Americans' misconceptions can get in the way of making connections

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``Being poor is hard work,'' observes Alejandro Roces, a flamboyant Filipino newspaperman with a knack for articulating how interdependence has not changed the fact that different people can see the same thing different ways. Americans, he says, mistakenly equate poverty with laziness. Mr. Roces, who served as the youngest minister of education in the Philippines' history and is currently president of the Manila Bulletin, points out that poor Filipinos, often just children, spend hours in the hot sun weaving in and out of the vehicles waiting at stoplights in Manila. The youngsters hawk cigarettes or simply beg. The money these children earn helps put food on their families' tables.

Roces' insight about the hard work necessary to survive poverty reflects a larger truth that defies interdependence. Although the world is more closely knit, not everyone sees things the same way.

As examples, consider these:

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The United States does not consider commercial ties with the Philippines a major issue. In 1987, the Philippines ranked as the US's 26th-largest trading partner. But the US is the Philippines' No. 1 trading partner. Not surprisingly, the Filipinos pay more attention to the US economy than the other way around.

When Americans think about the origin of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, they think of Africa, where some of the earliest evidence of the disease has been found. But when Filipinos think about the origin of AIDS, they think of the US. American military personnel and tourists are generally thought to have brought the disease to the country.

To many Americans, the US military bases in the Philippines stand for security, an Asian outpost for the American fleet. To many Filipinos, the bases stand for insecurity. The military installations are a likely target for American enemies. An accident on a nuclear-powered ship of the US Navy could harm Filipinos.

Americans say the bases and military personnel stationed in the Philippines pump money into the local economy. But Roces points out that communities alongside the bases are full of brothels and drug dealing. Can such social disruptions, he asked, be considered ``an economic success''?

The US thinks of itself as a Philippine benefactor. After the US wrested control of the Philippine islands from the Spanish, it introduced a farsighted education system that brought literacy to vast numbers of Filipinos. But this system also taught US history over Filipino history. Students sang the American national anthem before class, not their own. Many Filipinos have come to see this approach depriving them of a sense of nationalism. Says Adlai Amor, a journalist: ``The United States made the Philippines an experiment in colonization, and you succeeded quite well.''

Despite these differences in perception, Americans typically find Filipinos pleasant and friendly toward them. As Roces says, reality is complex. A common Filipino complaint, for instance, is that ``we crave American goods,'' as one SAZTEC employee puts it, and yet Filipinos worry about preserving their culture.

A popular song by a Filipino group called the Apo Hiking Society captures this ambivalence. The lyrics of the song, called ``American Junk,'' ask Americans to ``leave me alone with my third-world devices, I don't need your technology.'' The song is sung in English, not Tagalog, the national language. -30-{et

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