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Filipinos away from home

July 12, 2019


TRAVEL makes one see the world and the people in it. It used to be that the people one saw matched the country they were in. Not anymore. The world has become global, more closely connected, and easier to get around. It has become international, and particularly so in the First World where the level of development attracts newcomers to become part of it, or because it offers opportunities not available to them in their own countries. Or, it is as simple as the fact that natives in developed countries cannot or will not take certain jobs for their not being commensurate to their ambitions or skills. Particularly in the big cities of the developed world, more than the natives one will see the foreigners who live and work there too. Thus, the whole perspective is a spectrum of color, races, types of human beings loosely or closely integrated into the society they are in.

Traveling through Europe is seeing our fellow Filipino citizens being part of the scenery.We have always been adventurous and bold to take our chances far from home for one reason or another.

It is said that the first person to have circumnavigated the world was Enrique, a Filipino who was Magellan’s manservant, and whom he took from the Moluccas to Europe and back again. Enrique was a slave whose circumstances brought him around the world. Then there were the Filipinos who, whether or not by force, became part of the Manila Galleon trade and then jumped ship in Mexico and went as far as Louisiana in the 18th century, establishing colonies there. Closer to our time are the sugar and agricultural workers who were recruited for Hawaii and California in the early 20th century. Farther back, we read of Filipinos roaming around the royal circles of Brunei and going to China, possibly Japan too, as they sailed the Pacific. More and more these connections are being seen and will be explained. So far, Filipinos who are migrants are such for economic and educational opportunities rather than war refugees or political asylum seekers

In the present day, there has been an acceleration of movement of people to and from developed and developing countries due to geopolitical events like political upheavals, economic crises and outright persecution and discrimination that are intolerable to the victims and for which they seek to escape to other countries. The happenings in the Middle East where war is a disruptive force, or the persecution of certain groups like the Uighurs in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Yazidis in the Middle East are a driving force to go to another country. Before them were the Vietnamese fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War. And much before, the Chinese and Japanese seeking economic opportunities in North and South America in the 19th century.

The Filipinos settling away from home today are filling jobs that are available to them for one reason or another. There are the professionals like doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, managers, techies, teachers. Then there are the Filipinos in the service industry like waiters, hotel staff, drivers, retail shop assistants. They are generally well regarded and accepted. While there is a big issue in Europe today of fear and disapproval of an overwhelming number of migrants coming into their countries and consequently political forces forming against migration, Filipinos are not affected for being relatively small in number, easily assimilated and useful. They require no subsidies or special government assistance. They also are a boon to the society they are in and are in general law-abiding. They learn the language and interact with the natives; others and are considered trustworthy and hard workers.

So, I saw a Filipina nanny taking care of a toddler in Berlin with the Italian family who was on vacation. Then there was the Filipino bartender in Munich, the Filipino waitress in the Ka de We Department Store in Berlin, the Filipino drivers in Paris. For sure there are the nurses somewhere. There are too the Filipinos married to citizens of the country they live in. All in all, you see them as individuals. not a herd. If one gets lost or needs directions, the best possible solution is to look for a fellow Filipino and you will find a friend who will help. While looking for the dock of the sightseeing boat on the Spree River in Berlin, we saw a Filipina taking a photo of her sister on a bridge above the river. We asked her where the dock was, she pointed out where it was, and told us that she was from Pangasinan and that her sister was visiting from Italy. We were no longer lost, almost at home.

And very at home with Bela, in charge of the Breakfast Room at my hotel in Paris.

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