Painting the Filipino Identity

By: Anchit Som

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Duterte, many pacquio, nba, drugs, tanduay, tuba, poverty, fishing, loans, debt, remittances. As the trip to this beautiful island of blue seas and starry night sky closes, my blog finishes with a deep introspection of what really makes up Jagna, the people. In due conversations with the Visaya speaking, strictly catholic crowd, at every point and every turn of the journey, I aimed to crack the Filipino identity. Ruben the owner of the barber shop points out that “We Filipinos don’t believe in saving but living day to day” while Myrna comments that “We Filipinos are conservative and care about what we think about each other”. The picture of Filipino if painted on a canvas would be painted in either two ways, the first being someone whispering into my ears how the nose or the jawline looks. The second would be pure observation with me painting a Filipino fisherman like Jack painted his French girls. Observation is so much different from just knowing about the pace of life and the way of life in this little village. Talking to my homestay and the people around here the picture that is painted is of a wildly conservative society wherein religious singing is done at 3 am. While the local boys who I hang out with seem to wear t-shirts of bob marley, smoke at the age of 13 and drink tuba at 10:30 am. I do not deny the subjectivity of the word conservative but I do wish to explore the contrast between the identity I see and the identity Filipinos create for themselves.


Ruben is a profitable business owner in the sense of having the most popular barber shop and having the most number of customers. His life philosophy of enjoying life, chilling and spending time with his friends and family seems too idealistic. Philosophically speaking hedonistic pleasures cannot exist without a pinch of struggle, and idealistic lives cannot exist without any utilitarian issues. When you start to paint Ruben, you realize a shade of lies, a shade of happy arrogance and a will to defend the identity that all Filipinos want to conform to. I won’t call it wrong because identities are all what people have, you are a projection of who you want to be. But for an outsider, the Filipino way of life is just a pencil sketch and you wouldn’t fill in colours till the time you actively seek to paint a more vivid picture. Ruben’s ignorance of his problems have led him to a situation where he wants to be content with what he has. In the general sense that my first blog highlighted, Filipinos might seem content with what they have but in actuality they have chosen this way of life due to dire circumstances. Professor Beau holding his son dearly to his arms on the Tubud Mar Beach said that the Filipinos might say that they are very happy with their life and don’t want to earn more money, but think about it, who doesn’t want to earn more money.

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Jagna Barber Shop is filled with people who deeper in their minds and lives wish to improve. We mapped customer journeys to understand the buying profiles of our customers. We even created buyer personnas, to identify who exactly would walk into the shop and who would not. All the research points to a clear observation that we have two Jagnas not one, a Jagna of the past, deeply rooted in tradition and a Jagna of the future, looking forward to the nuances of modernity. Almost any society has been faced with tribulations like this, may it be Hong Kong shedding off a Chinese past to create a westernized Chinese image. It could also be India, with morality, values and traditions opposing people wanting to hold hands in a more open society. The customers of the barber shop want an AC, they want a better trimmer and they want to clean up the flock of hair lying around on the floor. However, the sense of identity of wanting to be content with what they have is an ideal of the older Jagna which is slowly changing. When we questioned Ruben on his accounts and how much money he saves, we realized that despite his handsome earnings he has to take loans. And even deeper investigations revealed an archaic Bombay 5-6 group of Indian moneylenders whose interest rates are 60% and whose name strikes terror in the hearts of the people of the town. Though kings of microfinance, all of Bombay 5-6 activities are illegal, and dictatorial Duterte has issued warrants against them. The entire town’s local economy functions on money outsourced from relatives working abroad and moneylenders sourcing money from Bombay. This is uncanny and unusual for any society as there has to be at least some means of production to create a self-sustaining society Regardless, this unique situation gives us a painting that is one of a kind and the colors are not blue, yellow green but a more complex turquoise, violet and cyan.


The dynamic nature of the town does not allow for the painting to be static hence our consulting team decided to help the business in the places which need the most attention. Me and my work partner Emma setup an accounting system to help Ruben along with a saving system such that he does not have to take loans. We also found new sources of revenue in tie-ups and side businesses such that the barber shop can utilize its existing customer base. While the attempt to crack the Filipino identity fully might not have been successful, my aim would be to leave atleast a small blot by my efforts in the painting of Jagna regardless of who paints it.



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