26 April 2015

Filipinos on the Road

I should begin with a warning that this post might not be the most coherent post I will write. But rather, it will probably be just a collection of thoughts, all relating to the fact that I see Filipinos almost everywhere I go. And sometimes, these instances become uncomfortable. Let me explain.

See, I was in Israel recently. And in Israel, there are plenty of Filipinos. However, they are for the most part just migrant workers. They are in Israel because they are working overseas, so that they can send money back home in the Philippines. Most if not all of the Filipinos in Israel are caregivers. They take care of the elderly Israelis. If you go to Rothschild Boulevard or Park HaYarkon you'll see them. You'll see Filipinos with their elderly Israelis in wheelchairs in tow. And somehow, this made me think.

I am not the most obvious Filipino out there. Most of the people when they bump into me, they greet me with either Ni Hao or Konnichiwa, which means that they think I am either Chinese or Japanese, and not Filipino. But sometimes, when you see a Filipino on the street, and they see you as well, then they know. And somehow, it makes me feel uncomfortable, when they see me as a visitor, as a tourist, supposedly flaunting my money, while they are there, working hard. That disturbs me somehow.

It reminds me of an incident back in Japan. I was with my mother, and she bumped into a few Filipinos. Their immediate first question to my mom was who her boss was, and how much she earns. They thought that my mom was a migrant worker as well, when in fact, we were there in Japan living because we were diplomats.

It is somehow disturbing to think that while Filipinos are relatively well-traveled (heck, I even bumped into a Filipino while waiting for a flight in Lima's international airport, in Peru), but they are not well-traveled because they love to take vacations. No. Rather, they are well-traveled because most of the jobs they have are overseas, and not inside the country. Ten percent of the Filipino population is overseas. That is a lot. We go everywhere, either because of brain drain, or simply because there are no jobs at home.

You can even stereotype the type of employment they have based on the destination. If they are heading to the United States, United Kingdom, or Ireland, chances are they are nurses. If they are heading to Hong Kong, they are domestic helpers. To Israel, they are caregivers. To Japan, they are entertainers. To the Middle East, they are construction workers. And so it disturbs me a little when I go to a destination where Filipinos are commonly headed to for work, since I see them all over the place, and unlike them, I am not working, but rather, enjoying the country as a tourist.

Perhaps another side-effect of this is the fact that I am reluctant to tell the locals that I am a Filipino, in places like these. It's because I don't want to be seen with their stereotypes. So, when I was in Israel, I said that I live in Berlin, whenever they ask where I am from. Only when it is clear that I am an exception, that I am not a caregiver, only when it is clear that their supposed stereotypes don't apply to me, then I say that I am from the Philippines.

This might sound like I am embarrassed of the fact that Filipinos are overseas migrant workers. No. Working is a good thing. There is nothing to be embarrassed about earning an honest work. However, what would have been nice is if the Filipino government actually develops the economy, so that there are more jobs inside the country, and so that the necessity to go overseas and work becomes lessened. Ever since the Filipino government discovered the fact that they can import labor, that's pretty much all they did. I would rather prefer it to be the case that Filipinos are known for their innovations and skills, rather than for their importability.


  1. Feng used to get the "konichiwa" a lot when we first start traveling together. Times change, now if he says he is Chinese, many people will say "ni hao"!

    I can't recall stumbling upon a large Filippino community... oh wait, as I typed it, I remember all the nannies in HK. On their day off (Thursdays, if my memory is correct) they used to hang out together on Victoria Harbour. It was a strange sight, hundreds of Filippinas eating snacks and catching up, sitting on the ground!

    1. Zhu,

      Yes, I have never been to Hong Kong, but I have heard of these off-days gatherings. They sit with each other on parks and simply hang out, since they don't have work that day. It is rather bizarre, but I guess that's almost a natural reaction of immigrants to gather together whenever possible. I've seen it here in Berlin too, in various economic levels, whether it's the Thais or the Americans.

  2. This is very sad. It is the same for the Indonesian workers : the men are overseas for construction works, the women are overseas as domestic workers. And, in some form, they are being exploited.