” developed as mere coping strategies in the face of domination, oppression, and marginalization, on the other. Scott (1990), in his volume, Domination and flag fln‘s of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, warns that surface compliance (often in the form of silence or outward acquiescence) in the face of authority must never be taken at face value; instead, one must learn to look for the “hidden script” of resistance within the official script often wrought by the strong and powerful.6 An example of such a combination of acquiescence and resistance is noted by Maggay (1999) in the case of Filipino seamen who “stolidly suffer verbal abuse by their superiors.” She notes, “Beneath the display of docility is cunning recalcitrance: Filipino seamen have been known to spit or boil socks for soup when preparing food for their high—handed officers.” She con— cludes, “The lack of verbal protest is no guarantee of submission or capitulation” (p...
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