Sino ka, Pinay? Beyond the Filipina Stereotype
By Karen Galarpe
Photography By Alan Desiderio, Models – Tracy Javelona and Meg Arreza
Back in the early ‘90s while waiting for my turn at the immigration counter in Tokyo, the Filipina woman — my seatmate on the plane — in front of me seemed to be squirming. I could hear the immigration officer asking her the usual questions and asking the same things over and over again. Then pointing at me, the officer asked her, “Is she with you?” Both of us said no. A few minutes later, she was asked to follow a different officer to another place.
When it was my turn, the officer seemed to spend more time scrutinizing my papers including my plane ticket from Tokyo to Los Angeles (I was in Tokyo on a transit visa). After a couple more minutes, she stamped “arrived” on my passport and waved me through.
I didn’t realize how long the process took, but my brother who was picking me up said he was waiting for almost an hour and almost everyone on the same flight had already exited the terminal. He even called the hotel to check if I decided to go ahead. Well, what can I say? That was the time when there were a lot of Filipina entertainers — called Japayukis — entering Japan and overstaying, so most likely, every Filipina was screened for a longer time.
Japayuki, TNT, DH
Time was when not a few people thought that the Filipina abroad was any one of the following: Japayuki, mail-order-bride, domestic helper (DH), TNT (tago ng tago), even gold digger on the lookout for a wealthy foreigner husband. “It is very telling in fact that the world has taken notice of the volume of Filipina women abroad so much so that the word ‘Filipina’ was included in the dictionary,” says Erlita P. Mendoza, assistant professor at the University of Santo Tomas and a cultural researcher. The sad thing was that a few years ago, ‘Filipina’ meant ‘maid’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and in a Greek dictionary.
The root cause is economics, says Mendoza. “The migration trend is from the countryside to urban centers as people look for jobs. If jobs are limited, the natural course is for Filipinas to look for greener pastures so they can continue in their traditional role as nurturers. In fact, when you ask OFWs why they go abroad, they will say, ‘para may maitulong sa pamilya.’”
Rosemarie Tacorda Ramos, an assistant marketing manager at a five-star hotel in Dubai, shares the same viewpoint. “Because of poverty and wanting to elevate the plight of their families, some Filipinas settle for something less. They’d go to other countries to be domestic helpers even though they are educated complete with a bachelor’s degree, or would close their eyes and accept to be Japayukis in exchange for better financial returns.”
But although some Filipinas end up as such, not all Filipinas are like that, and certainly not in the Middle East. “Some may have the wrong impression that most, if not all, Filipinas here in the Middle East are house helpers,” shares Madame Remedios ‘Fe’ Cabactulan, wife of former Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Libran Cabactulan. Nothing is farther from the truth. Madame Cabactulan reveals that in the UAE, for instance, “60 percent of about 300,000 Filipinos are professional and skilled, working as engineers, architects, and occupying other managerial or supervisory levels. Twenty-five percent are semi-skilled, working in supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, and other related establishments. Only 15 percent are household-employed, working as house helpers, cooks, drivers, and gardeners.”
She continues, “Equating Filipino women or Filipinas to domestic helpers, Japayukis and mail-order brides is a myopic appreciation of what Filipinas truly are. Such negative image for Filipinas was perpetuated by those who had deficient education or are not fairly aware of global developments and possibly those with racial motivations or illusions of superiority akin to the colonial past. A sufficiently educated individual aware of global developments would have known that Filipinas have graced the fields of law, politics, science and other substantive fields both globally and in the Philippines, with equal, if not superior, excellence with their Filipino male counterparts.”
Indeed many Filipina women have been recognized globally for their world class achievements. There’s Dr. Josette Biyo who won an award for excellence from Intel for inspiring students to do research. She even has a planet named after her, Planet Biyo. We have our two Filipina presidents, Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “The world took notice that two women in the Philippines became presidents. They have shattered the glass ceiling whereas other countries have not had a woman president,” adds Mendoza. And then there is Dr. Fe Del Mundo, a well-known pediatrician in her 90s, who is credited for inventing the incubator. And who wouldn’t be proud of Lea Salonga in the field of music; Josie Natori and Monique Lhuillier in the field of fashion; and even Margie Moran, Gloria Diaz, Melanie Marquez, Precious Lara Quigaman and Venus Raj who all won worldwide beauty pageants?
The present wave of migration is also changing the perception of the Filipino abroad, says Mendoza. “Due to economics, better educated Filipinas are abroad and are working as highly skilled professionals entering diverse fields. Expect a change in perspective. The early OFWs opened new options. Today’s OFWs can pursue other fields. The old image of the Filipina may not be completely erased, but the perspective is now being widened.”
Mariecar Jara-Puyod, senior reporter for The Gulf Today and president of the Filipino Press Club-UAE, says, “There are Filipino women achievers in the UAE — community leaders and those occupying middle to senior level positions in companies. Engr. Mary Jane Alvero, married to an Emirati, was given a leadership award for her management style in her company, which is into geosciences. The entry of more educated and more skilled as well as more intelligent and more ambitious Filipinas in the workforce has improved our image as a people.”
A call to action
To further enhance this positive image of the Filipina abroad, the government, the media, and the Filipina OFWs themselves have to do what they should.
“The government should do its responsibility of overseeing and protecting the Filipina woman who’s out there,” says Mendoza. “’Wag nilang pabayaan para di sila maging vulnerable to abuse. They should also show more resolve or teeth to champion their cause.”
Mendoza adds that there should be training programs and awareness programs in the Philippines so that Filipinas will be aware of the different cultures they will live in, and so that they will assert their rights and not allow themselves to be abused.
“The media should be a partner in documenting the OFW experience — both the good and the bad — to educate OFWs and their families,” adds Mendoza. “The OFW phenomenon is already part of Philippine life. There should be a conscious effort to uplift the image of society and of OFWs.” Puyod agrees, “Writing about negative issues — the plight of prostituted women, the abuse they suffer — will be good for this will somehow pave the way for people to move forward and do something about these social problems.”
And as for Filipina OFWs, Puyod says, “Reading will help a lot. I hope reading books and periodicals of substance will become a part of the Filipino lifestyle so that wherever we are and whoever we are with, we can initiate or contribute to worthwhile or meaty conversations. Let us not dwell too much on show business and telenovelas. Empowerment too, can help, aside from having the initiative to meet people.”
“Filipinos should be more self-aware. Strive to be better individuals. Raise your standards. Give more emphasis on strengths and build more confidence,” says Rosemarie Tacorda Ramos.
She notes that there is the “Filipina who puts on a sad face, highlighting her heavy financial burden in order to earn sympathy from the boss and get a salary increase. It’s a shame because she couldn’t think of anything but her problems rather than highlighting her strengths and importance to the team.”
Instead of dwelling on the negative, Filipinos should “be more encouraging to fellow Filipinos and respectful to Filipinas, recognizing that Filipinas are as talented and capable as everybody else,” says Ramos. “All these combined will lead to a better society in general which will boost everyone’s morale and eventually lead to better standing in society.”
And act now. Madame Cabactulan says, “Filipinos should continue to be forward-looking and forge ahead to face the challenges of the world. The time to start moving is now. We should view ourselves with a much-improved image. With a higher level of confidence and a strong will to carry on, perhaps Filipinas should elevate further their participation in activities both local and international aimed at further enhancing themselves as women and contributing to the global march for women empowerment.”
It’s time to celebrate the new face of the Filipina OFW — confident, empowered, and successful. Taas noo, Filipina!
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