Education and Home

The social costs of being Filipino migrants abroad

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

Filipino in Global Migration: At Home in the World? is a book project on migrants all over the world edited by Dr. Filomeno V. Aguilar Jr. which brings together writings by non-Filipino scholars under the auspices of UNESCO-MOST (Management of Social Transformation). Dr. Aguilar should be commended for bringing home this collection of thoughtful articles which is a homecoming of sorts, isang maligayang pagbalik!  The newly launched McKinsey Global Institute report shows that as of 2015 the Philippines ranks 9th worldwide in terms of global migrants from the country, which accounts for an estimated five million or about 2.025 percent of the 247 million total migrants. The top ten countries of origin are India, Mexico, Russia, China, Bangladesh, Syria, Ukraine, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Afghanistan.

Trying to conform

Between 1966 and 1976, close to one-third of all Filipinos admitted into the United States came through the third preference as professionals.

Armando, son of an immigrant, recalls “Being in an all white environment when I was not white has, in a lot of ways, helped to retard my own sense of myself as a Filipino,” Armando complained. “When I was in high school, I did a lot of things that were almost anti-Filipino. I didn’t hang around Filipinos. I didn’t join Filipino organizations. I just wasn’t very proud to be Filipino. Our parents don’t realize that we don’t know anything about the old country. I’ve talked to Filipinos who know a lot more about the American civil war, about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln than they do about their own history. Those were their heroes. So if you have that mindset – the American culture, the American perspective is more important than the Filipino.”

As Armando explained: “Being Filipino was an event. It was going to a party on the weekend with my parents and eating Filipino food, that is when I was a Filipino. It was periodic and external.”

I was not black and I was not white

Growing up in largely white neighborhoods, Armando was ostracized because of his racial difference, “In the early part of my life people kept asking me questions that I couldn’t fully answer like, ‘Where did you come from? I’ve never heard of the place.’ ‘Are you Mexican? Are you black? Are you Chinese?’ ‘Why do your parents speak funny?’”

Ruby, another migrant, told her confusion, “And the same thing happened when I was applying for citizenship, I was seven years old at the time. I remember this vividly because I can feel my parents’ chill when I asked them, ‘Mom and Dad, are we Negro?’ because I knew we weren’t white, so that makes us Negro. I didn’t know what Negro was.”

For Ruby, the process of ethnic awareness began in her senior year in high school when an academic counselor discouraged her from applying to the University of California. But Ruby did not accept the counselor’s prognosis of her future. Ruby recalled her joy when she found out that she had been accepted to the University of California.

The liberating experience of being Asian

The ethnic consciousness of these Filipino-Americans crystalized when they made the transition from living at home with their parents to being independent in college. Ruby’s growing sense of racial and ethnic consciousness was formed during her college years when she became involved with the Student Affirmative Action / Economic Opportunity Program (SAA/EOP) and the Filipino American Club. This sensitized her to issues of student retention and multiculturalism as well as forged her identity as a student of color; “I was out there in the front line helping students of color pass classes and talk out their problems.” She related with Filipino friends, learned about Filipino history and performed in the Filipino dance troupe.

Elaine’s ethnicity, also a migrant, on the other hand, became significant when she involved herself in student politics in college, fighting for the retention and recruitment of students and faculty of color. She attributed this activism to her relationship with her two roommates, a Latina and an African American. Out of their shared history of discrimination, they became involved in a cohesive interpersonal network.

It is okay to stand up to mom and dad?

An outspoken young woman, Elaine deviates from her family’s notion of a traditional daughter: “My grandfather tells me that I am too ‘Americanized.’ I feel he equates being Americanized with being independent. My sister and I do a lot of things on our own.”

Similarly, Ruby described her struggle to reconcile family expectations with individual ambition. It was through her involvement with Asian-American Women’s Support Group that Ruby eventually learned “that it is okay to stand up to Mom and Dad and that it does not mean that I love them any less or that I am any less Filipino.”

The Filipino-American hybrid

Elaine gave an example of how she reconciled her ‘Filipino’ and ‘American’ worlds: “I am American because of my independence. I don’t buy the traditional Filipino way of not questioning authority. But, I am also a Filipino in the sense that I do recognize those positions of authority and I will not cross those boundaries. The elders, people in my family, that are older than I am, I give them respect.”

As Armando explained: “Not being readily connected to a Filipino community, learning through books, learning through discussions, that is probably the most structured way that I can educate myself about the Filipino culture and history.”

I want my children

to understand Philippine history and connect to their relatives back home

According to Elaine, “For me, being a Filipino-American means fighting racism and discrimination, hate crimes, anti-Asianism and all that. You have to be politically involved.” Along the same line, Ruby was adamant that “Filipinos ought to be more organized and more issue-oriented. I would much rather see them coming together to address their social and political needs. I feel it happening in my own generation – people in their twenties and thirties, college educated – they are aware and are coming forth.”

As Armando stated, “I want my children to know a hell of a lot more than I did. I also hope that I will have enough money so that I can travel to the Philippines with my children.”

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