The COVID pandemic has left many of us vulnerable, including millions in the Philippines. But we’ve seen the Filipino community around the world rally together in uplifting and surprising ways.
From Filipino restaurants gathering to feed the frontliners, to our own Cambio community donating to COVID relief in the Philippines - the outpour of support has been incredible.
We’re seeing an immense shift; from a culture and society that’s all about Me, Myself and I to one about We, Ours, and Us.
The beauty is that community and kinship have always been inherent to Filipinos. We see it in our culture, social psychology, families, and even in our language.
We have words that have no direct translation in English, but express a strong sense of “shared self”. They’re words that are unique to us, and point to something bigger than this crisis and bigger than ourselves.
Here are just seven Filipino words that beautifully describe community.
Pamayanan is a Tagalog word that literally translates to ‘community’ and ‘togetherness’ in English. It’s a concept that extends beyond the household—one that captures a group of people with shared interests, beliefs, and goals.
Though we may not be able to be physically together, we’re still sharing in pamayanan. We’re united in our shared experiences, and we are far from alone.
Kapwa translates to “kindred”, “neighbor”, and “fellow humans.” To live in the spirit of Kapwa means to embrace our shared identity and to care for our fellow beings.
The father of modern Filipino psychology, Virgilio Enriquez, describes kapwa as a “a moral obligation to treat one another as equal fellow human beings... We are Kapwa People.” Kapwa calls us to act for the common good, and to make sacrifices for our community. This concept united us historically against Spanish and American colonial forces, and unites us today during difficult times.
One of our favorite words, bayanihan comes from the Tagalog word "bayan" for nation, town, or community. It represents the spirit of cooperation, uniting as a community to achieve a common goal.
What we love most about the word bayanihan is how it originated. In the old days in the Philippine countryside, the whole neighborhood came together to help a family move their house—literally. The community would physically lift the family’s home and carry it to its new location. This isn’t practiced anymore, but the spirit of bayanihan is stronger than ever as we all unite to uplift our fellow kababayan.
Similar to the word bayanihan, kababayan comes from the same root word and translates literally into "people of the same country or town." It can translate to compatriot, comrade, or fellow Filipino.
There are millions of Filipinos living outside of the Philippines. The beautiful thing about the word kababayan is that no matter where we are in the world, or where in the Philippines we come from, we’re all united as fellow kababayan.
A word that means "to give sympathetic support" and to "extend or express sympathy." Ihayag Canada describes damayan as “the importance of giving our kaibigans (friends) and kababayans (fellow Filipinos) the guidance and aid they need.”
During times like these, showing damayan is more important than ever. And the global Filipino community hasn’t disappointed.
Similar to damayan, malasakit is an expression of empathy and compassion for our kapwa. But while damayan connotes sympathy, malasakit contains a sense of ownership, oneness, stewardship, and concern. There’s no direct English translation, but we can sum it up as, “to care for something (or someone) as though it were one’s own.”
Caring for your older Filipina neighbor or colleague as though she was your actual Tita. Or a frontline worker administering care for their patients as though they were family. Both of these live and breathe in the beauty of malasakit.
And finally, the word balikbayan. It’s made of two words—balik (to return) and bayan (country). The literal translation is “to return to one’s country.”
We think balikbayan is one of the most community-oriented words in our language. Not only does it summon images of our parents frantically stuffing boxes full of toys, chocolates, and clothing to send to family back home. It also symbolizes our own desires to return to the places and people we love. And, during times like these, balikbayan reminds us of the ways we Filipinos continue to send our love back to the people and land we care for.
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Gelaine is a social entrepreneur, an online storyteller, and a passionate advocate for diversity and ethics in business. She’s the co-founder of Cambio & Co., an e-commerce fashion company working with Filipino artisans to celebrate Filipino craftsmanship, culture, and heritage. Gelaine is also one of the founders of Sinta & Co., the world’s first conscious Filipino wedding boutique. She was named one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. Find her on Instagram @gelainesantiago and www.gelainesantiago.co
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