The following is an e-mail which I sent out in reaction to a column written by Conrado de Quiros on the 9 June 1998 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Quotes from the de Quiros column are in italics.
12 June 1998
I have a problem with Conrado de Quiros’ generalization about Filipinos abroad not being proud of their country. While I agree that there are indeed balikbayans who are loud and repulsive when they return to the Philippines, I think that the stereotyped image that de Quiros portrays of us is a sweeping generalization.
Proud to be Filipino, by Conrado de Quiros, PDI columnist (9 June 1998)
Most Filipinos, particularly abroad, feel no great compulsion to defend the country. Other than when a fellow Filipino is ganged up on, or when some macho response is needed. Many Filipinos do not even feel a need to identify themselves as Filipinos. It is not a matter of pride, it is a matter of shame.
In my experience in Europe, most Filipinos have become more proud of themselves as Filipinos upon coming here. As a response to the culture shock upon arrival, plus the racist laws and popular prejudices that we find here, we have learned to fight for our place ‘under the sun’- and we have learned to fight back whenever and wherever people try to put us down. True, with time we are able to blend ourselves into the host society: speaking the language, adopting the native customs, but we keep asserting our Filipino-ness in our friendship circle, in the food we eat, in the way we bring up our children, and in countless other ways. We have to – it’s either that or succumb to the general anti-foreigner bias of our host countries.
Whenever I go home to the Philippines, I visit my family and friends, and go sightseeing, shopping, etc. Most of the time, people don’t recognize me or the rest of my immediate family as balikbayans. I know there are very many of us who are not obvious in their being balikbayan. For me this is natural – after years of people noticing us for being short, brown skinned, black haired, short nosed, etc…, in other words, being different from the rest of society, we find just blending into Philippine society a pleasant change. My daughter told me as much when I asked her what she liked about the Philippines: all of a sudden, she was just ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’, and she felt at home. I suppose that the most repulsive among the balikbayans tend to stand out in the crowd of ordinary returnees. But I think that those who tend to show off their balikbayan-ness could not immediately be labled as not being proud to be a Filipino – I think it is wrong, in principle, to judge one’s patriotic pride by how they act immediately upon arrival. I know one case of a young Filipina who was quite active in the preparation of the Philippine Centennial exhibit in the city she lived in, and who upon arrival in the Philippines was shocked by the heat, noise and the various inconveniences she found there. I would not be surprised if she made a complaint or two.
Or probably, put more simply, being Filipino is not being able to abide balikbayans. Frankly, I don’t know a more insufferable group of people, a group that seems to have made a blood compact to bash the country at every turn.
The next time I go to the Philippines, I (and my family) would like to visit Mr de Quiros and show him how ‘normal’ balikbayans act. If he wants. I can refer him to all my friends who go home, so that he can have a more balanced sample of this group of people.
I am proud to be Filipino.
So are we, Mr de Quiros. We are six or seven million Filipinos abroad, and I am sure that the great majority of us are quite proud of being Filipino. We are proud not only of what we have in the Philippines, but also to what we have achieved abroad. After all, Filipinos have earned respect for our being hard working, for our close family ties, for our resourcefulness, warmth, flexibility. And we are also known for asserting our rights. Even the mail-order bride rackets have realized this and have learned to avoid sourcing in the Philippines. They say that: “The Filipina only LOOKS subservient.” Filipinos often end up as leaders of unions in their host countries. We are no pushovers, and we are proud of this.
Mr. de Quiros, I was a nationalist activist when I left the Philippines in 1983, I know how it is to be proud of the Philippines and being a Filipino when I was still in the country. After 15 years abroad, I feel that I am prouder still, and that I know now (after having been exposed to other cultures) that I have much to be proud about. We are a beautiful nation, and we have admirable traits, and you can only really KNOW that when you have lived abroad. We have been giving the coutnry a good image throughout the world for years, and we are proud of this.
I think that the biggest problem that would rise from this misconception is that it gives support to many laws and practices of the Philippine government tht are anti-Overseas Filipino. After all, why should these insufferable people be given the right to vote or representation? Why allow them to own more than half a hectare of land? Why waste precious government funds on consular budgets or overseas worker benefits? Why indeed?
I appeal to Mr. de Quiros and all other well-meaning Filipinos in the Philippines to avoid bashing Filipinos abroad in the name of patriotism. I hope you would join us in our quest to make us all even prouder of being Filipinos.
Tilburg, the Netherlands