When labels don’t define you

Here’s another take on “you are where you live“, a subject I’ve pondered on quite recently. It’s an encompassing yet limiting statement that fail to give justice to those who have reasons to remain where they are. Not everyone leaves out of necessity. Just as not everybody stay because they don’t have a choice. People do what they do. And things are just what they are.

But in a time when globalization takes center stage, never has the backwardness of thinking seem bent on finding ways to reassert itself.

Not all states progressed equally. And with that, there’s no surprise to existing as well as emerging hierarchies. It doesn’t have to be rubbed in the faces of people who are born where they are. It’s a fortune that must have a reason, regardless of how rich or poor the nation’s circumstances may be. A country’s economic profile doesn’t necessarily speak of the kind of people who live there.

I have much respect for rich nations and rapidly developing countries. They must have figured out something far more quickly than others to effectively steer their countries toward prosperity. But for those who remain wallowing in poverty and struggle day by day to get out of the rut that’s their country’s economy, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame it’s people for ills and misfortunes by virtue of nationality.

People of every nation, whether knowingly or unknowingly, seem to come in labels. There are instances, however, when certain tags speak more of a country than the person. A label sometimes acquire the unfortunate weight of sweeping generalizations. When that happens, short interactions fail to reveal personal stories. Thus only preconceived notions remain.

An incident a few months back reminded me of the challenges of being labeled. I committed a mistake while doing a volunteer work I regularly do for a sport. I’m solely responsible for that unfortunate incident. Because I knew I could’ve done better had I come more prepared. Then and now, I offer myself no excuses.

It’s not a pleasant experience to be called stupid Filipina and many other things in a language you don’t understand. However, I found a few good things from it. Like not everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Before I caught myself labeling a group of people as rude and inconsiderate, I focused on the goodness of the interpreter who was with us. I saw how uncomfortable he was with the chatter. I knew he was filtering words and meanings so as not to further humiliate me. More importantly, I felt his sincerity. There’s this one person who managed to show me what kindness is all about. He even apologized for something he wasn’t involved with in the first place.

Being called stupid stings whatever the reason may be. But I hang on to the thought that I’m not above being stupid. I make mistakes, but I do learn from them. I may be stupid at a given moment, but I don’t intend to be stupid for long.

No, it’s not a sin to be born from a poor country despite the stereotypes that are sometimes put into spotlight when one steps away from home. The only real tragedy is to remain poor for lack of effort or to remain ignorant subject to the policies of leaders who don’t have any business running a country struggling to develop.

I am a Filipino. I love other countries, but I’m not ashamed to be a Filipino. I consider myself lucky to have the chance to step far from home and learn how not to depend so much on labels when interacting with others.

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