An e-mail supposed to have been written by Art Bell, a radio DJ in the States, is circulating again.
Here is a taste.
As we've all come to notice, in the past few decades, Filipinos have begun to infest the United States like some sort of disease. Their extensive involvement in the U.S. Armed Forces is proof of the trashy kind of qualities all filipinos tend to exhibit on a regular basis.And so on. If you want to read the whole of this “hate letter against Filipinos” you can read it here. The only problem is that the e-mail seems to be a hoax. Concerned about his personal safety, Art Bell has denied ever writing it and has stated that it does not reflect his views. He needn’t have bothered, because, as its continued circulation shows, the “hate letter” has a life of its own, presumably because it seems to validate many Filipinos’ assumptions about how the world perceives them.
Nor is this an isolated case. A few years earlier another e-mail claimed that Mariah Carey had made a racist statement about Filipinos at one of her concerts, but this too turned out to be hoax.
Just before Christmas, in an attempt to make her curious hoax about her daughter winning a competition in Australia more credible, Faye San Juan’s mother added a clever twist. Everyone knows, she said, the world looks down on Filipinos.
But does it? One of the perplexing aspects of this national pathology for inventing slights, writing them up, and e-mailing them to everyone you know is that the image of Filipinos is actually a very positive one in most countries.
Filipino communities abroad suffer from few of the negative racial stereotypes applied to, for example, the Chinese and Jews (obsessed with money), British (snobbish), Polish and Irish (stupid), French (arrogant), Africans (violent), Vietnamese (drug dealers) … I could go on and on.
Filipinos, on the other hand, are generally seen as hard-working, uncomplaining people, who stay out of trouble, lead hard lives, but manage to stay pleasant and cheerful through it all. They usually integrate well—in part because of their English skills, but also because of their facility with other languages (there are 40,000 Filipinos in Milan, for example). They seldom live in ghettos, unlike many other immigrant groups. They have excellent social skills and these raise them in the esteem of indigenous populations.
In an article a few months ago about the same Art Bell e-mail, Conrado de Quiros notes that Filipinos in America are not perceived by marketing folk as a distinct ethnic group at all. While advertisers feel that if they are to reach, say, the Hispanic community, they need to add a specific Latino twist to their material, Filipinos are considered to be so integrated into the American mainstream that no specific ethnic elements are needed to reach them.
Even when Filipino communities abroad do become visible, as at Sunday afternoon gathering places in Hong Kong and Singapore, I wouldn’t say that other people look down on them. If anything, they admire the kabayan spirit that allows a new arrival immediately to join her or his language group.
When I was in Britain last October, I was chatting with someone who worked with Mencap, a charity dealing with mentally ill. Mencap’s homes are tough, stressful places, but the one he works in had just been made immeasurably more pleasant by the arrival of several Filipina care givers. He just couldn’t find enough nice things to say about them and the contribution they had made.
It is true that Filipinos, and specifically Filipinas, experience prejudice and discrimination when they are abroad. In many countries they are exploited, violently treated, and even raped and killed. However, it seems to me that this is not so much because the perpetrators despise Filipinos per se; their often harsh treatment is usually because Filipinos abroad often have to start at the bottom of the ladder. They are exploited, along with foreign workers from other developing countries, because they constitute a large part of the international proletariat class that has grown so enormously over the past 20 years. The fact that so many countries are keen to employ Filipinos would seem to support the theory that Filipinos have a good international image compared with that of other immigrant populations.
If that hypothesis is correct, why do Filipinos seem to believe that the rest of the world looks down on them?
One of the central tenets of Marxism is that being creates consciousness and not vice versa.
We set out from real, active men and on the basis of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process (The German Ideology).What is this Filipino belief but an “echo” of the life process of a people who spend their days cleaning other people’s houses, tending their sick, and sailing their ships? Many Filipinos abroad occupy responsible managerial positions of course, but in general the balikbayan experience is of life at the bottom of the totem pole.
As one of my Filipino colleagues once put it, perhaps life really is like monkeys in a tree. The people at the top look down and all they see are smiling faces. The people at the bottom look up and all they see are assholes. Perhaps that is what it is all about.
Note:I am sure the image of the Filipino is more nuanced than I have made it appear and more positive in some countries than in others. If you are a Filipino living abroad, a foreigner with views, or if you just have something to say, please add a comment below.