Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Can Be Done to Make Foreigners Feel More Welcome in the Philippines.

(An opinion based on experience and observations over a 23 year period) "At sa kanyang yumi at ganda Dayuhan ay nahalina" Recently I watched a documentary about Filipina maids in Hong Kong. In it, some Hong Kong citizens were protesting against the bid by these maids to gain permanent residency. The crown moment was a testimony by a Filipina who was sitting somewhere outside, and a Hong Konger passed by her and showed her a “F--- You!” sign. She was deeply wounded and was now telling the TV crew about the incident while crying. I felt for her. I had a bird flipped at me in some countries, too. The main idea of the film was that Filipinos are often discriminated against in Hong Kong (and in other countries). The Philippine community- both at home and abroad - are very sensitive about such maltreatment. Even the government bans those foreigners who slander Filipinos publically. There was once an uproar about an article in a Hong Kong publication calling the Filipinos a “nation of servants”. The outrage by so many Filipinos was tremendous. They declared the author a “persona non grata”. Hey, if I were a Filipino, I would be upset, too. Luckily, here in the US, Filipinos are treated fairly well. You don’t hear of anyone insulting them in newspapers. They don’t have bad reputation. Filipinos are nurses, doctors, are in city governments, post office and the military, and are given permanent residency and citizenship. They move up in ranks pretty quickly. There have been some incidents by some racists, but the locals were immediately there to protect the Filipinos. American lawyers sued those who slighted them. Personally, I think the Filipinos are the happiest immigrants here in the US. They look and act confident. They walk with a spring in their step. The speak American English with no accent. They are probably the best integrated ( after,possibly, Canadians). If they feel they are being treated in a discriminatory manner, they stand up for their rights and fight the racists. In the 21st century, America is a politically correct country with strong laws to defend immigrants and foreigners against unfair treatment, particularly if they are non-white. An average educated American is now very liberal and anti-racist. Rich and high-class Americans are generally open-minded and polite. They have been trained not to treat minorities of any kind badly. They are also taught to be careful as to by what label they call immigrants, foreigners or homegrown non-mainstream groups, especially, again, if they are non-white. The racists in the US are usually the uneducated ones and working class people who feel that foreigners and immigrants are taking away American jobs. These people don’t like anyone who is not white, English speaking (without an accent) with, preferably, an Anglo Saxon name. That is still the reality. But they can be punished by law if they mistreat Filipinos. The same can be said about all the other “Anglo-Saxon” countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and most EU countries. If someone mistreats you because you look, talk or act foreign ( and you are non-white) this is seen as a shameful incident, and they call that person “a racist”. The rest of the society will stand by you and protect you. It will be in the news. The racist will usually apologize. He/she may even lose his/her job. This is why one of the main contributors to this board said, “Stand up for yourself! Refuse to be disrespected!” Having said all that, most Asian people in the US still complain about one thing: “No matter how long you live here, if you are an Asian, you are always treated as a foreigner. People are often shocked that you speak English with no accent and make compliments without realizing that they basically treat you as an outsider by doing that. And even if you are born here, you are still a foreigner. But if you are white (or black), you are American.” In our globalized world, more and more Filipinos go and live in other countries. And many people from other countries now go and live (and settle) in the Philippines. So, now, let’s look at how it would be if people of such other “races” went to the Philippines. How would they be treated? By what name would they be called? Would there be discrimination against them? My overall view is that the situation is satisfactory. Most people are really nice. I would not be going to the country for 23 years if they weren’t. Actually, the treasure of the Philippines is its great people; 90% of them. There’s not much discrimination, and usually foreigners are welcome to visit and stay (provided they satisfy the visa requirements). Among Asian countries, the Philippines is most probably the least xenophobic ( bar Singapore). I have read that, in some survey, as many as 87% of Filipinos said that foreigners coming to their country was a good thing. In Thailand,otoh, most said “no”. It does not mean; however, that all is hunky-dory, and everyone is nice to you if you go to visit or live in the Philippines. There’s definitely room for improvement. So, in this article, I would like to focus on things which merit being addressed. And the treatment by the other 10%. So, please don’t “magpakapikon”. Because when you come to my country and are not happy about some things, I listen and I want things to improve. Thus, please accept some of the criticisms on my part. I am saying these things so that we all live in a better world where everyone is happier. Very few foreigners complain to Filipinos about social problems they experience in the Philippines. The reason is that they say many Filipinos will get upset and become ‘pikon’. They will tell the “porener” to go back to his country if he does not like it. They will deny that such things happen. They will just switch topics. So, these “ poreners” just share such things on anonymous boards. But in my opinion, unless you know about this, it is not fair to you, either. So, here we go: For one, the situation is exactly the same as in the US vis-a-vis Asians who live here. No matter how long you live in the country, you are always a “porener” to most people. People praise your Tagalog or worse, shout: “Ah, marunong ka pala magtagalog!” And as you talk, they stare at you with a dropped jaw and then, reply in English. Then, after you talk in Tagalog for five minutes, they ask you: “Marunong ka pala magtagalog?” What have I been speaking to you for the past five minutes? Was it Bulgarian? Some start clapping and shouting “Magaling, magaling!” , but not answering your question or talking to you. Which is again meant as a compliment-- but it’s annoying. Why don’t they just treat me as an equal? Well, most of them won’t. Nowhere in Asia they do. Some even get angry that you speak Tagalog or Visaya to them and start yelling back at you in English. They say it rudely “ Whaaaaaat?” ( they should say “Pardon me?” or “Excuse me?”; “whaaaat?” is rude; the same as “What do you want?” is rude). This would not happen in, say, Latin America. People talk to you in Spanish- everywhere- and they expect you to speak it. You are treated as an equal. And just as Filipinos are hurt about being labeled maids and servants (oh, the rage!), and Filipina women feel deeply demeaned when someone mistakes them for bad girls, so do foreign guys, white or non-white, in the Philippines, resent being called sex tourists or worse. People from Muslim countries also resent being called “terrorista”. But it happens. Stereotyping is unfortunately quite common. And there’s no political correctness in speech as a rule. People often just say what they think. Sometimes, I tell my Filipino friends- “Why do you have to say such offensive things? Why do you make such unsupported generalizations? Just keep your opinion to yourself, please”. Some just sit and talk badly about “poreners” and about Americans with you being present. They seem not to care about how they make you feel. And “porener”, “white man” and “American” are synonymous to most such people.” Poreners are aggressive. Poreners like to divorce. Poreners cheat Filipinos. Kapampangans don’t like white people because of what the Americans did here”. They say things like that while you are sitting there. Or right in your face. When I was in Cebu, I was attending a prayer meeting with a local religious organization. Two ladies came to pick me up, and the first thing they said was that “When people see us with a “porener” they think we are prostitutes”. It’s just a given. Some people stare and talk- you can see them look at you and make comments. They smile evil, mocking smiles. And it is daily in big cities with many bars and clubs. If you are a white guy and are alone, everything is nice. If you walk with a Filipino man, it is again OK; but once you are with a woman, angry flashes, smirks and dark evil looks start appearing in your environment. Does everybody give you those? No. Does it happen every day? I’d say, in a big city, it mostly does. I just must tell you the truth. So many times, I was with female friends, and again and again the same thing was said. “Kasama kami ng porener? Prostie kami”. One of my online friends who is British was with another British man, and a lady from Malacanang was giving them a tour of Intramuros. They told me that after the tour, the Malacanang employee with a smile recounted how she was hearing people say that she was probably a bad girl because she was with two “poreners”. And this was during an official visit. She wasn’t even upset about it- this is how widespread it is. She just took it for granted and laughed it off. I personally wish she had had those gossipers arrested. Worse yet: when I was in Saudi, one Filipino was laughing all the time at Americans- “Mga amerikano-pedopail” he was always saying. And once, I had a meeting a Filipino teacher, and the first words out of her mouth were: “Bakit Amerikano ay pedopail?” One of my American friends has a daughter who came out looking very Southeast-Asian. She was nine, and he went around Manila with her. ”If looks could kill, I’d be dead”- he said. It was only when the girl shouted “Daddy, daddy!” that people suddenly changed the hateful way they were looking at him. Does every Filipino think that? No. Does it happen often enough to make your life there a bit uncomfortable? Yes! So, if you are a father of a child that looks Austronesian or a stepfather or a foster father/"ninong", you always must be prepared and guard yourself against such attitudes. The only way to avoid them is to really go out with a family or the maid. If you are alone with your own daughter/son, hateful flashes of the eyes often appear. Do they hurt you physically? No. But the atmosphere is still tense. I am a “ninong”, and I was buying my god child candy, and two men went by and said ”maliit na puta iyan” about her. They thought I could not understand what it meant. I did. It’s amazing how things change when you know the language. And once I was walking down the street, a man crossed it and walked towards me; he went by me and uttered “unggoy” as he passed me. Again, he thought I could not understand it. Now, what can you do? If I were in my country, I’d smack him. But there, you just have to grin and bear it. Just like a Filipino has to put up with abuse by Saudis and other such people. You see, we can’t really stand up for ourselves as you can in our country. We cannot refuse to be disrespected. When we are alone in your country and people insult us or those dear to us we have no protection as you do here. They can just say I was being disrespectful and by law a “ porener” cannot be disrespectful to a Filipino. So, all you can do is just ignore it. Again, this would never happen in Latin America- another area of the world I go to quite often. Last time I was in Nicaragua, I was finally free from such nasty looks, or people insulting me like this. Even though it’s occasional in PH, it still gets internalized. In Nicaragua, I could meet people, and no one would look at us. I was only a foreigner to them when they heard my accent. And in Argentina, I became invisible. I was treated as everyone else. So, as much as I love the Philippines, I sometimes wonder if it would make more sense to retire in the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua where no one would call your God child a “maliit na puta” just because her “ninong” is a white man. As far as making friends and non-racial attitudes, being open minded, the situation seems to be exactly the opposite of America (and the West): From my observation, high class, educated and/or rich Filipinos often tend to be more anti-foreign and racist than poorer Filipinos. And that is what some expats say- “The poor love you, but not the rich ones; the rich ones don’t even want to see a “porener”. A “porener” is nothing but trouble.” An educated, high( middle) class Filipina ( with exceptions) is generally not interested in meeting or dating ( or being seen with ) a “porener” -- or a person of another race. The higher the class, the more they seem to be nationalistic and xenophobic. Which is the same as in most South East Asian countries (except Singapore, HK or Malaysia). For example, here in the US, a working class woman would almost never date a man from another country or of another race (unless he is an Anglo Saxon- like a white Canadian, maybe). However, an educated woman would be open minded enough to date a black man or a foreign man. The same goes for friendships here. The Philippines seems to be the opposite. Just as if you took the social structure and flipped it upside down. This is the reason why most ““poreners”” in the Philippines date and marry lower class girls. And most their friends are poor. It’s just the reality. Again, what I am describing here is the general tendency in the society. There are many exceptions to the rule, and I am sure you will now say ”But my sister is a nurse, and her husband is Australian, etc.,”. I understand, but this is not the rule; it’s more like an exception. I am talking about prevalent attitudes. In addition,some of such middle- and high-class Filipinos can be very frank and impolite and come up with wild generalizations some of which are not supported by any sources. For example, one of my Cebuana friends from way back suddenly told me that in Cebu, many people used to hate “poreners” because “poreners” killed Lapu Lapu. She was a business owner and a BA degree holder. Say what? Lapu Lapu was the one who had killed Magellan, and the last thing known of him is that he had gone to live on Borneo. He was not killed by “poreners”. This is just an example of how some such Filipinos just come up with these unsupported accusations without any proof at all. Some just blurt things out without considering neither the offensive effect their statements will have on you, nor the sources of such statements. Some also ask you angrily- “What are you doing in the Philippines? Why are you here in the Philippines? What business do you have here?” The tone can be quite hostile. I was invited to a FB group about Philippine History and Culture, and suddenly a poster said that she wishes the group would be for “Filipinos Only”. Her reason for that was that there was a Filipino who pretended to be an American and who said that Filipinos were not bright. I failed to see the logic. I said- "it was a Filipino who said that, after all". Then another man supported her and said: “Pinoys Only” group. It was all in Tagalog, and I told them in Tagalog that Facebook was not their property- it is an American corporation located in the USA. If they make their group “Filipino Only”, it’s racism and I will report them to administrators. They said that Mark Zuckerberg "ay walang pakialam”, but I was shocked by such an affront.Can you imagine a group “Americans Only”? It would be labeled a hate group and be shut down. This time I stood up- I reminded them that this is still US cyber property and US territory and it is subject to US laws. They quieted down after that, but this shows you what kind of attitudes still exists among some Filipinos. One more observation by my friend from Taiwan was this:” In Taiwan, you always see middle-class families in restaurants with a foreigner in the middle, and they are treating him to a meal (Taiwan is not really a SE Asian country- the people are mostly Chinese), but you almost never see it in the PH”. And it’s the same in Japan: you always see a group of Japanese professionals, and there’s a foreign guy or a white guy among them. Very rare in the Philippines. You will be hard up to see a group of middle-class Filipinos, and there is a white guy among them, and all are talking. Again, there are exceptions to the rule, I am sure. But I am just sharing the general observations. And then, you end up in a poor barangay, and the whole barrio is there to treat you like a king, sit and talk to you for hours and invite you to a meal. The poorer, the friendlier! But with the poor, you need to watch out. Many are out to “borrow” money from you, to get a free meal or to marry off a daughter so that she would go live in the “States” and send money home. They are nice and will hang out with you, but it usually end up costing you. Some will come up with sob stories asking for money for some sick man at a hospital or invent some other trick to get cash out of you. Which I am happy to share if there’s legit reason, but not if there’s a lie. For example, some will shamelessly lie that it’s their birthday and ask you to buy a cake. Many taxi drivers and trike drivers will also overcharge you. A “porener” has dollars. It’s 43 pesos to the dollar. Your salary is 43 times bigger than theirs. That’s how some of them think. Again, not all are like that, and I have met some wonderful people among the poor who were honest to a fault. But if some poor people see that they have a friend who is a “porener”, they go asking money from them. You can also get yelled at or even beat up if you don’t answer their personal questions. Once a man hit me because he was drunk and he wanted to “see my visa” and I refused because I told him he was not an immigration officer. I went to call the guard, and the man ran away. So, you have to be careful. When I was in Saudi, many expats complained about the fact that if there’s an accident and it is a Saudi vs. a foreigner, it is automatically the foreigner’s fault. One Thai guy was taken to a Saudi traffic court, and the judge told him- “It’s your fault. If you had not come to Saudi Arabia, this accident would not have happened”. Filipinos who get involved in arguments or accidents with Saudis rarely win. This is why they keep quiet and stay out of trouble. But it’s sometimes the same in the Philippines. The expats say that if there’s an accident, it’s automatically the “porener”’s fault. And one policeman even said to an American- exactly as what they say in Saudi. “ If you had not come to the Philippines, this accident would not have happened”. Again, I am sure it does not always happen like that, but the consensus among expats is that in any argument with a Filipino, it’s automatically your fault. This is why they try and keep quiet. Just like Filipinos keep quiet in Saudi Arabia. You see, you may ‘want’ to refuse to be disrespected, but you’d better not. In America, they had a show about “Driving While Black”- basically, if you are black, the police disproportionately harass you, stop you, search you and if you have a good car, it’s even worse. They exposed such things and condemned them. In the Philippines, otoh, some say that there seems to be a “Driving While White” phenomenon. Once they see a white guy driving a car, ( or a motorcycle)cops often become more interested and stop it. And even if they see a white passenger- who is not even driving- they often also show heightened interest and start chasing the driver of that car. It’s really a pity because a lot of people absolutely love the Philippines and Filipinos and want to visit the country and/or live, work, invest, retire there, and serve, make friends and help the people there. However, there are still many things that need to be improved about how some people in the Philippine society treat “poreners”. Just like you don’t like it when people generalize you when you go abroad; and you don’t want to be discriminated against and stereotyped, the same way people who go to your country want to be treated fairly, not be stereotyped or suffer from even little prejudice.How you treat strangers in your country will be reflected on how other people treat you and yours when you come to theirs. Thus, I felt it was time to address such things. Yes, they are rare, but they should be zero.

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