What do you call a people ignorant of its heritage?
How do you approach a society that is apathetic on things related to its culture and history?
You get shallowness, materialism, poor taste – you have stupidity. In the metropolis we live in, the general daily human experience has evolved into a deeply banal routine bereft of any immersion or exposure to a living cultural heritage. Traffic, pollution, billboards, the inanities of local TV and radio shows, our lack of parks, open spaces, our dead river and polluted bay, why even our language and practices (especially our malling culture) – these all contribute to the “bobo-fication” of our people.
Wala na ba tayong ginawa kundi mamili? Kumain ng ramen? Manood ng sine? Makinig ng contemporary music?
Wala na ba tayong nagawa kundi pag-usapan ang traffic at ang MRT? Wala na ba tayong nakita kundi mga nakahubad na katawan sa EDSA? Will we live our lives continuously seeing the same celebrities’ gigantic smiling faces on our thoroughfares?
What is the key that will break us free from all these symbols of our kababawan?
Culture. An appreciation, an embrace of our cultural heritage, integrating it into our urban planning and our public policies will break the chains of our ugly metropolitan experience.
These recent weeks, however, Manila’s cultural heritage has again been making news not for anything positive but because of various threats that continue to deride its important place in society.
We have lost so many countless structures and art works due to wars, poor urban planning and natural calamities. But we have also elected/selected persons or patronize organizations and companies that proactively destroy or alter our heritage as a people. What is more distressing is the passivity of the great population! Alas, we have entered into the vicious cycle that will be so difficult to break.
What will be the chances of our city saving its heritage structures when you have a generation of citizens born into a city with no sense or indication of heritage?
Examples of desecrating, tampering or blatantly destroying our cultural heritage speak of our incapacity to elevate our appreciation for loftier ideas or causes. It describes what we are as a people: shallow.
It is a dream indeed for many to fight against corruption or to fight poverty. It is a noble cause to work hard, spending countless hours in the office for one’s self or for one’s family. Through your own hard work, you are able to travel, try new restaurants, buy the latest gadgets and clothes and buy houses or condominium units that have filtered environments.
Where does cultural heritage play in all of these? Well, in our current situation, none.
In cities like Singapore (ironically more cosmopolitan than ours), Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Madrid, London, Montreal, and so many others, cultural heritage is a daily experience. From preserved edifices, classical concerts, dignified monuments, amazing vistas and even street signs, many aspects of urban living abroad touch on or optimize cultural heritage and patrimony.
The recent news of the construction of the Torre de Manila, a monstrosity that will now destroy the skyline that serves as backdrop to the Rizal Shrine, the demolition of portions of the Army Navy Club, and the eventual uprooting of the Simon de Anda rotunda (though this one is not really bad) all speak of our ignorance or apathy towards the finer details of heritage.
How will our country move forward if the first thing we impinge on “for the sake of development/progress” is the very soul of our country – our culture?
Enough is enough.
It’s also about time that the vanguards of cultural heritage preservation step-up their game. It’s no longer enough that we work within the comforts of familiar territory – our advocacy groups, the academe, social media groups. It’s about time we become more courageous enough to follow the footsteps of our first heritage conservationists, those who stood up for the Jai Alai Building, the Mehan Gardens, etc. Younger heritage conservationists or aficionados should distance themselves from developing images either of “elitism” or at the other extreme being “hipsters/indie” because both will not help the cause. Solid foundation – research, experience, continuous study – as well as the basic skills of corporate professionals (marketing, customer orientation, finance, strategic planning) can prove tactically helpful for the cause of cultural heritage preservation. Enough of the whim, enough of being reactive and enough of being “artsy” because the time will come when the places we love to simply take photographs or talk about or paint or draw will just disappear.
We need to do so much more to protect the tangible, and most importantly, intangible aspects of our story as a people.