These words I hear every now and then from other Filipinos I encounter make me mentally berserk. My blood pressure skyrockets. My vision gets blurry. My raging emotions just want to grab the closest thing I can see and whack these people on the head. This is not the Igorot blood wanting to take revenge for the insults thrown at me or my forefathers, but more on trying to knock some sense into these people’s thick skulls for their rudeness and ignorance. However, as much as I want to be physically brutal, my privileged upbringing from a civilized culture somewhere in Mountain Province in the Philippines deters me from losing my cool. Instead, I look at them straight in the eyes and calmly state three things. First, I am an Igorot believe it or not. Second, I don’t look close to what you have in mind. And last, stop giving me that incredulous stare like I am an alien from another planet.
You would assume Filipinos living in a multicultural city like Vancouver don’t have discrimination against their own skin colour and ethnicity. Yet, you are wrong. Having to withstand the prejudice thrown at me numerous times for being an Igorot makes me wonder how some Filipinos still have these misconceptions about what a true Igorot looks like in this 21st century. The stereotypes against the Igorot people who are also Filipinos by blood are so tangible that education about who we are and what we look like seems inevitable. Yes, this is probably the defamed side of me being defensive. So, I apologize in advance.
We, the Igorots, are the indigenous people in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. Contrary to what some Filipinos believe, Igorots are beautiful, tall and not dark-skinned. We are not super short or “pandak” as you claim us to be. We don’t have thick, kinky hair which I wish I had believe it or not. And sorry for the upcoming disappointment either, we don’t grow tails like monkeys. Yes, the “g-string” or “wanes” that you normally see Igorot men wear on special occasions is not a tail. That hand-woven piece of cloth you are making fun of, that is us being proud of who we are. That is our trademark, our tradition, our values you are mocking.
Of course, the obvious difference between us is we don’t take pride in throwing derogatory comments to our coFilipinos. We are refined, educated people who know better than to discriminate our own skin color. We are civilized, and we don’t go around making hideous assumptions such as how Igorots should live in the mountains and shouldn’t inhabit this beautiful city. Regrettably, it is hard to believe that no matter how we try to prevent discrimination against us Igorots, there are still these ghastly presumptions difficult to eliminate. What’s more outrageous is the fact that whether we live in the Philippines or somewhere miles away from home doesn’t make any difference of being victims of ethnic discrimination by some Filipinos.
In a nutshell, this short rant you just read is my two cents to people who have met an Igorot or will meet one in the future. It is beyond wrong to make assumptions of what we look like or how we have lived in this society. That refraining from labeling our own blood with negativity should be reinforced for us to coexist together with the different cultures found in this foreign land. Having said this, I look forward to that day when I no longer have to defend myself for being an Igorot or explain why my physical appearance contradicts whatever some Filipinos have constructed in their minds about what Igorots look like. 🙂
Photo credits to my friend Baw-i. 🙂