KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 2 / April-May-June 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Filipino Way

by Emere Distor

It is very easy to spot newly arrived Filipinos at the airport.

Most of them are impeccably dressed even after several exhausting hours inside a plane. Most of them carry overweight baggage. All of them have this certain glow comparable to someone who has just won a second division. Suddenly the irritation caused by Philippine Airlines, the hailed national carrier of the turbulent island, is forgotten. Despite the delay, despite the mishandled baggage that will probably be in Sydney in the next hour, everything seems bearable.

It may be the Chinese influence and their huge supply of patience that makes Filipinos tolerate almost anything in their lives, Philippine Airlines included. If one could contain patience, Filipinos would have a palace full of it. It is not at all surprising that the former regime they hated so much stayed on for two decades until the disgruntled people kicked them out from Malacana˝g, only to elect some of its prominent members back to office years later! Another characteristic that is very much in the psyche of Filipinos is the 'bahala na' syndrome. 'Bahala na', meaning 'come what may', is not only common among ordinary Juan dela Cruzes but in every aspect of Filipino sociocultural make-up. Held close to the heart, the 'bahala na' phenomenon becomes a coping mechanism in the face of risky undertakings.

It is a common occurrence for Filipino overseas contract workers (OCWs) trying their luck overseas, to sell their carabaos or small piece of land to afford the airfare, only to regret it later. For many Filipinos coming to Australia, instead of retaining their carabaos and land, means they are trading their jobs, family and friends. Off they go from the land of the carabaos to the land of kangaroos and koalas.

The ability of Filipinos to adapt to their country of destination may be easy compared to some other immigrants — thanks to 'American imperialism' and its tools. At a very young age, Filipinos can sing Coca Cola jingles with gusto and would readily swap their humble bibingka (sticky rice cake) for a Big Mac. The lure of magnificently packaged dead cow is great, even if it is equivalent to half a day's wage. Many historians have analysed our race but what I like best is this: 'Filipino is a race from Malay stock, with Spanish names and American tastes!' Many Filipinos in Australia boast of their language capacity which they proudly refer to as 'American English'. Silly as it may sound, they often play the role of interpreter for friends from Latin America, in good faith, believing they are being helpful.

Many Filipinos, perhaps with the exception of the Ayalas and the Sorianos of the Philippine society, leave the country with the notion of finding great opportunities for themselves and their children. Women especially see travelling as a way to explore horizons usually impeded by the stereotyping of Filipino women as docile, domesticated and ignorant.

I arrived in Australia bringing only a quarter of my personal possessions. What I had in mind was temporary. With the remaining three-quarters in the Philippines, it would be easy to change my mind, return to Manila and my work as a journalist. The first three months were agonising. I did not realise that in Brisbane you hardly see a soul on suburban streets after about eight in the evening, even earlier during winter. I thought that in a developed country like Australia this was pathetically boring.

The lacklustre evenings in the suburbs, however, are compensated during the weekend by at least one exciting activity — lawn mowing — with unbelievable regularity! I learned not to set my alarm clock during weekends. Combined with whipper snipping, mowing is a great Australian custom, usually culminating in a family barbie.

Migrating as an adult is like replanting. Some plants wither during the process but eventually survive. Some wither and never recover. Until now, I do not know which I can identify with. I am probably a weed, with its mysterious and irritating ability to survive even with periodic chemical spraying. The more you spray the more I grow.