"As part of a BBC Video Nation project, members of the Filipino community in Cambridge have made short films about their lives…"
Room for rent – Fulham SW6 £250pw
Room for rent in recently refurbished flat. Ideal for busy young professional: conveniently located near River Thames with gym, supermarket, parks, cafes and restaurants within walking distance. Nearest tube Parsons Green and Fulham Broadway. Bus routes C3, 28, 44, 295, 391 & 424.
Book viewing now (please leave name and contact number)
Apologies to those who have been wondering where the site has gone these past few months. We had problems with our old server and lost all our content since 2003 🙁
Fortunately I was able to dig out some articles from our archives.
[Update: I’ve found some more of the content and will add them with a guess at their original posting date.]
"Technically speaking, Cambridge could be the most diverse place in Britain. It is a small city whose famous university attracts large numbers of people from around the world. And yet it remains very English, scarcely marked by its exotic but transient population – except at noon on Sundays. Then, in the suburb of Cherry Hinton, the St Philip Howard Catholic church throngs like downtown Manila."
Filipinos began to emigrate from the Philippines around the early 70’s to fill a skills gap in the UK. Usually driven by the need to support family left behind, many of the first-generation often worked long and unsociable hours. Their labour was perhaps made bearable by plans to build enough wealth to return to their families.
Eventually, a second-generation of Filipinos began to appear – our generation. Some of us were born in the UK; others were brought over from the Philippines. However, as our parents focused on meeting economic needs, our social and cultural needs tended to be neglected.
The second-generation of Filipinos in the UK have no voice in Britain; our parents have been silent for too long. What is our contribution to British society? What do we know of our history and how do we pass on our heritage? Did our parents sacrifice too much when they left the Philippines? These are the questions we ask ourselves and why we created this website.
We believe that young Filipinos in the UK do not have a voice in society. This is causing us to lose our culture and our identity. It also means that we can’t play an active role in shaping our community.
Our aim is to enable Filipinos to be a positive and visible influence to Britain’s cultural diversity.
We will do this by promoting awareness and pride in our culture; by bringing together young Filipinos with projects for change; and by creating partnerships with people who share our views.
"Take a moment to wonder: What happens to all the collective experience, skills, insights, and philosophies accumulated by our countrymen from the work they did overseas?
You’d think with all that knowledge, some of it is bound to be properly applied to the Philippine setting. This glaring lack of a nation’s capability to tap the vast knowledgebase residing in the minds of its returning overseas workers further re-enforces the issue of our country not being an environment that rewards innovation and doing things properly."
By Antonio G Pineda Jr
AS the country celebrated Independence Day on June 12, I could not help remembering that, until 1982, I did not know what the word nationalism meant. Nor did I care. It was a long, official-sounding word that, for a long time, held no relevance in my life.
Up to now, I have never bothered to consult the dictionary as to the definition of nationalism. It is through learning to come to terms with my identity as a Filipino living in an alien country that I grew to appreciate its meaning.
I came up with my first definition of nationalism when I joined my parents in London in 1981 at the age of 11. For me, nationalism then meant acceptance. I had to accept that I was different from the rest of my school. An important part of my British education was learning that not everyone was brown-skinned who ate rice as part of every meal.
Likewise, I had to accept that being a Filipino meant I was considered an object of ridicule. In the same way as we Filipinos refer to all white people as ‘Americans’ regardless of their nationality, my British classmates could not seem to distinguish between the Orientals. To them, the Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and other Southeast Asians were all Chinese. The big difference was, the British did not place the Chinese on the same high pedestal that the Filipinos place the Americans. Like other ‘Chinese’ people, I was considered a strange, inferior creature. I had funny eyes. I talked in an odd language. I ate foul-smelling food. I realized that most of these racist taunts were borne out of ignorance but it still took me a while to get used to them.
Then, nationalism became synonymous with shame. To fit in, I misguidedly tried to become more like my British counterparts. But the media never let me or my classmates forget my roots. The Philippines held a lot of interest for reporters. It was a good source for many a scandal and headline. The Philippines became famous not for its world-class beaches, its people’s hospitality, or its exotic fruits. Journalists were hell bent on portraying it as a country of prostitutes, corrupt politicians and of dog-eaters.
More than ten years later, I remember vividly the time the news erupted on the Ten O’clock News on Independent Television: DOGS BATTERED AND COOKED ALIVE. There was outrage all over the United Kingdom, a country of animal lovers. The next day, I was confronted by belligerent classmates. “How could you eat dogs? How could you be so cruel to man’s best friend?” they demanded in disgust. To them, eating dogs was as repulsive as eating a member of one’s family. That I personally had never tasted dog meat in my life did not matter. My country had been found guilty of a terrible crime. It followed that I was guilty too. I bowed my head low in shame.
But it was this shame that eventually helped me equate the word nationalism with pride. One Filipino against one nation. I set out to prove that there was more to the Philippines than graft and corruption, poverty, and animal cruelty. I stopped trying to be British, and with pride for my mother country as my motivating force, I set out to excel in my studies. My efforts were rewarded with a succession of academic distinctions. My heart burst with national pride every time I came top in exams. My love for my country magnified when I received an international award for English Communications at the Houses of Parliament. I felt the same when I won first prize in tan international newsletter-production competition.
I did not look on these as personal triumphs. I did not achieve the highest grades in college because I possessed a high degree of intelligence. I attribute my achievements to one thing only: like Ninoy Aquino, I believed that the Filipino is worth dying for.
There are of course others who have proved that we Filipinos could and should hold our heads up high. Who could forget Lea Salonga’s meteoric rise to international fame and acclaim in the mid-Eighties as Miss Saigon? And was there a true Filipino who did not cheer for Cory Aquino during the EDSA Revolution? These are victories that the rest of the world have come to look up to. They are victories demanding that Filipinos should no longer be seen as a race to look down on.
It was my sense of nationalism that eventually led me to decide to leave England and return to the Philippines for good. And you know what? The word nationalism has acquired the meaning: there’s no place like home.
by Kriyan de Leon, February 2003
While I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a Canadian friend, I was asked to describe what it is to be Filipino. I was caught off-guard and quite quickly, I eluded her query by asking her what her definition of being Canadian was. From experience, when a person is asked something he does not know, I find, the best response usually given is a misdirecting reply. It sufficed for that moment as she looked away, smiled and quite contently accepted it and continued on the conversation with another topic. But her admiration and intrigue of how I appeared to be so ‘nationalistic’ had a significant impact on my perspective.
As I bid my friend goodbye and thanked her warmly for her company, her innocent query reverberated in my mind still. Thereafter, memories of a distant event come flooding in as I ponder those implicit questions raised: What is it exactly that I am defending and pride myself to be? Does a Filipino Diaspora exist, even?
Seven years have past since I was approached by an acquaintance that just arrived from the Philippines. He wore his hair differently from others and likewise his clothing weren’t fashionable at that time. Quite often, people whom he thought that he could approach, individuals he considered to be his countrymen, ridiculed him for not being ‘Westernised’ yet. The term branded to these group of individuals, if I remembered correctly were ‘FOBS’, fresh of the boat people oblivious to the new culture surrounding them. Despite what the others say, I entertained his conversation as I found him to be quite pleasant to speak to. Our interactions were often light-hearted, but in that particular instance he didn’t approach me with his usually cheerful demeanour. As he relayed to me what happened earlier that day, it became apparent that a Filipina who caught his heart and admiration ridiculed him. In Tagalog he said to me "Why do they act that way, all high and mighty? They call themselves Filipino yet treat me differently when I speak to them in our native tongue. Don’t they know that we all eat ‘baguong’ (sauteed shrimp paste)"
I told him that maybe she doesn’t know how to speak Tagalog, but in fact speak Ilocano, Cebuano, or any of the Filipino languages instead. He shook his head; a grin slowly developing on his face and he jokingly punched me at the shoulder. We both laughed and that was the end of our brief interaction and we went our separate ways. I spared him more anguish by omitting the fact that the girl herself just arrived a few years back and already she claimed that she has all but forgotten her native tongue, neither capable of speaking nor comprehending it. I find it interesting how a banal interaction could be the source of introspection into one’s own identity.
There were certain behaviours in the past I was not proud of doing. I remember when I was younger being appalled when my Mom cooked traditional cuisines and find my bedroom door open. I was embarrassed if the scent adhered to my clothing. Equally mortified I was to admit to people I consume certain food that they consider not kosher. I’m guilty of that, I admit, but it brings to light how easily it is to lose pride in one’s culture based on matters that can be considered so superficial.
As been stated above, I was asked to give a definition of what "Filipino" is. A friend in London pointed out that it is a geo-political characterization drawn by the Spanish colonialisation some three centuries ago. I agree when he pointed out the diversity within the country itself, each region having different groups of people possessing distinct cultural practises. But one cannot look at the Philippines without studying the works and contributions that Jose Rizal had made. He gave these people a common identity. Filipino then is somewhat akin to a nationalistic term and cannot be narrowly defined. Given the social dynamics, a proper modernised definition must be adopted. I propose that being Filipino encompasses the geo-political realm and manifests itself to groups of people having a shared history of oppression, possessing mostly similar social mores and cultural practises, thereby could be deciphered as a single distinct social entity. Like all social constructs, it exists in the mind and soul alone regardless of geographical place. This matter is important in terms of propagating a culture for it cannot continue to exist without passing these mental elements to generations thereafter. The significance increases exponentially when part of the people settles in foreign soil. It then can be argued that the term "Filipino" may have started as a nationalistic definition but seems to have gained more of an ethnic designation when these groups migrate away from their native land and are considered part of the visible minorities. Given the proportion of the population they represent, it becomes easier for a people to have common understanding and affiliation with their countrymen in this broader sense rather than narrowly by saying they are of a specific clan. I myself am Ilocano, but I share kinship and affiliation to all Filipinos regardless of where they originated.
What significance do all of these have regarding the existence of a Diaspora?
Ethnicity Diaspora purports that the heritage and language is passed on to further generations; that there ought to exist a longing to return or wanting the betterment of the homeland; and there exist a strong cohesion of the ethnic group. For the sake of argument, I shortened the sociological definition for obvious practical reasons, I do acknowledge, however, that points addressed are of great significance. The Philippines is a country of migrants where the people leaving the country exceed those entering, and one would expect that there ought to exist a Diasporic tendency within the host nations. However from my observation, the existence of a Filipino Diaspora does not seem to comply based on sociological definitions. What antagonistic forces prevent the over-seas Filipinos from establishing a firm grasp of their culture? Why can’t they scatter seeds, but instead would rather prefer to assimilate to their new host nation?
Ours is a culture that came to know oppression both external and internal. Nearly three hundred and fifty years of which came from foreign colonialist. I believe this contributed largely to the lack of pride and a sense of cultural inferiority amongst the over-seas Filipinos. This is a mere conjecture of course, I do not expect everyone to accept this assertion; but one cannot argue to the contrary that as a whole Filipinos would much rather be considered as being American, Canadian, British once they possess the citizenship given to them by the respective host countries. Also troubling is the fact that some of the migrants feel a sense of glee to be mistaken as a person of different descent.
Primarily, the preservation and propagation of the language is of great import for much of the cultural identity rest within the constructs of the tongue. An excellent example is our humour; it is so distinct that if translated into English it would not make sense at all. But unfortunately, the language seems to be the first thing that over-seas Filipinos are willing to abandon. The direct effect of our native tongue presents a potential source of embarrassment to the younger generations (even the older ones, I suppose) for we can easily be criticised for the accent it produces as well as the often mistaken use of "he", "she", "him" and "her". This grammatical error stems from the non-existence of a counterpart within the Filipino languages. Why are some humiliated by this when considered that the ability to speak two languages is something to be proud of? Yes, I must admit that to move to a country dominated by the elites, your eloquence and articulation of their language judge your fate and dictate where your position in society. But is it really sufficient ground to justify forgetting and readily assimilate into a new society?
The grass is greener on the other side is a fallacy. Did the cultural inferiority complex exist before departure or after arrival?
As I travelled through North America and to Britain, most Filipinos I have encountered would always point out the flaws of our society. The incessant gossiping and glee of destroying his own countrymen’s reputation, often described as the "Illness of the Filipinos", tops the list as they smugly consider themselves superior for inheriting a "Westernised" view of life. Also common reaction, I find, is when they shake their head in disgust with the political corruption and with the government’s almost perpetual dismal state.
There needs to be an emphasis that the culture is not synonymous to politics. The government tend to represent the ideals of the elite, not the nation as a whole, and most of the elite (both present and historical) aspire to think and live like Westerners. Of course, this is residual to the concessions given to those who comply with the wishes of the ruling foreign power. It only has been half a century of our nation’s liberation, and this practise may not be eradicated fully if considering that our country has been oppressed for almost three centuries and a half. Though I feel it is necessary to see our own imperfection to be more tolerant a people, we ought not revel in the superiority of others and be oblivious to their flaws. We are not by all means inferior. If one does not accept the purported definition of what it is to be Filipino and still insist that the lines of argument exist within the socio-political sphere to validate the cultural identity, one can argue that our culture has always been influenced with the notions of social justice and equity. Whether successful or not is insignificant; what matters are the constant address of these issues That is something that we can take pride in considering our choice of national hero is an intellect (his name is listed on the Reading Room of the British Museum as one of those who researched there) and have overthrown not one, but two government administrations through mass protest.
The current trend of Over-seas Filipino Workers is a good argument for the betterment of the homeland considering that their remittance of funds have made large contributions regarding the GNP through net transfers. GDP is not used as an economic indicator because our country’s gross domestic product is not all that impressive and not of any value to the politician who seeks to be revered. Due to this, I’m ambivalent regarding to what extent Over-seas Filipino Workers make contributions in preserving the culture. What I feel is more significant is to what extent the migrants and expatriates (first generation), by in large, will hold on to the traditional roots and beliefs. Are the cultural practises, norms, and mores thoroughly entrenched? In the long run, this is what ultimately matters. The remittance of funds will cease once the OFWs decide to reside in their host nation permanently (if the choice is accorded to them) and sponsor their families. One can also argue that this trend of migrating workers paves the way for globalisation and lead the world at this respect. Whether a successful innovation or not, only time would tell.
Within a rapidly globalisation of today’s society, there still exist a need diversification and preservation of cultures lest we reduce ourselves (the whole of humanity) to thinking narrowly. We Filipinos have the advantage regarding this for we have the potential to easily appreciate the notion of social justice. Hence could be more capable of understanding the sanctity of Human Rights. That, I strongly believe, could be our strength and something I take absolute pride in saying. We have been oppressed by foreigners, and unfortunately have oppressed our own. (Though I still believe that our oppression has manifested itself from colonialist influence.) Our strengths and flaws are aggregate to our essence as a people; but I fear that our over-seas countrymen have accentuated the "flaws" more.
When asked, most of those who wish to live back in the homeland dream of possessing large sums of money, have servants and maids attending to their upkeep, and live the lives of the stereotypical "Haciendero". That might be an inviting thought, but it proliferates the inherited elite mentality. I’d rather not maintain the status quo, as I do desire for change and support the plight of a people constantly searching for social justice. Others could care less and would much rather assimilate to their new countries.
Is there a Filipino Diaspora within the context of the sociological definition given above? Whether one agrees with me or not, I’d have to say yes, but at best, it is a weak one. No matter what, I still take pride in saying that I’m Filipino, and there are individuals I’ve met who share my sentiments. I find solace with that knowledge as it gives me hope that our cultural will continue on. However, we still are in danger of losing our social identity, not by force but by will. A further question to bear in mind is to what extent do the people in the host nation accept us as equal; is it enough for us to forfeit our own ethnic identity? If the answer is in the affirmative, I lament then the loss of a beautiful culture, for despite its flaws, it has its strengths often overlooked.
by Rowan Foggit
It is natural for a person, when living in a country other than the one in which they were brought up, to make comparisons between the two. Prices, for example: ‘Blimey, the train from Liverpool St to Newcastle is now 55 quid – the bus from Baclaran to Baguio is only P105.’ Or, ‘You know darling, that amazingly camp queenish tomboy thing that cuts my hair down Pasay Rd only charges me the equivalent of £2 for a trim that’d cost a minimum of £25 in Cambridge now…daren’t ask him for a blow-dry though in case my request is misconstrued.’
Of course, the economic realities of the countries being compared necessitate wildly differing prices: the cost of labour, for example. And quality of service and customer satisfaction often differ wildlyÊ such as at the cinema.
I still marvel at paying around P70 to watch a film in the country’s best theatres (not, you note, the movies to take in a flick. I remain staunchly and stubbornly a communicator in Queen’s English, not the tainted Americano version of our fine language). Humankind loves a bargain and P70 when exchanged into pennies is up there with the Mother of All Bargains.
Yet my first visit to a Philippine cinemaÊ at the Greenbelt mall, Makati, one of the most centrally located and owned by the esteemed Ayala Group – was a consumer experience I was unprepared for. Theatres i’ve visited in Hong Kong, the US, Malaysia etc. all provided similar levels of entertainment and left me a satisfied customerÊ although the size of food and beverage portions served in the US were of sufficient size to halt a ravenous wooly mammoth for several weeks.
Queuing for a ticket at Greenbelt was harmless enough but then came the unfamiliar reply from the girl behind the counter that there were no reserved tickets available for this particular show. I smiled, obviously confused, and advised we simply wanted 2 tickets.
Still a little baffled, tickets were purchased, the girl breathed a sigh of relief, and through we wentÉÉto be met by masses, literally a hundred or more, of people loitering around the top of the aisles. They had nowhere to sit. All seats were taken. And more to the point, we had nowhere to sit. And there were people coming in behind us still. And the film had already started despite us being on time. Or perhaps it hadn’t yet finished.
I was perplexed, dumfounded and starting to sweat. Everyone else seemed to be calmly taking up positions with the intention to stand. ‘What on earth is going on darling?’ said I. My wife quickly explained the film, Rizal and his Filibuster thing, had recently opened, hence the crowds.
I’m told that at this point I began grunting various threats and complaints, such as ‘not bloody good enough, where’s the manager?’ to nobody in particular. The manager was located allowing me to ineloquently, due to being in close to a frenzy, detail my abject disquiet and unhappiness with the situation and demand a refund. My wife dragged me away, accepting their decent apology and equitable offer of 2 tickets to another show some other time, averting a shameful scene, and for me an apoplexy.
So, Philippine theatres allow more people in than it has seats to accommodate. A novel idea. I was enlightened. Perhaps such a system would catch on in the UK? Nah.
Even having the odd rodent scurry across one’s feet with discarded hot-dogs can be withstood. But what is it with the persistent noise and general lack of concern shown by fellow cinemagoers? Phones ring: not only this, they are often answered. Texting and its infernal incoming message beeping continues. Fast food is eaten with accompanying irksome plastic bag and wrapping rustling. Conversations are held in the seats. From the back near the lavatories one can always hear the ushers being chatted up by the security guards. What I understand the least however is the amount of people who wander in, or leave, half way through a film. I’ve seen old couples sitting chatting near the aisle, barely taking interest in proceedings on the screen, being collected by younger relatives and removed mid-film. Most odd.
Yes, I know UK cinemas can have their faults: an X rated film coming replete with dirty old men in flasher raincoats and teenage fornicators pre-booking the back row; extortionate prices; and mangy old seating. But UK cinemagoers, be they perverts or film-buffs, remain, more often than not, quiet.
But what do I expect for P70? This must be always be asked of oneself. And I must add that things have improvedÊ only though in the sense of one person per seat.
It has always been refreshing to see the impressive audience turn-outs for British films here. The gist of most films must be fairly easy for Filipinos to follow but much of the vernacular used in certain UK productions is obviously difficult to understand. Take Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the premiere to which I went with a friend who’d been enjoying happy hour earlier that evening and most of the late afternoon. The heavy cockney slang employed made it fantastically realistic, but lines such as ‘Keep your Alans on’ left the local audience none the wiser as to what had been said. (Alan Whicker = knickers).
Imagine their bemusement and multiply it by one thousand and you get me sat watching, without much of a clue as to what is going on, Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko, Magkapatid and other such marvels of the Philippine film industry. But it’s great viewing, particularly the comedies. And you know what – the audience is much better behaved. Sure, they make a noise but it seems to fit in with the general hubbub of the soundtrack and dialogue. And I enjoy it more this way. And I don’t care if someone’s phone goes off or munches noisily through 17 pieces of chicken behind me as the overall experience, not just the quality of acting, cinematography and production of the film, is preferable.
So we now don’t go to watch UK releases like About a Boy and hope to sit in stony silence, we go to Mana-Mana Tiba-Tiba, eat copious amounts of crap, make a bit of noise, send texts for the hell of it and come out smiling. ‘And it cost £5 for 2 seats and a feast! That would have cost £50 in Bristol with food and parking.’
by Rowan Foggit
The proud owners of this website have kindly allowed me to fill a few hours of my life each month, and therefore a few minutes of yours, writing a column about the Philippines, Filipinos, Fillipinas, EDSA’s traffic, whether or not bagoong is fit for mankind to consume, and whatever else this Brit abroad decides is life-shatteringly relevant or irreverent.
I will endeavour to say as little about myself as possible when I write these columns, but allow me a little introduction first as this will hopefully enable you to see how I see things the way I do.
Born in North Yorkshire, I was whisked down to sunny Suffolk before my accent became irreparably ‘northern’. A few years at school came and went without me leaving my mark on academia and its institutions. I even failed to turn-up at one exam as there was a titanic game of cricket, a sport few Philippine-based Filipinos know exists, on the telly between Essex and Gloucestershire.
Fast forward to 1994, when during a 7-year stay in Hong Kong, I met a ravishingly beautiful, vivacious and wonderfully feisty girl named Betty.
I have an Aunt in Yorkshire called Betty and to me this quintessential English old-ladies name conjured up images of, well, old English ladies. Add to that those flesh-coloured stockings to which they are partial and never-ending "fancy a cuppa tea, love?" probes and you get the picture.
But this Betty looked nothing like a stereotypical, handbag-wielding granny to me which is not surprising as she hails from Nueva Vizcaya. Home for Betty when she was small was a barangay near a funny little town called Bambang (more of which another time as I can tell a tale or two about her relatives, carabaos, ginebra gin, a gun and a hasty escape).
We got on well despite her knowledge of English football being non-existent. And we holidayed together in the Philippines as often as we could which was great as I no longer had to put up with all the other San Miguel-addled foreigners in Boracay and Puerto Galera. Off we went to the Camotes islands where the children’s smiles and nervous laughs were a joy to behold. Little villages and tilapia farms of La Union were explored on foot, such as Agoo (try get an Englishman to pronounce Agoo correctly first time he reads it…); Bantayan’s perfectly flat egg-carrying roads and beaches were hiked; Bohol’s ubiquitous mud and Chocolate Hills were stickily traversed on motorbikes; Mount Apo was climbed; the lake inside the crater of Taal volcano was urinated in (sorry, but we’d had a lot of Beer-na-Beer for lunch; and somewhere, probably Malapascua island off the northern tip of Cebu, our first mestizo was conceived.
A number of other places of my wish-list remain to this day unvisited. Unravelling a map of the country one day, I picked certain places that I’d like see, among them being: Siquior, Batanes and Sulu/Tawi Tawi islands. Betty was none to keen on the first of these due to the fact there were witches, vampires and all sorts of unidentified ghouls running amok all over the place. Batanes seems to get blown away by a typhoon each week so this was put on hold. And the latter, which are possibly the most beautiful picture-postcard islands in the entire archipelago, remain out of reach for any foreigner who values his life, head and bank balance.
We were married of course by the time we’d been to these places and I’d become quite proud of my Tagalog proficiency. I fancied spending more time in the Philippines but Betty, perhaps like some of you reading this, had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time looking for a brighter or at least alternative future outside of the country, was quite happy living in Hong Kong. However, I dragged her kicking and screaming back from whence she came and we lived for a while in a small Makati apartment before number one son popped out, before removing to Paranaque.
Mestizo number two arrived 2 years ago during a period back in Hong Kong and we now split our time between a house we keep in Laguna, and the former British colony on China’s southern shores
I suppose by telling you this I am trying to say I have integrated myself a little into Philippine way of life, that I have become a little piece of the fabric that makes up your wonderful, manic and often mad country. For a Filipino to write convincingly about the British, their peculiar rituals, personal idiosyncrasies and the inherent madness of a good number of its inhabitants, I’d expect that person to have lived not only in the same country as them, but as one of them.
For clarity, I’ll take this a little further. When I jump inside a cramped jeepney on its way down Pasong Tamo, I don’t just see brown faces smiling back at me. I see the daily struggle they have to make ends meet, the mouths they have to feed and their sense of despair at the injustices and corruption they suffer from. When boarding a Philippine Airlines flight, I observe not only the domestic helpers bound for life with a foreign family in Hong Kong, Taiwan or the Middle East, but the sacrifices they make and the families left behind, their menfolk consuming remittances on tanduay and bingo, and the way they themselves are often maltreated and misunderstood by their employers.
And when I get stuck in traffic on EDSA on a Friday night and it takes me 2 hours to get from the South-not-so-Super Highway to Ortigas, I see yet again that I must be completely deranged to have even attempted to traverse such a route on a Friday night when it’s raining, and it’s pay-day, and it’s midnight madness sale night in Glorietta, and I’ve been stuck in the same place before and sworn never, ever to let it happen again.
So although I may be able to see what goes on in the Philippines and read between the lines, I am still a foreigner (or a "Joe" as we get called in the provinces), albeit with a Filipina asawa and Eurasian anaks. And being a foreigner means I still pull my hair out when the traffic snarls, yet Betty shrugs her shoulders. And I still have 95% of taxi drivers trying to extort double the actual fare from me due to the colour of my skin and assumed weight of wallet (reverse racial financial discrimination we can call this phenomenon which I think is a fine and equitable system of wealth re-distribution).
And I have taste-buds that grew-up loving Sunday’s roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, gravy and soggy vegetables, chicken tikka masala from the Indian down the road, and No. 36 with chips from the local Chinese takeaway. I did not grow-up on balut, bagoong, caldereta or aroz caldo.
I am now researching material for a work of fiction. It’s in its infancy as a project but is coming on nicely. The subject matter being the Moros and their long claim to land, mixed in with a drunkard British naturalist, Spanish aggressors, a pretty Muslim girl and a fanatical Jesuit priest.
That’s enough about me. It’s Friday night and I’m off down the pub. Okay, it’s not really a pub but a bar in Makati that allows me to drink as much San Miguel as I wish between the hours of 5 and 9pm for about P150. This is a scandalously small amount to pay for the destruction of my liver and brain. My mates in the UK have to pay a high multiple of this amount to inebriate and damage themselves. But perhaps it will not take them 2 hours to get to the pub!
by Nina Torceliono-Iszatt
When asked how my stay in the Philippines is, I’m so often at a loss as how to answer. I have so very much to say yet how I am unable to articulate something that is so intrinsically part of me. At times enlightened clarity, at others plain confusion. Prior to my arrival eight months ago, I wasn’t even aware I had this craving. This need to know. Me and the Philippines. Me in the Philippines. I intended it to be a ‘year out’ but it’s become far too involved for that. What does it really mean?
I am a 25-year-old half-Filipina (on my mother’s side) and for 24 years I’ve lived in England. I’m very British daw . And it’s true. I’ve inherited the one racial prejudice acceptable to all British (including those on the left…or should that be especially those on the left?). A healthy dislike of all things American. My nationality is as confusing to Filipinos (they don’t understand my aversion to being called FilAm) as my accent.
I am very British. But I’m slowly discovering I have Filipino feelings too. I didn’t know they would be this big. Or taste so good. These untouchable nameless feelings I’m experiencing. Every day. And they’re so very fluid.
Some days it’s about my mother. Well, principally it’s about her. Who she was, how she became who she is, the role of culture and upbringing in becoming. And us. Mother and daughter, the original entrée to the therapist’s couch. We rarely saw eye-to-eye and I often thought the things she said were irrational or overstated. I could never quite understand where she was coming from. Not that I knew this was the problem, I just became teenage and irritated instead. Communication would readily be reduced to altercation. Now I’m in the Philippines our affinity is transforming, becoming enriched. Everyday more of her life is revealed to me, living here brings me closer to understanding. This is why I feel a special tie with Catanduanes, my Bicol home: it’s where she grew up.
How can I explain that thing I have when I travel to Catanduanes? This sense of excitement that unapologetically floods my feelings just before I reach our barangay. "I’m coming home" my elated heart screams. I only know it’s paralleled in the sadness that comes over me every time I leave. Early one morning I left for the airport, one of my lolos taking me by motorbike. (That’s another thing – I never had so many lolos in my life!) Riding along the damaged semi-concrete road, verdant mountains rising on our left, I was surprised to find the gentle drizzle in my face blending effortlessly with tears of both sadness and joy at the beauty of it all.
In Catanduanes I also found Bebo, who was my boyfriend when we visited when I was 11. It’s been so hard to find the vocabulary to explain to my childhood sweetheart how important a part of my discovery he is. Siyempre, there are all sorts of expectations, especially as our mothers were best friends when they were young. Imagine just how many people would love for us to get married – except my parents of course who think I’m far too young. This is diametrically opposed to popular Filipino thought that states my age is ‘tama’ for marriage!
I have had to explain that actually, it’s his friendship that’s most important to me. Sometimes I imagine how my life would have been if I’d grown up in Lictin (our barangay), like my mum. Would I be more like her? Travel the world? Or be married for life with three children of my own to forge intricate relationships with? I indulge myself and believe that Bebo growing up there allows me an insight into the kind of experiences that I might have had. His friends would have been mine, his adventures part of my own.
Sometimes it hits me when I’m hanging out with members of my very large extended family, drinking cheap gin. Barangay Ginebra – taga rito ka! (I always fantasise this line in the advertisements was written just for me). Whilst making kuwentohan in faltering Tagalog (I’ll save learning Bicol for next year!) I feel infinitely happy and part of something. However, they still can’t understand my reluctance to get up and sing or play guitar at the drop-of-a-hat. I’m not fully Filipina (and for the record I have neither intention nor desire of going into show business!)
Occasionally when I’m sitting quietly with my Lola who has Parkinson’s disease, we exchange smiles which convey more than we could in words (not only because of the language barrier) and I’m struck with some intangible realisation. I don’t know quite what it is, just that it happens.
Despite my delight in my Filipino family, I don’t live with them but rent a room by myself. When I first arrived I was sharing a room, and a bed , with 2 small cousins, one of whom practiced comedy tossing and turning before promptly wetting the bed on my first of many jet-lagged nights. I wasn’t allowed to travel alone and always had to await an escort. The well-meaning overprotection of my family pushed me towards a state of mind I was not yet familiar with. After three weeks I declared that I was moving out. The response? Pause… quiet … "We’ll discuss it when your mum arrives". No! We won’t! I’m just informing you! I’ve grown up independently in an individualistic society (never mind that I’ve lived away from home, in London, for 6 years!) I learned early on that I’m not ready for Filipino families just yet!
Sometimes I just love the openness and all encompassing Filipino community. People really look out for each other, helping out in difficult times. But other times, I’m so British, I don’t want kasama, I want space! I’m desperate for some privacy. Here a secret shared isÉa secret shared talaga.
A further confusion arises when I’m treated preferentially on account of being medio maputi – yet I don’t possess the self-confidence that should accompany it because my experience was growing up as a minority and knowing it. Even if racism isn’t always explicit. The understanding that a seemingly neutral comment is inherently racist partially formed my feelings of self-worth. And people here cannot understand how that could be, growing up in a racial minority where nothing is black and white (How to explain what it means to me when the same boys who would tease my brother on account of our colour would have a crush on me? Or how to explain the racism of the middle classes in which you’re okay because you are not one of them, those other foreigners?)
So then it’s even more bewildering to come to the place where my colour is rooted only to discover a different type of racism. I had always grown up feeling a spontaneous solidarity with people of colour. In our differences we are the same. Yet here there exists a strong and open racism especially in reference to the Chinese. If I pause to think for a moment I know it is no different in other countries but I just didn’t expect that to be the case. In fact issues of race are not broadly recognised, although colour certainly is. Skin whitening creams? "Be careful Nina," I have been warned, "you’re getting dark now it’s summer". But I’ve learned to love my colour now! Why would I want to be a pale imitation of myself?
How I loved it when my English girlfriends visited and embraced me with those monumental words "Nina, you’re so Filipino now". And how I loved it even more that their presence reminded me how British I am too. Whilst my accent deteriorated to an incomprehensibly broad British accent (Essex for those who know!), the longer I was with them the more Tagalog I spoke. Instead of relying on my Filipino friends, ako na lang . We were on my ‘home turf’. They had known me in my old life and understood this is equally my home. They disclosed that it was equally important for them too, to be able to see the Filipina version of Nina. Complete with her family in Catanduanes.
How to sum up? It’s all these things and more. It’s rainy season and each typhoon brings with it something new. I am always learning. I am now applying for citizenship (akala ko, staying here for one year would be long enough), and wonder how it will be for my sister who is not automatically able to because my mum was naturalised before she was born.
Today I received an email from a Filipina friend who is visiting her mother and half (English) sister in London. She told me she wished I was there so I could show her my London, where I lived, worked and thought. Then a huge part of me missed London so very badly. But I still smiled inside as I replied. Because it’s a little like my reply when I’m asked, "Sweet or savoury?" Sometimes I’m more sweet, others, savoury but mostly I prefer both. I just like food. I’m British and I’m Filipina. And I love the way that tastes.
[Note: This article used to be on Filipino Youth Network in Europe’s (FYNE)
website (http://www.home.zonnet.nl/fyneeurope/page11.html). The page
isn’t there anymore but we managed to retrieve it from google’s cache.
It seemed a shame to lose it!]