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Relative values

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - June 6, 2021 - 12:00am

Francesca Humi, 25, is project officer at a charity empowering Filipino migrants in the UK. She has worked at the Philippine country office of peacebuilding organization International Alert. She also runs an Instagram account @franexplainshistory. Her mother, Veronica, is an administrative assistant at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, France who has lived in the UK and France.

Francesca: My Instagram account comes from this impetus of wanting to share the things that I learned during my master’s degree. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to a great education. I did a master’s degree in “Empires, Colonialism and Globalization” at the London School of Economics. In the UK it costs £13,000 and it requires a certain level of education to even access that.

I thought the curriculum was so fascinating because it was the history of colonialism, the history of global empires and I decided to focus on American empire in the Philippines in particular. I was learning so many things I knew Filipino friends and family members wouldn’t necessarily know, or things that when I lived in the Philippines and worked there, things that didn’t necessarily come up in conversation in the way that you know, say, Spanish colonialism would come up.

So the idea with the Instagram account was it would be a way for me to democratize the knowledge that I’d learned and make what was guarded academic knowledge into publicly accessible, engaging content. I think it’s extremely unfair that just because people haven’t done the right studies or aren’t able to get a loan for £13,000, they can’t access their own history, I don’t think that’s right.

My mom wouldn’t necessarily pass down Filipino values to me. I don’t think she intentionally tried to do that, but she would tell a lot of stories about what it was like for her growing up. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are about lying on her lap while she’s on the phone with relatives in the Philippines; listening and getting very familiar with the sounds and rhythms of Tagalog; listening to her laugh and getting to know the names. It’s a very precious childhood memory listening to how my mom connects with her relatives and older sister. So I knew that her Filipino family was extremely valuable, so I kind of was like, OK, this is an extremely valuable thing to maintain and to be tied to.

I think I work on Philippine issues partly because of a feeling that there was no other place for me in French or British society. I think even if I was doing other work, I would be feeling this yearning and feeling like I’m not satisfying my need to do this. So even if I weren’t working for Kanlungan now, I think I would still try to find a way to volunteer for them or any other Filipino charity.

I feel very strongly about the fact that the Philippines is a country that does not get spoken about much, apart from when there are typhoons. I think because I grew up feeling like so starved for Filipino-related content and attention that, after that, everything that I did was about the Philippines. If I had to write about something for university and you were allowed to pick any country, I would always pick the Philippines ’cause I’m like “I’m going to singlehandedly address the institutional neglect of the Philippines as a topic” – that’s my contribution to society. This is my remedy to academic colonialism – even when I was just a 19-year-old writing really bad essays!

Veronica: I actually felt really upset when I met a lot of Spanish people here. When I told them I was from the Philippines, I’d say “You know the name of your King Juan Felipe? That’s why we’re called Philippines.” That really upset me and it took me a while actually to want to visit Spain. I thought “What? You colonize us and you don’t even know our country?” That’s really bad.

My childhood in the Philippines was very sheltered. You walk around, people see you. They say what they think about you, and so if you made the mistake of taking the bus or the jeepney or whatever, they’d say “Oh my God, did you see Veronica blah blah blah…” It was seen as too dangerous to take this type of transport. When I first moved to London I felt really free. I could be myself, yeah, I think that was my first impression.

I come from a very humble background but my parents had high moral standards. They felt that you may not be highly educated but you have to have good moral values. With my own kids, I guess I kind of struggled to balance that to give the Filipino values, but also not so much that they have too much difficulty in living as a French, Filipino, Italian. I could see how hard it was for friends who expected their children to behave as if they were growing up in the culture of wherever they come from, and yet they live here. I think Francesca struggled with that but then when she went to the Philippines, she realised how lucky she was!

When Francesca went to university she was determined to leave the confines of the suburb where we lived. She just hated everything, she wanted to be herself to discover who she was. She had a lot of issues about her identity and she got bullied. I sometimes regret that when she came to me I would give her stupid Filipino advice like “We have to feel lucky… you know?”

I’m so proud of her. I didn’t realize that her interest in the Philippines would actually go that deep.  We went to the Philippines at least every two years, for weeks at a time. She got to see the warmth of the Philippines and of my family. I was amazed at the impact it made on her.

When she was little, her uncles teased her because whenever she saw them she would run away to me. Coming from Europe, especially in Europe, you know they’re not that touchy-feely and expressive. Filipino families are so patient, now they are amazed to see her so much into everything about the Philippines.

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