World class designs from artists such as Vito Selma do much for “Brand Filipino” – in this picture Vito Selma’s Paisley Accent Chair from Interior 360

By Didi Paterno-Magpali

 Changing stereotypes take time. But these women say that with the right packaging and mindset, the Filipino image can be positively re-branded.

Most every Filipino can remember the uproar that ensued when the Oxford English Dictionary included in its definition of Filipina “a nanny or maid”.  The nation went up in arms to complain and fight for their honor.

An editorial by the Philippine Center for Journalism said that the definition, tantamount to being called a ‘nation of nannies was so psychologically devastating, the only way to salvage our dignity was to put up a fight to defend not so much the honor of nannies, but that of a psychologically battered nation’.

It turns out the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary was just the beginning.

Teri Hatcher in the show, Desperate Housewives, demanded that her doctor show her medical diplomas “to make sure they are not from some med school in the Philippines.”

Alec Baldwin referred to a Filipina married to a US national as a mail order bride. And most recently, Lucy Liu said that she if she got any darker, she would look like a “little Filipino.”

It was clear. The Filipino has an image problem.

Ellen Samano – Photo by Dawn Almario

Ellen Samano: Filipinos have to look the part

“You cannot really blame other nationalities for looking at (Filipinos) this way. Because this is what they see everyday in the malls, restaurants, hotels, parks and other public places. Even in their work places.” says Ellen Samano, branding and marketing communications virtuoso.  Formerly the head of account management of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi X in Dubai, Ellen founded Sparks of the World, a company specializing in motivational, inspirational and educational seminars customized for Filipinos in the Middle East, specifically the UAE.

“Many skilled Filipino professionals such as engineers, nurses, CPAs [certified public accountants], interior designers, architects are literally unseen because they stay inside their offices and their work does not require them to dress up well. It may seem pretty basic, but what we see with our eyes automatically creates a perception, especially in this market.”

Ellen puts further perspective into the oddity of Filipinos in this region. “Geographically, the Philippines is quite far from the Middle East, so we are mutually unfamiliar with each other.  We are somehow out of place in this territory. Imagine an Emirati living in the Philippines.”

Adding the context of historical relations, Ellen relates, “Limited interaction with the region was through the laborers and skilled workers who first came here as contract workers. Hence, Filipinos are probably one of the least credible nationalities in this respect. And this somehow affects our overall marketability.”

By way of analogy, Ellen says the UAE is like a huge and busy supermarket with different products and brands, where the employers are consumers looking for a bottle of mineral water. “Think of all the 220 nationalities living here (in the UAE) as different brands of bottled water. If you were the consumer, which brands would you choose and buy? Which brands, or rather nationalities, LOOK the most credible?”

The irony of it all is that “Filipinos are (indeed) qualified, but are not visually credible.” Ellen then stresses the need for Filipinos to be packaged in a professional way. It is not enough to be hard working, responsible and reliable, because those traits only come after the “actual product taste test”, where Filipinos have to prove themselves worthy.

“We need to break away from being seen as a nationality that is happy-go-lucky, subservient, and easy to take advantage of,” Ellen stresses.

Artist Tini Meyer with Guest of Honor HH Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan at the opening of Interior 360

Tini Meyer: Stop feeling “kawawa”

“The Middle East is the only place that Filipinos are looked down upon.” Says Tini Meyer, artist and founder of Interior360, a Dubai-based art gallery. “In Europe and in North America, people don’t really care because (how people perceive you) is more merit based.” she elaborates. Tini, half-Filipino and half-German, has travelled and lived in various parts of Europe as well as Canada.

Whenever she gets visitors at the gallery, which showcases Filipino design and art talents, Tini gets two distinct reactions: “Either they think prices should be cheap just because (the pieces) are from the Philippines or they are pleasantly surprised at the level of quality.”

Though there still is the negative stigma attached to Filipinos and the Philippines, there is hope “Actually, (seeing these pieces), foreigners are now starting to believe in the power of Filipino talent, which is highly influenced by Filipino fashion designers based in Dubai such as Michael Cinco, Ezra and Furne One.” Tini believes that art is one of the good avenues to help change the perceptions of our people “With art, there are no boundaries. People care more about the art. Yes, the life of the artist matters, but it is more about the art.”

But she still encourages all Filipinos, not just the artists, to help create the change in perceptions of other nationalities. Her advise is very simple “Filipinos should start believing in themselves and stop feeling kawawa. Be very good at what you do. Do your job well with happiness. Even if you are just a waiter, serve people with a smile.”

The change from within

“It is (simple, but) not easy and it will take time, one Filipino at a time, because the change has to come from within. We have to believe that we are NOT second rate.” stresses Ellen, who has begun to lead this change through her Filipino branding and imaging seminars. “I want to change a mindset. We have to market ourselves better. The investment is on the acquisition of the right knowledge on how to style, package and carry yourself. If you have the right personality skills, confidence is a natural aftermath. Overall, it requires a bit of extra time and effort to be conscious and to actually apply the principles.”

There have been a handful of Filipinos who have been successful at helping shape a better image of our people such as Ellen, Tini and the Filipino artisans. Each of us has an individual role to better ourselves and project a positive image. Just as we rose up as a nation to counter insults and prejudices, we must also make a collective effort to change perception.


Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa – Photo by Eros Goze

Helping create the change:

Practical Tips from Nanay Amba Grace Relucio Princesa

Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa walks with a swagger. Her petite frame was dressed in a delicately embroidered, apple green abaca blouse and a modest pencil cut skirt with her head held up high and her firm handshake indicated that she was not short on Filipino pride.

She has a clear vision and big plans for the Filipino community, whom she considers an extension of her very own family. A mother of five children, who are living thousands of miles away from her, she shares the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos living in the UAE, whom she now considers children of her own. Hence, the popular pet name bestowed upon her “Nanay Amba” (Mother Ambassador).

Nanay Amba understands that her vision for her constituents would not come into fruition if she would not put these into more practical strategies, which could be incorporated into day-to-day living.

Integrating her own strong spiritual values and her observations of the Filipino migration phenomenon through her various assignments around the world, Nanay Amba shares her own tips, to help change ourselves in order to transform and better the perception of our people and our country in the UAE.

Tip #1: Begin with the end in mind.

Nanay Amba believes that for the UAE-based Filipinos, this set-up of being away from family is simply temporary and, in the end, they would and should come back home to the Philippines. Nanay Amba encourages her constituents to be more contemplative of the purpose and end goals in order to be clear, focused and, more importantly, avoid the many “shadows”, such as intoxication with credit cards, loans and immorality when it comes to matters of the heart.

Tip #2: Know thy self.

The lyrics of the song “Sino Ako?” resonate strongly with Nanay Amba. She often uses the song in her public appearances to help remind her constituents to reflect and clear their identity as themselves and as Filipinos. “Knowing one’s self and what you stand for keeps you grounded.” she says.

Tip #3: Be Pinoy wise, not Pinoy waldas.

“You cannot give what you do not have.” Nanay Amba stresses the importance of OFs becoming and being financially able and stable. This is why she advocates the Pinoy W.I.S.E (Worldwide Initiative for Savings Investment and Entrepreneurship) movement, “an information and education program to encourage (OFs) to save, invest and engage in enterprises that would provide sustainable income for them”, which formally launched in the UAE last November 2012.

Nanay Amba passionately promotes the movement, which offers free seminars on practical financial know-how and discipline. “Hindi por que sale eh kailangang bumili. Kung hindi naman kailangan, huwag bumili…Wag tayo maging hoarders.” she lovingly reminds her children in the UAE like the mother that she truly is.


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