Monday, February 25, 2008

On being Filipina in Switzerland

In a lot of countries, the word Filipina is synonymous with domestic helpers, nannies, mail-order brides and prostitutes. This we have to accept. I have nothing against people engaged in these trades, hey prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. I cannot argue with that. Obviously, it's necessary for the existence of mankind.

With a risk of sounding like Malu Fernandez, I have to admit that in the beginning of my stay in Switzerland 4 years ago, I did not appreciate being asked if I was a mail order bride or if my husband bought me (yup!) or if I take care of children. I was trying to be a scientist but all I got was judgmental stares as I walk along Zurich's streets. I felt that I was being dismissed and belittled just because I was Filipino.

Just paranoia? I don't think so. Once, while collecting insects in a field just outside Zurich with my husband (who is Swiss) for a biological experiment (we used to work together), a Swiss farmer on a tractor saw us. He immediately jumped out of his tractor and ran towards my husband. The farmer while staring at me, excitedly asked my husband where he found me, if I cook well and if I have a sister! I felt like a cow for sale getting appraised.

In Rome ( in Italy, not in Switzerland) while
 vacation, I was refused entry to a McDonalds! I felt so humiliated when a crew pushed me out the door while shouting at me in Italian. I bit back the tears as I went back to my husband waiting outside for his food. I couldn't comprehend why I was treated that way. Is it because I was Filipina?

For a few months, I resented Filipino mail order brides and OFWs all over the world who I thought was responsible for my difficult time in Switzerland. I resented them for not being proud enough to refuse to sell their souls only to be second class citizens of another country. I blamed them for my inability to get respected in my new world and for being stereotyped as a domestic helper. I went as far as to pretend to be South American!

Please don't burn my blog just yet and continue reading.

Perhaps because of my indignation when a Lebanese colleague remarked to me that she was very surprised to find a Filipina working in science in Zurich when all the Filipinos she heard about in Lebanon are domestic helpers that I changed my mind. She mentioned innocently that they have a problem with Filipinos because we are known to trick employers into paying for our plane tickets only to move to another employer who will pay more. She said that is why it is common practice in her country to take the passports of the Filipino helpers and to lock them inside the house to prevent them from leaving. "But that is illegal and inhuman!" I cried. I was so horrified I couldn't say anything more! I was talking to an educated person who sincerely believed that Filipinos should be locked up.

In my mind something clicked. Filipinos are proud! We are so proud that we brave horrible conditions abroad just to provide a good future for our families! We sacrifice the joy of holding our own children in our arms to take care of someone else's. We are so secure in our resolve to give our children a better life that we do not tremble at the possibility of being raped, killed, and abused in a foreign land. If that is not strength of character, I don't know what is.

After that I evolved, now I am proud of our OFWs. I am proud to be Filipino. We export love in all its forms, there is nothing wrong with that! If the Swiss are into banking, and the Germans are into cars, we are into love! We export motherly love so that foreign children will know what true maternal love is, we export helpers to care for homes abroad and we export conjugal love so that western men would experience how to be loved by a good wife.

I spoke with a good friend of my husband's who had a Filipina nanny as a child. Now, he is probably 35 years old but together with his siblings they have maintained good contact with their beloved nanny. They would visit her regularly from Switzerland. I feel their deep affection for her. I feel proud of the genuine love that these children got from a Filipina for them to consider her as a second mother.

The respect that I wanted soon followed. As soon as I was not ashamed anymore of where I came from, people started to respect me for who I am. I now hold my head high. I managed to go inside the Louis Vuitton shop at the Banhofstrasse in Zurich without getting thrown out (although I will never even think of buying a bag for 3000 USD in this lifetime). My colleagues admitted to me the other day that before meeting me, they thought all Asian women with a western man have somehow been bought or mail-ordered, and that Filipinas are like sex slaves. Well, apparently, my endless stories about our way of life and history have made them all realize their mistakes. Now, they think that Filipinas are strong, intelligent and capable women that they shouldn't mess up with.

All things considered, as a biologist, all my grand work will be published (or not published at all) and forgotten but no one will ever forget the love of a Filipina. Being a nanny may not be the most glamorous profession in the world but for sure it is one of the most noble.

Submitted to Filipina Images


Anonymous said...

very well said!
Right, it is time that we hold our head high. We owe no one any apologies for what we are. Anyone who does his or her best given the situation he/she is in must be accorded due respect and not be labeled anything based on a few bad apples.

There is good and bad in all of us, Filipinos or any other nationality, period.

keep blogging, kabayan!
Be proud of being Pinay!

The No Show said...

Oops re-post: I actually got more inspired by you being a Filipina scientist :) It's a dream of mine to be one! And I'm a biologist, too, on my way to becoming an environmental scientist :) Good luck with everything! :)

Cathy said...

Scrapbookingmommy- Thanks for the comment! =)

Densio- Well, I try. There are a lot of ups and downs. We have to do it one step at a time. I actually already quit my PhD (not because I'm intellectually incapable) for personal reasons (read: I didn't like my professor). BUT I am still working in science in Zurich in one of the most advanced genomics facility in the world and I was offered another opportunity to do another PhD by a wonderful professor! I decided to turn it down though because I didn't want to go back to that below-the-poverty line PhD salary. Anyway, go for your dreams, it might just come true!

The No Show said...

Thanks for the reply! Hmmm will get back to you when my dream comes true :) Meanwhile, best of luck with your job! If you decide to push through with your PhD, come back to the Phils after and share you knowledge with us. Though you can only get decent salaries in private universities :)

Ria said...

You have such courage to stay there even after those things. But you know what, someday those racists will get what they deserve. Good luck with your work there and God bless.

Oh and I am so not going to go to Rome anymore. ^_^

Cathy said...

Hi undefined,

Well, it's not so bad. About Rome, it could be an isolated incident. There are so many Filipinos in Rome. You can hear tagalog being spoken all the time! I am not discouraging people to go to Rome. Italians are nice people in general! I guess everywhere you go, it is possible to meet unpleasant people.


Anonymous said...

hi cathy,

question lang, meron pa bang ibang rason kung bakit ka pinalabas dun sa mcdo? ano ginawa mo pagkatapos? nireklamo mo ba yung waiter o kinasuhan?

kamusta na pala? huli yata kita nakita college pa. ay nakita ko pala si cherry nung isang araw. yun lang.

Cathy said...

Hi Owen,

Kamusta? Mabuti naman ako.

Eh di lumabas ako. Medyo na-hurt yung feelings ko kasi nga tinaboy ako nung crew. Sinabi ko sa asawa ko pero hindi niya yata naintindihan kasi may kausap siya sa labas eh (yun ang sabi niya sa akin ngayon nung tinanong ko kung bakit hindi niya ako pinagtanggol, sabi niya kung naintindihan niya eh di susugod siya doon). Medyo pathetic pero, tumahimik at naiyak ng tahimik nalang ako. Pathetic no...pero mahirap i-explain kung bakit ganoon yung reaction ko eh usually palaban naman ako.

Keep on visiting my blog ha?


Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this post. I definitely agree, filipinos have close family ties and we take care of our own families with lots of love and care, the reason why there's a willingness to sacrifice even working far away just to take care of loved ones, that's one thing beautiful about filipinos and we should be proud of doing a job that no one can do best but filipinos only. :)

Anonymous said...

Racism and tawag dyan mga kabayan..
hindi lang tayo ang nakaranas niyan. mahalin natin sila, wag na tayong humingi ng kapalit..kung mga bastos at mga puta sila, hindi mo na kasalanan iyon kabayan..
ituwid mo na lang ang landas mo at tulungan mo ang kabayan mong naghihirap..gawin mo ang gusto mo sa buhay at wag maging biktima..
pagniloko ka..tumawa ka lang..
murahin mo na lang sa tagalog..
hindi ka pa atakehin sa puso..
pag-sinaling ang kuko mo.. ibang usapan na yan.. mag-ala paquiao ka..
Iyong sinasabi mo na bumulong sa asawa mo na may pinagaralan..
bobo yun..ngaratan mo makatikim..
at saka anong ginagawa mo sa macdonalds sa rome??pumunta ka sa rome para lang mag-macdo.. sana nagbaon ka lang ng sandwich mura pa..o nilagang saging..bibingka..
ingat kayo mga kabayan..tangkilikin ang sariling atin..isa pa.. magtagalog nga kayo..o visaya.. filipino kayo..

papunta ako ng switzerland next week.. email ninyo

Anonymous said...

"...I couldn't comprehend why I was treated that way. Is it because I was Filipina?... For a few months, I resented Filipino mail order brides and OFWs all over the world who I thought was responsible for my difficult time in Switzerland [in my case, its in Sydney]. I resented them for not being proud enough to refuse to sell their souls only to be second class citizens of another country. I blamed them for my inability to get respected in my new world and for being stereotyped as a domestic helper."

I am a <20 year old Filipina working as a legal secretary here in Sydney, and hoping that by next year I'll be able to start my law studies. The words you stated above are exactly the same words that's been bugging my head these past few months! I've been in the firm for about 6 months now. I have been experiencing some form of harrassment/discrimination and I find that some caucasians at work would not take me seriously, which then triggered me to read news, case laws and studies about Filipinas - most of them are apalling.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I remember sitting across from my brother in a restaurant table as he patiently listened to my whinging. I can recall telling him how furious I was because of all the stereotypes put upon Filipinas...and how miserable I was feeling for having to work 3x as hard to get the respect that I deserve in the first place.

I am glad to know that you have come to terms with this issue. As for me, I am still trying to get over our history (so full of mistakes that it disadvantages the new generations!!).

By the way, as for my work place, I have always been polite, kind, generous, diligent, efficient and professional towards work and people. Since I can't do anything about our country's past, I'll just strive to be a better me - a Filipina.

I still hope that like you, I'll get to that stage where I can fully come to terms with it and regain some pride that I have lost.

C -

Anonymous said...

Pastilan, nagkalandrakas akong guibati pagbasa nako aning imong blog! Aduna na koy ideya karon kung gui-unsa pag manage sa mga Pinay nga guina-discriminate sa gawas sa 'Pinas.

Sigurado ko nga kung sa ako 'to nahitabo, tudloon nako si Italiano pabalik sa sulod ug pamalikason nako siya sa Cebuano ug Tagalog, eyes blazing. He will pretty sure get the idea I cursed him to damnation, hahahahaha.

Whenever I or some other Filipino get discriminated or looked down upon by Caucasian or Asian colleagues here in the 'Pinas (yes, some have the nerve to do that right here in the country), I tell them straight what the consequences are if I take legal and extralegal action against them. Takot lang nila.

Hope Cherryblossom1423 will find her peace on the matter.

Cathy said...

Cherryblossom1423- Hayyyyy....I understand you completely. I know it is hard. I only found 2 solutions:
1. Do your work the best possible way you can. This will prove that you are no push-over.
2. Just be yourself. Don't try to be like the others. Whatever you do, you will feel, think and behave as a Filipina anyway. You just have to be free. Before, I tried so hard to blend in that I felt like I lost my personality. Without a personality you will never be respected. On the contrary, as soon as I became true to myself, I felt more respected, even more accepted. Just be yourself and you will be more respected for it.
3. Know your history. There are so many events in our history that will make you proud to be Filipino.
4. If someone asks you about Filipino prostitutes and mail-order brides, turn the tables and make them feel bad about it. How? Tell them it's because we are poor and people will do everything for their families. Highlight that these people that they are looking down upon are martyrs who will brave anything for their children. If you react with shame then you just showed that it's alright to look down on you. If you respond with pride, it will give them something to think about.
I also always say that "we export love in all in forms". That shuts them up as well.
5. Highlight Filipino culture- I always talk about "how we do things in the Philippines". As a result, I was able to send about 15 people to the Philippines for a vacation already. Also, all my colleagues appreciate Filipino food.

Hope that helps! Be proud because that's the only way. If you don't hold your head high, you just showed that they are right in not taking you seriously.

Maria Linda- I used to work in an international institute in the Philippines, I knew of an Indian boss who used to say that "ants are better than Filipinos because at least they are hardworking" and that "Filipinos are useless". I did not hear him utter this sentences because if I did, I would have kicked him back to India.

Thanks for the comments both of you!

roche said...

hi catha,

your blog is quite amusing. i enjoy reading it.

i know what you mean and talagang nakakairita. so thought balloon ko na lang whenever i encounter discrimination na one year sweldo nila, is just my budget for my headband! hahaha...

the thing is, we are tagged by default and it will be difficult to erase the perception. so we just have to proud of who we are no matter what.

rochelle rosales

Cathy said...

Hi Roche,

Kamusta? Thanks for the comment!