I was Born in 2000 I am a Milenyal

Our descriptions of one another often say more about the descriptor than the one being described.

Whenever Anglophone Filipinos haphazardly borrow terms such as ‘Gen Z’, they forfeit their own social realities and instead rely on foreigners to describe uniquely Filipino matters. These inaccurate descriptors lead to a distorted view of the segments of society they were meant to describe.

Generations are culturally contingent. In other words, they depend on the culture being described.

As Pew Research outlined in 2019 ‘,Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science.’ Their article notes how across different American generations, Baby Boomers serve as the singular undoubted generation defined by the statistical rise of births after the second World War. Every other boundary between generations is not recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the mid-2010s, publications such as the Atlantic and the Harvard Joint Center would have set the Millennial generation to extend up until those born in 2004, basing largely on the work of Neil Howe and William Straus who had popularized the concept of generations.

However, in later parts of the decade, through a close examination of American history and demographic shifts across the previous thirty years, institutions such as Pew Research Centre have then defined their description of ‘Millennials’ as those born between 1981 and 1996, citing “key political, economic, and social factors.”

How American ‘Millennial’ and Filipino ‘Milenyal’ Differ

Since the Philippines has distinctly separate politics, economics, and social norms from the West, our generations and their boundaries will also differ.

For example, Filipinos never had a distinct baby boom post-World War II and thus it would be inaccurate to use the term ‘Baby Boomers’ when referring to any Filipino generation. Instead, ‘Martial Law Babies’ would serve as their Filipino counterpart. While born later than American Baby Boomers, they similarly make up many public office positions today and are defined relatively unambiguously as those who had grown up during the Marcos administration.

American and Filipino generations do not only differ by ‘when’ but ‘how long’ as well. Generational identities are more pronounced in richer countries where populations are largely uniformly distributed  by age.

Contrast the American population curve with that of the Philippines whose median age stands at a youthful 25.7 years old; drawing boundaries only among people born before 1997 splits hairs. Following the American generational model lumps half of the national population into only one cohort – too large and diverse a grouping to be meaningful.

This fact was implicit when Raymond Palatino split his generations across decades instead of the sixteen-year-long generational spans used by the Pew Research Center. After EDSA Uno, the lives of those who had come of age during the Marcos administration and after were so markedly different that it necessitated that the typical American Generation X be further broken down into those who lived through EDSA I and those who followed in EDSA II.

What Makes a Filipino Milenyal?

Unlike American Millennials, the September 11 attacks and the American War on Terror carry little cultural weight to those who were there to remember it first-hand. Instead, the local characteristic main fissure events for Milenyals are EDSA II, the passage of the K-12 Program, and the popularization of the internet.

The liberalized political atmosphere post-EDSA I had been marked by a parade of scandals abound by elected officials, culminating in EDSA II. Growing up through the subsequent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration conditioned many to expect government mismanagement as the norm despite a strong culture of political participation.

On the other hand, the K-12 program represented government overreach in that it had dealt a comprehensive and total reorganization of the country’s educational system. It had not only added two additional years of senior high school but more importantly completely transformed and upended the preceding educational curriculum overnight in a process akin to shock therapy for both the students and the teachers.

Those born before and after this shift would have led different lives growing up, not least in terms of learning about history and ethics. The first ‘experimental’ batch of these students with their new teachers who filled the gap in teaching roles would have especially felt the brunt of this abrupt transformation and set the new norms and expectations for how a high schooler ought to be at their age.

The pandemic’s effect on the first batches of K-12 students in college further upended the expected practices of many student organizations – forcing many to improvise by moving expected rites of passage for a student into virtual settings.

In between these two events, the internet had started to rapidly permeate youth culture – so much so that discussion of generational divides in the Edukasyon sa Pagkakatao module focused on the discussion of ‘digital natives,’ grouping American generations Gen Y and Z into ‘Net Gen.’

In a country like the Philippines, penetration of smartphones lagged. Most Filipinos born at the turn of the century would have grown up with a similar relationship to the internet as most Americans born before 1996; they would have learned to be digital natives in their local computer shops rather than on their own personal touchscreen phones.

Considering our distinct political and social history, it is clumsy to draw the same generational lines foreigners use.

There is no Filipino Gen Z (Yet)

More introspective national soul-searching and formal investigation into the country’s demographic make-up is required before borrowing labels and definitions wholesale from the West.

In my own personal experience with the term ‘Millennial’ in popular parlance, this simply isn’t a problem. Recognition ranges from unfamiliarity to obviously referring to those born around the turn of the century.

Unless young Filipinos claim the ‘Gen Z’ label like their peers in Southeast Asia such as in Myanmar or Thailand, the default local boundaries for the ‘Milenyal’ generation must be retained in terms set by local cultural touchstones and not the histories of other nations.

Until then and without a comprehensive examination of our national character throughout the 00s and mid-10s, the usage of the term ‘Gen Z’ amounts to cultural appropriation: it alienates those whom it is describing, espouses a distorted view of our local social realities, and deepens an unhealthy cultural dependence on the United States.

The Filipino ‘Milenyal’ could be more accurately defined as the cohort born after EDSA I and would have grown up remembering the basic educational system preceding K-12. In more base terms, they were born between the years 1986 and 2002 and are the Martial Law Babies’ own babies.

Their national politics is defined by rapid government liberalization from after EDSA I, globalization, and a barrage of numerous political scandals from Hello Garci to the Pork Barrel scam. Most of them now work but their youngest ilk is just now graduating after two extra years of high school.

They make up nearly a quarter of this country’s population and are not its future but rather its present. We ought to serve them right by calling them by who they truly are.

Mabuhay ang Filipinong Milenyal!

Dominic Gamboa

Dominic Gamboa is a student at the School of Statistics, University of the Philippines – Diliman. He is the former Formation Director for Applicants in UP Student Catholic Action, where he was featured in the Jesuit Hour and Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. as a representative of the youth, and is an active member of UP Variates, and National Union of Students of the Philippines.

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