December 16, 2004
Losing on the Wheel of Fortune: A Discussion on the Difficulties Filipinos Encounter in Immigrating to the United States
When I first found out that we were moving to the United States, I was in denial. I hid the move from my friends hoping that I did not have to, primarily hear them scream at me for leaving, and for me not to hear them say how lucky I was to be moving away from the mess that is the Philippines. My dad would nag us to wash the dishes and clean our rooms so when we move to the United States we would get used to having chores. We did not believe him because we did not think that we were ever going to leave the Philippines to go to America. I took entrance exams in prestigious universities in the Philippines although I knew our immigration papers were being processed; my chances of studying in the country were slim to none because my parents would tell me that education was better received in the United States. I was in denial but we moved anyway. I cried on the way to the airport, while we were on the airport and on the plane until I fell asleep. When I woke up, I knew everything was different. Oftentimes, Filipinos see immigration to America as an opportunity for a new life, a better life. They foresee that moving to the United States is all milk and honey, discarding the possibilities of shattered dreams. In turn, they find that the United States is not what they imagined it to be. Filipinos find immigration to the United States difficult because of culture shock, adjustment to a different lifestyle, such as change in career, and racial discrimination in the workplace and in school.
A difficulty that most Filipinos encounter is the culture shock that I observed most Filipinos have. You would think that after several hundred years of Spanish, American, and Japanese colonization, Filipinos would seem more open-minded, but you would be surprised. In Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries, Yen Le Espiritu writes:
For Filipino immigrants who come from a homeland that was once a U.S. colony, cultural reconstruction has been especially critical in the assertion of their presence in the United States—a way to counter the cultural Americanization of the Philippines, to resist the assimilative and the alienating demands of U.S. society, and to reaffirm for themselves their self-worth in the face of colonial, racial, class, and gendered subordination (158).
Filipinos have the need to protect and preserve their culture because of the many years of being under foreign rule. They feel the need to prove themselves to be less American and more of Filipino. Rene Tanjuakio is one of the many Filipinos who have experienced culture shock. He shares:
We are taught to be polite and respectful to elders, calling older siblings
Ate or Kuya or addressing an older relative or somebody not even related Auntie or Uncle. In the workplace, the manager or somebody holding a position higher than you is Sir or Maam. Here we go by first name basis. I can call my boss Mike and people that I supervise just call me Rene.
Even a simple idea such as calling older people by their first name is a totally strange concept for Filipinos. Although this is the practice for Americans, Filipinos still stick to tradition and use titles to show respect. This claim is most visible in a Filipino
community where few heads turn around when somebody shouts “Ate!” or “Uncle!” Filipinos tend to adhere to their culture especially when they move to another country such as the United States to uphold tradition and values. Therefore, when they see how other people act outside of this culture, they react negatively, often concluding with, “These Americans. It’s a good thing we Filipinos are not like that.” Filipinos have a certain sense of pride of being Filipino, of adhering to lifestyle, culture and tradition, which also sometimes works to their disadvantage.
In addition to culture shock, an adjustment that Filipino immigrants find difficult is adjustment in the lifestyle. Adjusting to a different place, languages and people are difficult for Filipinos because in immigrating, they are actually leaving the place that they have grown accustomed to. The most difficult adjustment, however, is the change in career. In the Philippines, when a person works as a janitor or a bus driver, they are degraded because these jobs are apparently not as admirable if one were to be a teacher or if one were to work in an office. Therefore, Filipino immigrants cannot accept the fact that they have to work as a custodian, a bus driver, or any blue-collar job in America. Sometimes, they find this even insulting. What will their relatives back home say? Andres De La Cruz, a Filipino bus driver, shares: “I did not mind that I would be working as a bus driver here in America. But I would definitely not work the same job back home. Filipinos, even the ones closest to me, have a way of bringing me down just because I work a certain job.” The mentality is this: You can make so much money that you can afford to buy a car and a house, but when people back in the Philippines ask what you do for a living and you work a degraded job in the Philippines here in America, people will
not respect you as much as they would if you were a nurse or teacher. Adjustment is difficult for Filipinos, but there is a bigger difficulty for immigrants, which is discrimination.
Racial discrimination in the workplace is no stranger to anyone in the United States, but is more difficult for immigrants and Filipinos are not an exception because they are not used to being looked down upon solely because of race. Filipinos, although, they meet the criteria for a certain job opening, they could be turned down because they do not have the “accent” when they speak or sometimes because they are simply Filipino. Teresita Bautista, a member of Filipinos for Affirmative Action, talks about a person who had difficulties with the language. She mentions, “He had a discrimination case at his workplace…he said ‘I speak English but I don’t speak American.’ Understanding the different accents and different ethnic groups or street conversation, people just have trouble with it.” Although Filipinos can speak good English because the Philippines was a colony of the United States, they are still isolated because they do not understand the accent of “American English.” There are also Filipinos who get the job but the workplace is not as warm and friendly as expected. Francesca Ocampo worked at Ohio for a private firm and she conveys:
Ohio is not as diverse as California so my co-workers had a tendency to judge me because I was different. To them, I was like an alien, like someone from another planet. My co-workers warmed up to me eventually because they got to know me better but I will not forget my first few weeks wherein I really felt I did not belong. I did not feel wanted and I wanted to go back to the Philippines. But sometimes, you just have to be strong.
Even when a Filipino does not get discriminated in the screening for the job, they can eventually be discriminated in the workplace, which is just as worse. Filipino immigrants settle down in a place and look for jobs so they can make ends meet. When they find a job opening, they are reluctant to be accepted; if they are, then they rejoice. But the rejoicing does not last long because especially if Filipinos are in states that are dominantly Caucasian such as Ohio or Illinois, then they become subject to discrimination, just like any other race that deal with the same situations. Racial discrimination has always been a grave issue and Filipino immigrants must learn to deal. Otherwise, they will not succeed, because discrimination is very rampant, even occurring in institutions such as schools.
Also, discrimination in schools is a problem for Filipino immigrants. Children who know English as a second language can count on the fact that they will be bullied and criticized because they do not have the American accent or because they talk funny. Once American kids detect that a Filipino does not speak or look the way they do, then expect trouble. Labels such as “flip,” “chink,” or “dog-eater” have been tagged on Filipinos. A website titled Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today shares:
Born and raised in the United States, this student became ashamed of being Asian. He often told his classmates that he was of Spanish descent. In grade school, he said, some kids used ‘to pull their eyes back, stick out their teeth and chant, ching-chong, ching-chong!’ He hated what he experienced.
Going to school in the Philippines would be easy for a Filipino child. S/he would go to class taught by a Filipino teacher and eat his/her snacks with his/her Filipino friends. To
make that transition from looking and being like everybody else to being the outcast is difficult enough, and for people to make you feel more of the outsider only makes this worse. Filipino immigrants only realize the intensity of discrimination when they experience it; when they do, they feel faithless, defeated, and wanting to go back home to the Philippines where they feel safer.
Racial Discrimination and adjustment to a new environment are toughest for Filipino immigrants. Fortunately, there are organizations, which help ease the burden of having to put up with these obstacles. Teresita Bautista is a member of Filipinos for Affirmative Action and Civil Rights Advocates, both are geared towards helping Filipinos succeed in the United States. Bautista relays:
There is an organization or a voice on issues on social justice and a response to racism and discrimination and to put forward a progressive agenda on the Filipino community to have Filipinos engaged, informed, and participating in issues that they may not think are important….All of these organizations were formed at the basis for having that voice and providing services. Filipinos for Affirmative Action provides citizenship projects, provides jobs, and provides organizing around the issues.
With people and organizations such as Teresita Bautista and Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Filipinos residing in the United States, especially new immigrants, have a backbone when they come across issues that they cannot seem to fight alone. These organizations provide Filipinos with the emotional and financial support they need to succeed in the United States. Bautista continues on to say:
People will call and ask “I got discriminated on the job, what do I do?” or “I’m trying to find a place to live but I can’t afford it” or “I’m looking for
a job and I don’t have the skills.” It’s a place for people to come…when you run into a situation you can’t do on your own. It’s always important to have an organized response because institutions will respond to groups and not individuals so when they see there’s a support for more than just the individual, they might listen more and they are able to respond better.
When people realize that they have this much support, living in the United States definitely becomes easier to handle. Bautista makes a good point on the importance of an organized response. Institutions take more notice once they find out an individual is backed by a support group, rather than if the individual was standing on his own. Filipinos can be helped by these organizations and they should be informed that they have this advantage.
Many Filipinos do not think about the disadvantages of immigration because they are blinded by their hopes for a better turn in their lives. And who can blame them? Difficulties are what many of them are moving away from in the first place. But instead of thinking of culture shock, adjustment and discrimination as hindrances, Filipinos should accept these as challenges that will help them succeed. There are many successful Filipino immigrants in the country because they choose not be victims of society, and instead mold these obstacles into an inspiration to be successful. Filipino immigrants such as well-known designer Monique Lhuillier or comedienne Rex Navarette who uses his being Filipino as a ground for comic antics have risen above stereotypes and have embraced their being. Especially with help from organizations such as Filipinos for Affirmative Action and Civil Rights Advocates, Filipinos can and will overcome these obstacles and eventually become successful. When we moved from the Philippines, I was in denial. I was in denial because I did not want anything to change; I cried because I
knew everything would. But sometimes, you just have to accept what life throws at you. I eventually learned to accept my fate. Just like any Filipino immigrant, I continue to face
the challenges of living in the United States and only hope for my next big break. When I first found out that we were moving to the United States, I was in denial. But more than anything, I knew that when we arrived, I was ready.
Bautista, Teresita. Personal Interview. 26 October 2004.
Bautista, Veltesizar. “Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today.” Philippines News
Central dot Com. 2001. 13 Dec. 2004.
De La Cruz, Andres. Personal Interview. 7 December 2004.
Espiritu, Yen Le. Home bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities,
and Countries. Berkley: University of California Press, 2003.
Ocampo, Francesca. Personal Interview. 1 December 2004.
Tanjuakio, Rene. Personal Interview. 15 November 2004.