Rise of the Centennials
by Jon Joaquin
A couple of years ago I wrote about how the word “Millennial” is being used by young Filipinos to refer to themselves these days. In perhaps typical fashion, young Filipinos simply copy what they see in other countries and picture themselves in terms of how Millennials in western countries are described, which can be really negative (lazy and narcissistic are just two of the adjectives thrown around). It doesn’t help that the older generations call them the same thing without bothering to understand what the term means and where it comes from. My contention has always been that there are no real Millennial Filipinos, at least not in the way the West defines the word.
The term has roots as far back as World War II in which those in the West who fought were called “the Greatest Generation.” After the war there was a baby boom, and the children born then were nicknamed “Baby Boomers,” and they grew up educated, wealthy, and driven. Their children, however, were described as “aimless” and “slackers” and so were called “Generation X.” Their children, in turn, were called various names: Gen Y, Millennials, Xennials, and a few others. They are the generation that grew up with rapid advances in communications technology and are described as having a greater sense of community – both local and global. However, they are also pictured as lazy and narcissistic, as evidenced by their love for taking selfies and posting them online.
These generational terms refer to the West and have little or nothing to do with Filipinos. We didn’t have a baby boom after World War II, and because of that we don’t have a Gen X, Gen Y, or Millennial generation. And yet we use the term Millennial on young Filipinos and ascribe various negative characteristics to them, even though they do not exhibit these behaviours. In my interaction with young people, I have found them to be the exact opposite of the stereotypical “Millennial.” They are ambitious, driven, conscientious, hard working, well read, socially and politically aware, and, despite what you may read from the media about them, they actually do know how to spot fake news (it’s actually the older people who fall for them).
The problem is that the more we use the term “Millennial” on our young people, the more easily they will think of themselves as lazy, self-absorbed, and narcissistic. Proverbs 23:7 is true: “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” What we need is to call them something else, a word that truly reflects who they are and what they are. I’ve been thinking about this for some time and only recently realized that we do have such a word: Centennial.
Instead of pinning their generation to the turn of the Millennium, I think young Filipinos should be placed against the backdrop of the Philippines turning 100 years old in 1998. The last 12 years of the Centennial were marked by major upheavals largely brought about by the 1986 People Power Revolution. Democracy was finally restored after the 20-year Marcos dictatorship, and these young ones were the generations born in a free society. Unlike their parents (many of them “Martial Law Babies”) who grew up under oppression, censorship, and a sanitized media, the Centennials had free access to information literally from the time they were born. As a resul, they are far more aware of issues and problems and are more ready to face them head-on.
Of course those last years of the first Philippine century had a lot of problems, too: coups, blackouts, continuing corruption, and many, many more. But the fact that the Centennials could actually read about and watch these things unfold was already a big boost to their collective psyche. If information is power, then the Centennials are certainly stronger than their parents.
I see the Centennials also as more ready to act than to talk. For them, a few lines on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are enough, preferring instead to show their thoughts and stand through action. When a series of strong earthquakes struck Mindanao late last year, many of them were at the front lines of gathering help and delivering them to affected places. And now as Taal Volcano comes alive again, I see them organizing and pitching in to help. They are aware of what’s happening around them and are ready to act accordingly.
I hope we in the Philippines begin to see our young people through a different lens. They are not the “Millennials” of the West – they are the Centennials of the Philippines who are rising up to the challenge of the next 100 years.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.
Jon Joaquin is the Editor-In- Chief of the Davao City-based Mindanao Daily Mirror. E-mail Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.