Excerpt from a book-length essay for 5 Years of Looking for Juan, a monograph aimed at educating secondary school-age readers on nationhood, art, and its publics
Not so long after Looking for Juan began reaching out to the public in 2009, shirts, stickers, and posters proclaiming that “Where I am from, everyone’s a hero” were released, alongside the outreach operations that alleviated the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Ondoy. That was the year a great number of citizens linked arms against complacency, with a common cause to uplift those whose lives had wiped out by the storm and submerged under meters and meters of floodwater, in good faith that the Filipino spirit was indeed–as later versions of the campaign said—waterproof.
Linking arms against common enemies are what make an island into a country, then into a nation – bound not only by borders, but by a common vision for a future that will do justice to our past. Considering our country’s troubles, it is possible we still do not know what it really means to be part of a nation, except for the short bursts of unity we experience in the wake of disasters. For 2010, the theme “Everyday Filipino Heroes” attempted to express what it meant to go beyond these short bursts of nationhood and to translate heroism into everyday acts.
But should the term “heroism,” even accommodate the everyday acts that could—and should—be part of our duty not as Filipinos, but as part of this global community called “humanity”?
Through art, we are brought closer to what it means to be human. Paintings, photographs, and prints allow us to see this, but we must not forget that art engages all our senses. We hear music, we touch good sculpture and good design, we enter architecture. Through its efforts to occupy public space, Looking for Juan reminds us of art’s role in changing the environment—socially, politically, and culturally – all of which are integral to this question of our humanity. In its own seemingly small way, art has that capacity to transform the everyday. […]
Like heroes, the act of Looking for Juan puts us on a quest. To quest is about agency and going beyond one’s limits. The hardships we endure on this quest test our mettle, or the stuff we’re made of. The choices we make each day that bring us closer to what lies beyond could be filled with heroism. This is what everyday heroism is about: as everyday heroes, we move in pursuit of something greater.
Asking “What is a hero?” is not a simple matter of looking for an answer, but a process – a way to both prolong the search and expand the conversation. Our eyes in this sense are the windows not only of the soul, but of the mind, through which we can observe possible outcomes, without overlooking the fact of the ever-broadening horizon of what heroes are, as well as what they will be.
The hero is often cast as an ideal—and should remain so. The many ways we form our ideals make it difficult to come up with a single answer to what makes a hero. But true heroism, as shown by these Everyday Filipino Heroes, is a matter of how every step we take should bring us closer to the humanity that nurtures a community – whether that community is the nation or the world.