Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for Manila Today

Two generations have dominated and are still dominating the early years of the 21st century. To borrow a few terms from American pop sociology, these are the baby boomers (our parents) and the millennials (our children). We stand in between these two generations which are separated by half a century. We act like a bridge that links the senior citizen baby boomers and the teenager millennials who continue to interact with each other despite their age gap in order to survive today.

Baby boomers

The baby boomers grew up in the turbulent years of the 1960s and early 1970s with many of them becoming anti-war activists and hippie rebels. Their radicalism pushed the civil rights movement into the mainstream and ushered the golden age of militant activism. But it also triggered a reactionary backlash in the 1980s that came to be known as neoliberalism. During this time, many of the baby boomers have become middle-aged professionals who replaced their limitless dreams of changing the world with the yuppie goals of owning a sports car, a house in the suburbs, a high-paying career, and a God-fearing family. But like economic bubbles, these middle class fantasies turned into nightmare when the proud baby boomers suddenly found themselves losing their homes, their jobs, and their life savings in the past two decades.

Today, they are already in their 60s yet they are forced to delay their retirement to pay for their health care and mortgage. They compete for jobs that give low wages without benefits; and they are desperately fighting to remain productive and relevant since there are no more unions that will fight for their welfare.

Millennials

Meanwhile, as the aging baby boomers struggle for subsistence in the selfie world, the millennials are infecting society with their youthful exuberance and naïve outlook in life. Like all the young people before them, they are still imbued with a rebellious spirit which is reflected in dizzying creative outbursts. But they were born at a time when excessive individualism has become the norm and self-centeredness is no longer seen as a sinful virtue. The young baby boomers thrived as a crowd while the millennials are always seeking recognition as trendsetting individuals.

The youth today are clueless about the power and relevance of the many since they grew up during the methodical destruction of collectives in society while the power of the one was being elevated as the supreme philosophy of our time. Sadly, this crass individualism is reinforced by the ubiquitous use of information technologies. Digital natives are so enamored with their app-hungry gadgets which prevented them from experiencing a more meaningful interaction with other members of the community.

Everything and everyone ends up being digitized today, and the millennials think it is fun without being aware of its thrilling impact on life in this world.

Bridge generation

What, then, shall we call ourselves – we who are no longer young but not yet old? We who dread the passing of the old world, we who disdain the reckless rise of the young, and we who claim that the future is ours for the taking. Are we doomed to affirm the legacy of the baby boomers while confronting the raging cultural revolution that will ultimately benefit the millennials? Is this our curse? We seem to be in the interregnum between great upheavals. Perhaps our historical role is to connect the old and new worlds.
We bridge the generation that experienced the horrors of war and the generation today that plays virtual wars. We were told by our elders to revive the affluent past yet we experienced only the fading away of this world. Our young could only refer to it as the mythical gilded age. Nation-building was the task of citizens who belonged in a collective (family, union, cooperative, club) but today it is supposedly the combined achievement of anonymous citizens. The mysterious “invisible hand”, it seems, has prevailed over the clinched fist at the moment.

Digital Natives

Our formative years were influenced by the omnipresent electronic media, and we thought we were the prophets who will herald the explosive growth of the mediaverse. We were nourished by the language of the old media and quickly learned the codes of the new media. But the millennials showed greater hyperactivity and natural adeptness in using the social media. When we were young, we used the typewriter bequeathed by the baby boomers whereas the millennials are using smartphones to process information. Even the desktop (that wonderful, complex machine that made our college years very productive) is now considered by the very young as an ancient computer model. The baby boomers are trying to be lola techies but at least many of them are still asserting the superior way of enjoying life in the real world as opposed to finding pleasure through simulation and automation.

Marcos Babies

In the Philippine context, it seems inevitable that our bridging role would appear to be political. We didn’t directly experience and witness the brutalities of Martial Law but our parents did. And despite their best efforts to hide from us what was really happening during that time, we internalized the rules of dictatorship through the behavior of people around us. We entered school while society was recuperating from the deadly blows inflicted by the Marcos regime. We can never testify about the human rights violations perpetrated by the state in the 1970s but we can attest how the repressive regime affected the lives of ordinary people and how it unleashed an irreversible damage in society.

It is our duty, therefore, to preserve the stories of traumatized survivors and tortured victims of the violent Martial Law regime. And we must share this narrative to the youth who learned about the history of Martial Law only through badly-written textbooks and slanted news reports. Indeed, how can they believe the First Quarter Stormers that Marcos was a horrible leader when those who him were either incompetent, corrupt, and dictatorial? If we fail to make them understand what it means to live under military rule, they will be vulnerable to the neo-Marcosian propaganda that we need an authoritarian state in order to impose discipline, order, and progress in the country.

“Lost Generation”

It is our generation who must have the imagination and boldness to propose the scrapping of the labor export policy. It was during our childhood years when the Philippines started exporting labor in a massive scale. When it proved to be financially rewarding for the bankrupt state, it became a permanent economic policy. We were overwhelmed with inspiring anecdotes of poor families which became instantly rich when one family member migrated and worked in another country. This and the aggressive promotion by the government triggered an exodus of workers. It was only much later when we realized that our obsession with the income aspect of migration has prevented us from understanding the more deleterious consequences of sending our people away. But by that time, labor export has ceased to be an aberration as it already transformed into a mainstream phenomenon.

Today, nobody is shocked anymore that 5,000 Filipinos leave every day to become overseas contract workers. The millenials even perceive it as an ordinary fact of life. Public debate is focused on making migration policies less inhuman instead of addressing the root causes of poverty, low productivity and joblessness in the country.

But after four decades of promoting overseas migration, the Philippines has remained a poor and backward nation. Indeed, remittances have become lifeline subsidies for individual families and the national economy, but they were earned at what expense? The country lost its precious human resources, although these could be offset by providing skills training to the youth. But for the children and families of migrant workers, what they lost can never be recovered. Imagine children growing up without their parents and separated families fighting alienation through weekly telephone chats. We belonged to these families and we were part of the generation that survived remote parenting. We are the “walking wounded” and living witnesses of how migration can both uplift and dislocate the lives of millions. It is tragic that a new generation has emerged believing that they can fulfill their dreams by becoming second class citizens in a foreign country.

Our task, therefore, is to provoke the millennials by showing them the pitfalls of becoming a “lost generation.”

Clash of generations

We bridge because we aspire to be one. We learn from the battles waged by each generation instead of focusing on the so-called clash of generations. Solidarity is more precious than blaming the old and ridiculing the young. And so we borrow from the passionate activism of the baby boomers and the cyber innovation of the millennials remembering that it is only through struggle that we remain young. In many ways, we are all baby boomers and millennials now – daring, inventive, fighter. Let us join the baby boomers in their last great battle for immortality; and let us link arms and share hashtags with the digital natives. The 20th century has ended; let us make this new century a better world for the next generation.

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