Relative values

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2021 - 12:00am

“How long have you been away from the country?” Laruja asked Ibarra.

“Almost seven years.”

“Then you have probably forgotten all about it.”

“Quite the contrary. Even if my country does seem to have forgotten me, I have always thought about it.”

– José Rizal, Noli Me Tángere

Ever since the first Filipinos began to invent their own country, their imaginings have taken place as much abroad as at home. Perhaps it is just as much the case nowadays, possibly even more so, now that millions of Filipinos are living overseas. Inevitably, our imaginings are of our own time.

This week is the first of a series of explorations of the migrant experience for Filipinos through their family relationships. We place Family at the center of our lives: it’s a sacred institution in the Philippines. When we live outside of the Philippines, an ancient way of life is disrupted and the fabric of our relationships transforms both for family members at home and overseas.

I think of this idea of Being Filipino is like a stone found and held in the palm of our hand, to be held up to the light, turned over and around while the light shines through, sometimes obscured, sometimes radiant, the colors shifting deeper, brighter, darker and even disappearing depending on how it is held. You can only know it by close frank and honest examination.

Terence Alcantara grew up in Manila; here in London he’s become a successful model for huge brands like BMW. His father Gene Alcantara is a Filipino community leader and immigration advisor.

*      *      *

Terence: I’m living in with my partner and my baby, my baby boy. We have a little flat, you know, playing bahay-bahayan. We love it here near Crouch End. Yeah, this is like the dream.

When I first got introduced to the modelling scene I was like ‘Wow! Do I call myself a model?’ When I received that paycheck my agent told me, ‘OK, here it is. It’s official, you can call yourself a model.’ It hasn’t really sunk in because I never ever saw myself doing this.

We were very fortunate to book that BMW job. They flew me out to the secret location and we shot it for a week. It was amazing. BMW wanted to try something different, to diversify this new car campaign, to reach the Asian part of the market. That’s one of the things about the Pinoy look – you could look Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or whatever.

I grew up alongside my grandparents and my mom. If you miss a meal you get in trouble. We would pray the rosary every early evening altogether. Again, if you missed that, you get in trouble, you’d be ignored by my grandma the whole day. When I look back on that time from here in London, I miss it. Doing what I did in the Philippines, that was my duty to my family, to my mom and grandma to show I care about our family.

Maybe when my son is a little bit older and understands things, I’ll start a tradition like that. The more you spend time together the bond just gets deeper and stronger. It makes you feel loved and supported. You feel great because you feel like you’ve delivered in a good way, you made your mom or grandma happy and proud because you’re serving them in a way; you’re not going against them, the little things count so much.

Now that I’m in a position where I’ve moved away, the way I see the motherland, the Philippines, is more solid. I feel like my dad’s community work is his way of expressing how he loves his country, how homesick he feels. I feel like I want to also get involved in some sort of way, of giving back or raising awareness about the Philippines. I do have my moments when I feel homesick.I just put on a Tagalog song on YouTube videos. It’s kind of embarrassing because if you see me you would never, ever in a million years think that I would be listening to so many cheesy songs.

*  *  *

Gene: I mostly work with a charity, Dampay, helping Filipinos in need. I’m also a registered immigration consultant, that’s my bread and butter.

Terence was born here, then his mom brought him back home with his elder sister. He was six when when they left. His interests before were around basketball and girls! He’s become more mature, more responsible and well, hopefully will become famous.

Terence is very Filipino in the sense that children who grow up here are really more assertive. They’re more independent, and they are probably less respectful of elders. He is actually quite respectful and he is also quite sensitive in the Pinoy way. Terence really knows he’s Filipino, although he’s also British, he could also be accepted here. Terence wants to be recognized as British-Filipino.

I was born in the Philippines, I could survive there, but I don’t totally belong to the Philippines now, and I don’t totally belong to the UK, because you know when people see me and talk to me, my accent is really Filipino. I know that I can compete with people here and all that, but if people do not know me they make assumptions, for example commenting, “My goodness how good your English is! How did you learn it?”

Before we were referred to as a hidden community, people would work in private homes or in hotels, restaurants. Now people in the UK know that there is a place called Philippines. When the pandemic happened, people noticed Filipinos were dying, maybe about 70 died, and people were at a loss to find out why there was such a high proportion.

The question is: Have we actually made a mark? In the sense that people are working, say in the NHS, but do they get the respect of the white community? We are still stuck in our Filipino ways of not knowing how to say no to our manager. Is that because we are we still scared of losing our jobs? Or maybe getting a bad reputation.

Hopefully Terence turns out to be a good father, a good Filipino British father. He’s actually teaching his son Tagalog and tells me off if I don’t speak to him in Tagalog.

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