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Understanding the Concept of Statehood

When I was in college – before I tried out for and was taken in by the football team – a visiting Danish boys’ team played an exhibition match against the school’s varsity selection. I did not find it extraordinary that a group of adolescent boys were being pitted against a full college team. The adolescents were, after all, Europeans. Not only did they match the college team for physique; they were equal also in terms of football playing skills.

What I found quite extraordinary was that – to the last boy – everyone had blond hair. This, I later learned from a teammate who went with a Philippine youth team that trained in Denmark, was typical of the citizens of this Scandinavian country. In fact – my teammate told me – people in Denmark turned their heads to look at them just because they had jet black hair.

Oh, that explained a lot! I used to think we turned our heads to stare at white-skinned people because that was the perfect behavior for people who supposedly carried a colonial mentality. In fact, I belatedly realized because of my teammate’s story, it was just a natural reaction to seeing something out of the ordinary.

This happened in the mid-seventies, mind. How things have changed! Just the other day, watching the Danes play the Dutch in the World Cup, my eyebrows shot straight up at the sight of this Danish player named Poulsen. He was quite dark for the archetypal Dane! I immediately suspected an African connection.

I mean, there were dark-skinned players among the Dutch, too; but the Dutch were among history’s foremost colonial masters. There is a historical context to their having colored citizens. The same does not apply to the Danes, even if their Viking forefathers gallivanted all over Europe and – probably – even North America.

I suppose the world has truly and simply shrunk because of modern travel. Peoples have also been given the excuse to move all over the world because of the intertwined economies of their nations.

Even the German team currently in South Africa has dark-skinned players. Some of the names at the backs of the players’ jerseys are unrecognizable as German. They are not, of course; they are Polish, Turkish and Slavic. Hitler must be turning in his grave. On second thoughts, he is not. He’s spinning like a top!

Suffice it to say that concepts of statehood have changed considerably compared to those of even just half a century ago. The average person, of course, confuses statehood with nationhood. This is perfectly excusable; and, indeed, the latter is more easily recognizable because it has form and structure.

When I was a little boy, we had cousins from California stay over at our house inside the Base. They – naturally – spoke English as a first language. My facility for that language was still not quite established then. Thus, I could not really communicate that much with them.

What I vividly recall of my cousins – I have not seen them since – was that if they were asked what their nationality was, they would insist they were Americans. Being a small boy, that was a bit too much for me to comprehend.

I mean, as far as I could see, they looked like Filipinos. Same hair, same eyes, same skin... In fact, I was, probably, even lighter-skinned than them. We would naturally insist they were Filipinos. This was utterly unacceptable to them, brought up as they were in an American neighborhood and taught as they were that they were Americans. Ethnicity and family connections no longer mattered.

Because we, as a people, are like the Jews, I am sure everyone has a similar story to tell. The truth is, it does matter what color a person’s skin is or if one’s hair is black, blond or red. What matters is what one thinks one is.

This, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up what statehood is. It is all in the head! It is people collectively thinking of themselves as one, influenced – perhaps – by their having lived together in a common territory and their having shared a common history. A common language binds a people together as well.

In the modern world, statehood is no longer as clearly defined by territory as it used to be. Hence, there are Filipinos who have lived away from these beautiful islands for decades; but they continue be Filipinos in their heads and in their ways. There are even those who hang on to their citizenship. They all continue to be part and parcel of the Filipino state.

Opposite to this, there are those living within the bounds of this nation’s territory who have – sad to say – stopped thinking of themselves as Filipinos. Thus, to this day, we continue to have secessionist movements. It is so easy to brand these secessionists as villains. Yet, what is frequently not even asked – and this may raise eyebrows – is whether they, as a people, even at any point in history ever thought of themselves as Filipinos. History, it has to be said, is littered with more than enough stories of minority peoples forced to accept others’ hegemony.

For instance, take the case of what used to be the country Yugoslavia. That was as artificial and as volatile a nation as there ever was created after the end of the Second World War. For decades, although ethnic differences were vast, the federation of Slavic states was held together by the iron will of the nation’s leader, Josip Broz, a.k.a. “Marshall Tito.” When he died in 1980, all hell broke loose! Ethnic differences came to the fore and the former federation was torn in horrendous civil discord.

Despite decades of living together as one nation, the ethnic groups inside what used to be Yugoslavia never really got around to thinking of themselves as one state inside their heads. As a state, Yugoslavia never went beyond artificial.

In the World Cup, two of the ethnicities that emerged as independent states from Slavic strife are represented: Serbia, the largest of the former Yugoslavia; and Slovenia, the smallest. The teams representing these two nations are still racially homogenous.

So far…

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