Kano is a term that Filipinos in the Philippines use to refer to a White person regardless if they are of American or European descent. This tale was inspired by true events, specifically by Thomas Gregory, a U.K. journalist who was assigned on a short-term editorial mission in the Philippines. Thomas wrote the book, The Genius of the Poor. In this book he recounted stories of resilience and lessons of hope he had learned from his 12-month stay in the Philippines among the so called, poor.
Josh was 19 years old when he first set foot in Manila, Philippines as an exchange student. He worked hard to get his upper middle-class parents to even consider the thought.
Despite living in California, his folks had never had any close relationship with any Filipino American except for the neighborhood mailman who they described as polite but drove like crazy as if he were driving on the freeway.
In school, Josh found himself hanging out with some Filipino American kids. He was quite amused by their talent, they either sing or dance and kept decent grades. He also learned from them that any type of colored rice is fake rice. White rice is the only way to go, period. When visiting his friend’s home, Junior, he knew to expect his friend’s mother to ask (not invite) him to eat every 2 hours. This part he didn’t mind since munching on cereals on most nights can be a drag. He’s still friends with Junior to this day (just in case hard times hit 😊).
Most importantly, what attracted Josh to his Filipino American friends was their close family knit and how they needed space from each other but not as much as he was used to at home.
This began his quest to learn more about the Philippines…
The Jeepney Ride
Mr. Ricky, Josh’s sponsor dad was hard working, middle class family man. He had 3 other children, owned a sari-sari (General Merchandise store) and a car. On his first month stay, Mr. Ricky drove Josh to the University but made sure to carefully point out to him jeepney stops and places where he shouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in.
On the second month, and on the first day that Josh had to take the jeepney to school, he made sure that he wrote down all of Mr. Ricky’s instructions, and fed his pre-paid cellphone with P300 worth of load (credits) just in case.
Josh didn’t expect this particular morning to be very busy. When he finally got on the jeepney, he was sweaty, and the smog of the passing jeeps consumed him entirely. He was able to spot a seat second to the end of the bench close to the entrance. He tried to remove his backpack, but he was sardined between passengers while he was knee-to-knee with the one seated directly across him. He was glad though that he remembered to drop his fare coins in his pocket because there was no way that he could reach them in his backpack without injuring another passenger. Josh waited about 2 minutes before he reached for his coins, then he pivots to his right to the direction of the driver. And, as he did this, his backpack hit the person behind him and he profusely apologized, “ Ay, sorry po.” He tried to stand but he could only stand half-way with his knees bend. Awkward position to the say the least but he thought he was doing what any responsible passenger would do-pay their fare. He slowly moved in this awkward position, passing 7 people in his row and 7 people across him. The other passengers didn’t say anything, but he thought their faces looked pained. Alas, he reached the driver and breathless he managed to say, “bayad ko po, “and with the same awkward position walked back to his seat.
Josh was pissed, I mean, what kind of system is this? In America, you simply drop a coin in a machine or flash your pre-paid card for convenience. This was no rocket science and you don’t have to be a rich country to make this work, he thought. His sweat was the size of peas and he had lost his patience. At this time, the person next to him got off the jeepney and a young Pinay took the spot instead. Quietly, Josh felt relieved that it will be someone else’s turn to be humiliated. So, he waited and watched…
He felt the Pinay reached for her pocket. “Here comes the show,” he muttered arrogantly. The Pinay counted her coins and simply said, “Manong, bayad ko,” and reached out her hand with her palm close-fisted. To Josh’s surprise, the person next to him, reached out to grab the coins from the Pinay, and then someone else reached for it, and another one, until it reached the driver! Josh watched with open jaw. He felt like a fool!
Filipino Americans and Their Jeepney Ride: A Reflection
Josh was not truly foolish. In America, his ways were totally the way to go. Can you imagine riding the bus and passing your fare to the person next to you? They’ll probably say, “thank you,” and keep the change or get offended that they looked like they needed the change. Go figure.
That jeepney ride in the Philippines make sense. Everyone was accustomed to reading each other with minimal cues. Everyone was expected to do their part to get to a collective goal of making sure everyone’s fare reaches the driver. This took watching other people, practice, and a crowd of people giving you cues growing up. You learn what’s an appropriate thing to do, when it’s ok to rely on others, in fact, expected to and when you’re on your own.
In America, sometimes we expect our children to read our cues without much practice, observation and a crowd of teachers teaching them how to do certain things a certain way. In their homes, they are expected to behave like the Pinay in that jeepney- reading your cues without question, without fault, without your words to guide them by. Outside the home, they are the Kano who should be as independent as possible while relying on others only in dire need.
Can we be more open to a hybrid way of teaching our children? While incorporating Filipino Core Values that are important to us, is it possible to be open that in America, they are no jeepneys available outside the home and that buses ran rampant and are the only main mode of transportation? Is it also possible to teach our children directly the ways of the jeepney while lowering our expectation that at times, they can forget and act like the Kano in that jeepney ride?
I will leave you these questions to ponder. As always, these postings are generated with you in mind, and with much thought and care. Stay well.