MESSAGE: Filipinos fluently speak the most important language—smiles
I met this lovely lola when I stayed with the Butbut tribe in Kalinga. I started telling her how brave I thought she was to endure the pain of tattooing as a young girl, and before I realized that she couldn’t understand me, she hugged me, and gave me a kindness you can give strangers—a smile. I smiled back, and it was all we needed to understand each other.
I’ve always believed that at the heart of being Filipino is the ability to smile through anything. Smiles are calidad humana in its simplest form. It’s a secret kind of bravery and wisdom that runs in our blood, and somehow binds us together. When I got a tattoo from her tribe, the mark it left wasn’t only from the ink, but from seeing calidad humana in the dignity and happiness brought about by their simple ways of living. Life marks you, and when you can smile through that, you return the mark to the world. As Filipinos, it’s the good we have to give. Through our resilient smiles, we bridge differences. We live out calidad humana. It’s in wrinkled tattoos, in smile lines, and in the happiness we choose everyday.