The barrio (neighborhood) is having a little fiesta (party and/or festival) this evening. A part of the street has been closed off for this event, and the long table of food slowly grows heavy with plates of lechon, pancit, lumpia, and other fiesta food. As neighbors congregate in the street, as everyone greets each other excitedly, as the parlor games begin, I forget the vast gap in economic status among those in this country.
Social strata are less distinct in provinces, where most everyone prefers a simple rural life. Even the briefest exposure to Metro Manila, however, quickly reveals an eclectic mix of high-rise buildings and squatters. Seeing children begging on the streets and peddlers walking between vehicles at stoplights, seeing those dirt-smeared faces looking into car windows with pleading faces, a newcomer might mistake this for a poor country. A third-world country it may be, but a poor country it is not. A large cause of this economic disparity is that a middle class is practically nonexistent. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer.
Here in the province, class distinctions are more easily overlooked. Little girls can grow up as best friends even though one lives in a large house and the other lives in a modest little bamboo structure. Men can play alongside each other in the same town basketball team even if one has a garage full of cars and the other has none. This is perhaps one thing I appreciate about provincial life.
Social status can be an uncomfortable topic to think of, and it’s an even less comfortable topic to write about. As the social classes often accept it all with a sense of normalcy, however, my curiosity on the subject is often dismissed. I’m not saying that the well-off are ignorant and uncaring; I’m simply in a mild state of culture shock. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are those who reach across the social divide; still, it’s not enough. There needs to be a more dramatic shift in government and mentality.
There is hope. With the increase of OFWs, or Overseas Filipino Workers, the solid line of financial disparity is ever so incrementally beginning to blur. It will be yet some time before there is an emergence of a true middle class; but until that vision is more tangible (sadly, probably not in my lifetime), I can appreciate the camaraderie between smiling neighbors in my little provincial town.