Finding My Cultural Identity

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Posted March 4, 2019 from Philippines

There is a story behind my new profile photo. 

I am simply blown away by the way Sister Sophie wears her traditional/national clothing. I admire how artistically she wraps a cloth around her head and match it with an equally striking dress. Her beauty is enhanced by the way she represents her Cameroon. 

When I look at the photos of our World Pulse sisters, I am fascinated to see how you showcase your cultural dresses. In those moments, I ask myself, “How about me? What should I wear to represent my country?”.

As a Filipina, I am identified with our flag; however, I had been somewhat confused with my local identity. 

The Philippines is a culturally-diverse nation. In school, we were taught we have 7,107 islands. Recently, it was discovered we have 7,641! 2,000 of which are inhabited.

We have at least 150 languages and dialects with Indigenous People (IPs) belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups. 

We haven't factored in those who have mixed blood from foreign colonists (American, Spanish), invaders (Japanese), traders (Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, Arabs, etc.), and tourists.

Both of my parents traced their lineage from Cebu City, tagged as The Queen City of the South. But they claimed we have a mix of Spanish and Chinese from our ancestors. It is seen by our skin color, our huge body built, and our height being taller-than-an-average-Filipino.

It was a puzzle for me what traditional wear to use. Every tribal group has their own unique designs. Which one should I choose?

My biological sister suggested a Malong. 

Oh, how could I have forgotten! It was apt because it is a traditional clothing used by tribes in Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines

Being born and raised in Davao City, I consider myself a Mindanaoan, a unifying totality of all those tribes. A malong is commonly used across tribal and non-tribal groups; across Muslims and Christians, too. 

This tubular clothing is measured at least 165 x 165 cm. Women wear it as a dress, while men wear it as pants. Yes, it is genderless! #balanceforbetter

 A malong is considered as a versatile cloth because of its many uses. Try watching “100 Ways to Wear A Malong" (https://youtu.be/MpCm7KGxzhI) to find out. For more info, click this link (https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/owKCDBBzFibtIg)

In Muslim communities, it is used across classes, from ethnic royalties to hardworking laborers. The Malong is also popular in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. 

I’m happy to find my identity as a Mindanaoan. I now have a traditional wear  to showcase my country.

My cultural identity is now represented by a malong. Metaphorically, it advocates equality in gender, status, and class. It also bridges gaps and connects with Asian countries. 

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, I wear my malong with confidence for I am proud of my identity.

I am proud to be a Mindanaoan, a Filipina, and an Asian. 

 Above all, this vibrant, versatile material makes me raise my voice to say, “I am proud to be a woman!”

This story was submitted in response to Change Starts With a Story.

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