Publicado el 31 de agosto de 2010
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Reflection on the Asian Citizens Assembly: Our Commonalities and Shared Responsibilities

by Benru Z. Martinez, PhD
Charter for Human Responsibilities and Practicing Asian Anthropologist
on Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One of the realizations in my participation to the Asian is my renewed appreciation on our commonalities as Asians, our shared culture, and the growing Asian consciousness and share responsibilities as Global Citizens. Traditional anthropologists have focused on the diversity and complexity of Asian culture. More often than not, the focus is on village community level. This may have been the legacy of colonial anthropology, which focused on differences rather than the commonalities of cultures across, the sub regional and regional landscape. There is therefore a need for a balanced perspective, one that combines inquiry on the diversity and complexity on one hand and an inquiry on the universality and commonalities. Researchers also need to examine the relationship or the tension between diversity, commonality and unity. There are several areas of commonalities and shared responsibilities as Asians, these include the shared environment, common biological and socio-psychological needs, shared cultural heritage and interconnected economic and political history on sub regional and regional area. The impact of Asian pop culture and Asian Diaspora both in and out of Asia may have significant impact on the growing Asian consciousness.

Shared Environment

The sharing during the youth and intergeneration sessions and breakout groups identified the shared environment as one concern. The Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the China Sea, with the shared borders with each other across Asia were identified as share concern and responsibility. The issue of climate change and the associated risks and disaster has become a concern among the youth. Disasters such as the tsunami that affected Thailand and Indonesia, or the Earthquakes that hit India, or the floods brought in by the La Nina or drought as a result of the el Niño are all part of the climate change.
The sushi that we ate in Tokyo, Japan came from the yellow fin tuna or blue marlin that was hatched in the Gulf of General Santos in the Philippines, coming around the seas of Indonesia and Malaysia, and getting around China Sea before coming back to the Philippines to lay their eggs. The cycle then starts all over again. The migratory sea turtles travelling the East Australian Current, the migratory birds escaping the harsh winter environment from China, Europe and America going to the wetland of tropic Asia are part of the shared environment and protecting them from extinction is also part of our shared responsibilities for the ecology.

Common Biological and Socio-psychological Needs

All of us need to eat, sleep, be recognized as an individual, belong to a family or have a family of our own, study or have a self respecting livelihood. The sharing during the off sessions reminded me of these commonalities. Anthropologist often says, all human are alike, some human are alike and no human being are alike. All of us are descendants of common ancestors who first walk the plains of Laetoli, Africa. We are said to have evolved from the Australopithecus Afarencis, Homo Erectus, Home Habilis and then later the Homo Sapiens. The migration to the different parts of the world and the isolation from each other resulted in further biological differentiation as a result of adaptation to the environment. From the Austronesians, Negroid, Tibeto-Burmese, Aryan came the different racial stock of the Asians each sharing specific combination of genetic make-up and physical attributes. The Filipinos can be mistaken for Indonesian or Malaysian or vice versa. This is in the same manner as we often mistake the Indian with the Sri Lankan. The people in Jordan, Iran or Azeri can be confused with the other nationalities from the region. The increase interaction among different nationalities, migration and intermarriage has contributed in increasing the genetic homogeneity. Nowadays, we can find Malaysian Chinese in France or a Hawaiian with Japanese Descent or a Filipino American in China. This was also apparent during the Asian Citizens Assembly.

The most important realization here is that beyond the colour of our skin and other physical attributes is that, we have same biological and genetic constituency and that our biological and socio-psychological needs are universal and that culture and identity defines how society must respond to these needs. The cultural response may look different in form but are often have substantive similarities. Even as we speak different languages, there are other forms of communication which let us express our needs through gestures and body language.

Share Cultural Heritage

Sharing on the language among the participants, have shown the extent of cultural affinity. Indonesian, Malaysians and Filipino, as part of the Austronesia or Malayo-Polynesian find similar words that were often thought to be unique in their language. We also find the South Asian (India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) to some extent sharing different aspect of culture such as religion (Islam, Hindu, Buddhists), or even the food we eat. In the same manner that the people of the Greater Mekong sub region or West Asia also shares different aspects of the culture of the region.

Interconnected economic and political history

However, there are other aspects of commonality that are often conveniently ignored or side lighted. These include the shared historical experience of the Asian Countries with western colonization. Most of the current political and economic issues within each country and sometimes with their neighbours can be traced to the legacy of colonialism. The ethnic conflict in Mindanao in the Philippines, Aceh and West Papua in Indonesia, Nagorno Karabak in Azerbaijan, and elsewhere in Asia is a result of the conflict over land and access to resources. The colonialist imposed the regalian doctrine and in one sweep disenfranchised the indigenous people from their land. It is from this legal fiction that provided the state with the justification for claiming the power of eminent domain. The colonial rule also transformed the native elite, who were instrumental in perpetuating the colonial rule. This eroded the traditional social and economic safety nets often associated with the role of big man and traditional leaders.

Asian pop culture, Asian Diaspora and other modes of cultural exchange

The sharing among participants about their interest in each other’s pop culture validated my previous observation on the globalizing impact of Asian pop culture, role of Diasporas and other mode of cultural exchange. For instance, the Filipino youth fondness of Korean or Japanese pop song has generated strong interest learning their language and understanding their culture. In the same manner, Indonesian youth had become a fan of popular actors such as Christian Bautista or Jericho Rosales, actress Christine Hermosa of boxer Manny Pacquiao. As a result, they have learned the songs of these popular pop icons in a language that is foreign to them. Other popular Asian actors and actress such as Carmen Su of Malaysian, Kim Bam of Korea, Jerry Yan and Barbie Su of Taiwan are phenomenal hits in other parts of Asia. The enthusiastic appreciation of the different cultural presentation during the Asian citizens Forum also validates my observation about their acceptance of each other’s culture, whether pop or traditional. In the process, the youth discovered that youth everywhere share the same angst, needs and aspiration, as seen the different Asian Telenovela, such as the Korean coffee prince or the Taiwanese meteor garden of F4 which also has a Japanese and a Korean Version. Exposure to western pop culture also enable them to observe the difference between the western and Asian cultural perspectives, albeit in a more subtle and intuitive manner.

I think, one of the factors for the growing acceptance of each other’s culture is also due to the pervasive presence of different Diasporas in almost every part of Asia. There are Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Indonesian migrant workers in almost all countries in Asia and outside of Asia. They are often constituted, as small communities or as virtual communities, and serving as a platform of cultural exchange, sharing specific items of their own culture to the host communities. The diapora is also assimilated into the culture of their host communities. These overseas virtual communities or Diaspora also share some aspect of the culture they acquire from the host country to their home country or their community of origin. Other members of the Diaspora include the Filipino domestic helpers and care giver in Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia and even as far as Azerbaijan also impacts on the children and youth. Filipino teachers, doctors and nurses also have significant impacts in the education and health. Each one of them is carrier of their respective cultures and impacting on their host country.

Other mode of cultural exchange that contributes to the globalization of Asian identity and culture include tourism. Asia has been increasingly a favoured destination for other Asian countries. We can find horde of Korean, Chinese or Japanese in Laos, Thailand, Philippines or Indonesia. Tourist has different motivation for visiting these countries. Aside from sightseeing and experiencing the hospitality of the host culture, these countries also cater to specific needs such as medical tourism or educational tourism. Koreans, Japanese or Chinese have found the Philippines a good place to study English. Aside from the reducing the cost of travel and matriculation, they find the Filipino hospitality better compared to the western countries.

The Role of Asian Citizens Assembly

The Asian Citizens Assembly can play an important role in identifying and developing the shared spaces that Asians can work together not as representatives of specific ethnic identity and cultures or nation but as Asians and Global Citizens. The current trends in Asian pop culture, where pop icons significantly impacts on the youth can be ambassador of goodwill and can have significant influence in developing a cultural identity and sensibilities that good beyond the traditional cultural and national borders. During the conference, the exchanges among the participants about their favourite Asian actors, actress or athlete have globalizing impact among the youth.

The inter-generational dialogue has expanded the platform of intercultural exchange to include pop culture and aspects of culture that are often not included the international conferences and dialogue among the soon to become senior or senior citizens. The youth and retired youth most of the time does not care about diplomatic protocol and do not have hats and mask to protect. They can be free of the diplomatic trappings that hinders sharing and exploration of common grounds for understanding and cooperation.
As a retired youth, I can empathise with the youth and their youthful arrogance, an attitude that Senior Citizens find revolting as they seek to liberate themselves from the bounds of tradition and old school. As incoming Senior Citizens, I think that the youth also owe the older generation the respect and filial piety they deserve. They should also recognize that there are lessons to be learned in the past so not to be repeating the same mistakes of the older generation. The intellectual and social capital of the older generation can be put to good use. Younger generation can also learn from the mistakes and improve on the gains and accomplishment of the older generations.

Having worked with international organizations seeking to eliminate poverty in Asia and the Pacific, and the rest of the world, there are good social development programs that can be emulated. These social development programs also includes the social and environmental safeguards that enhance the sensibilities of the official development assistance package that in the past displace the marginalized people and created pockets of poverty as a result of displacement and differential access to resources or disparity in the enjoyment of benefits. The issue of graft and corruption in the governments of Asia is one concern that international organizations have increasingly become aware and has contributed to empowering the different stakeholders, which include the marginalized citizens by providing avenues for informed participation not only on the program implementation but also in the governance process.

As Global Citizens in Asia, we can learn from each other. The different environmental, social development, political and economic initiatives can provide examples on how to or how not to design, manage and implement programs and project. As individual citizens it is our shared responsibility to become aware of initiatives in our country that can improve our lives but also we should be aware of those which hinder our development. We can in our small ways advocate for change and become part of the Asian movement and economy that seek to replace social, political and economic institutions with one that is oriented for inclusive and sustainable development. This development paradigm has triple bottom line of development or planet, people and profit. This concept can be merged with the thematic areas of global and local action as discussed during the Asian Citizens Assembly, or the 5 E or Ecology, Education, Economy, Equity and Ethnics. Each one of the E has important contribution in promoting the shared vision of the participants of the Assembly. We can only hope that the energy and enthusiasm can be carried forward and the participants when we come back to our own respective country will implement the shared vision and mission, and the activities we have set for ourselves.


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