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FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2021 - 12:00am

Peps Villanueva has lived in London for decades as an entrepreneur, digital radio presenter and social activist; as well as a sales representative for a travel agency. His daughter Jenny works in sales and operations for an international luxury goods brand, and grew up in the Philippines till she was a teenager.

Peps: Nowadays I host a program on the Filipino TV Europe Facebook page called “Embassy Natin… Kaibigan Mo.” Every week we go to a different Philippine embassy in Europe to talk to the ambassador. It’s actually a show we first did 11 years ago on internet radio but we revived it during lockdown and we livestream it. At the start of the program we interview the ambassador so the viewers can get to know them, but then people can call in with their questions. We get questions from listeners all over the world. A lot of them are about traveling to the Philippines during COVID. Sometimes the listeners call in because they want the embassy to help them when they’ve been scammed, in pyramid schemes for example. They want the embassy to go and arrest the people who made the scam, but there’s really nothing the embassy can do.

The Filipino community has changed so much. It’s a big positive development that there are so many nurses and health care workers here now, there are more professionals, but I’ve noticed that at big events in the Filipino community they have forgotten the people who started the community: the domestic workers in the hospitality industry, in hospitals and machine-operators.

I sometimes do translating work in court on cases like drunk driving. In the Philippines, it’s not seen as a problem if you drive when you’ve been drinking, so people do it when they’ve newly arrived here. I did some translating for Health and Safety training courses for seamen, because the company found that employees didn’t really understand. Sometimes people get sensitive about it. They ask me why I am there when they speak English. I tell them it’s because the people who hire me want to protect themselves. I think some people try to pretend not to understand to get away with mistakes.

Recently, I’ve noticed that the nurses who come here bring their husbands here too, once they’re established, but then the husband has to figure out how to fit in. One lady asked me to book a ticket for her husband to go back to the Philippines, soon after he had arrived. I asked what was wrong and it turned out that he was fed up because she would finish her shift then go out with her friends just like before he arrived. I explained that to her and a few days later she asked me to cancel the ticket booking.

All my children live nearby. I was strict with Jennifer until she was 18, but after that I let her do what she wants. It’s too difficult with children here to expect them to behave as if they are in the Philippines. Now her children are interested in their heritage. When her son was small and I tried to go out without him, he could understand what I was saying in Tagalog and insisted on coming too!

I wouldn’t go back to live in the Philippines any more because I wouldn’t be able to afford the medications I need there.

Jennifer: I moved to the UK when I was 14, it was a major change. Growing up in Manila, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and I took the school bus. When I moved here I had to learn how to be independent and use public transport – that was a shock.

I got to experience the Filipino way: the family reunions we used to have, the magical Christmas, the simbang gabi and knowing the extended family. We don’t see that very often here and that’s the main difference I’ve noticed in the cultures: most people only know their immediate families.

I was sad at first, feeling different or wishing that I had grown up here, because I met Filipino friends at school who had grown up here, but then I thought if I had, would I be the same person, with my close relationships with aunts and other relatives? I loved the fact that I know them very well. School culture was so strict in the Philippines, but here it doesn’t matter if you don’t do your homework. It’s a different approach to things. I came to terms with the cultural differences by the time I was 18 or so when I began to meet fellow students from many more backgrounds.

I was proud when I noticed how popular my dad is and also amazed over the level of influence he has. I like that he supports a lot of Filipino entrepreneurs and business start-ups. He encourages our kababayans.

My brothers and I are more low key, but we also try to support fellow Filipinos in our own little way. Mainly by trying new restaurants, buying Filipino delicacies or telling our dad if we’ve tried something new that we like.

I’ve been working in my job for 23 years it’s very busy but also fulfilling. I honestly feel a bit more British as I get older. I am happy to be at home with my family and go for nature walks. I just don’t go to as many Filipino parties anymore since I moved out. My husband is not Filipino and I have two sons. My kids call their grandparents Lolo and Lola and they know how to make “mano.” My oldest is so interested in the Philippines now.

My dad was definitely more protective of me during my teenage years. When I reached 18 I had a little bit more freedom, but if I had to catch a late train he would never get angry when I asked him to pick me up from the station. My brothers were expected to just make their own way home. Fortunately for my dad, I’m a good girl. I never rebelled. I was the sensible one.

I would probably go back to the Philippines more for vacation because there are so many beautiful places still to see. But not to live as I’m not used to the hot climate any more.

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