in manila, helpers do most of the household chores. there’s the ever-reliable family chauffeur to take me to work, meetings and errands. mom and dad would always be delighted to wake me up, take me out for lunch or dinner. cousins who work as mom’s secretaries run across the metropolis to claim parcels, send documents and pay bills on my behalf. i don't usually get upset about anything because i keep myself preoccupied taking my nephews and nieces to cheap treats after school. most importantly, teaching in u.p. allows me to encourage many students and shape lives. my life back home is far more meaningful.
in canberra, on the other hand, things are hardly wonderful and exciting. i wash, dry and iron my own clothes at the dorm. i go to the palengke, do my own cooking and work on my expenses within a shoestring. i cannot afford frequent trips to coffee shops and fine dining establishments the way i do back home. there isn’t much time to watch movies either. there's no reason to paint the town red. canberra isn't much of a town, anyway. but there's phd-related work waiting to be done from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily. focus remains in place even during weekends and holidays. there are academic deadlines to beat and the pressure to pass and finish is always forthcoming.
coming from the philippines, one is frequently exposed to subtle racism in many parts of the world. most of the time, people will not talk about race or skin color. but there will be academics, students and people elsewhere who will make you feel that you are exotic and therefore, less-sophisticated. sometimes, paperwork necessary for certain academic, federal or legal requirements gets delayed vis-a-vis applications of white residents or those who come from wealthier countries. students from the third world are always under suspect. there’s always this running perception that asians, arabs, africans and pacific islanders are all going to stay here for good. there's also this certain look in the eyes of many locals that non-whites are out to take the most precious jobs away from the anglos.
i have been fortunate to move past these challenges most of the time. after all, i am certain about returning to u.p. immediately after my studies here. but i always have to be exceedingly diligent in my studies. there is no room for complacency in canberra. i have to prove myself worthy of privileges being given to me as a phd scholar all the time. i have accepted ages ago that these are perils arising from my not being australian or white.
because of my experiences living overseas, i could not possibly forgive our government for encouraging many of our compatriots to work perpetually as maids, entertainers and manual workers. there’s nothing wrong about these jobs per se. but the dependency on remittances from overseas have been detrimental to our psyche as a nation.
filipinos shouldn’t always be depending too much on foreign jobs. there has to be a way for philippine economic policies to genuinely trim down the widening gap between the rich and the poor. there has to be less greed and more commitment from our leaders. the more privileged ones should be compelled to follow suit.
it depresses me to see how filipino overseas workers have reconstituted landscapes in america, australia, europe, the middle east, and east/southeast asia. and the filipina nannies. how they laboriously shape fibers of children from other cultures and societies. in contrast, many familial relationships back home have fallen apart as a result of such expatriations.
meanwhile, the word pathetic can be attributed to those who suddenly turn anything but filipino. these are filipinos who dissociate themselves completely from the country after nailing down strings of financial or professional success overseas. one can assume another nation's citizenship without relinquishing the fact that he/she was born/raised in the philippines. or the fact that one has philippine roots. nothing beats the nerve of these ingrates who have forgotten so easily that once upon a time they were all patay gutom like everybody else.
living in canberra has allowed me to think more about home and country. i have nothing against people who eventually decide to move overseas. but i hate it when people cut off their ties completely then reason out that there’s no hope and future for those who continue to stay in the philippines. filipinos shouldn’t go on believing that going abroad and being there for good is the only cool thing.
admittedly, we do have shameless government officials back home. but there isn’t anything shameful about preserving aspects of our roots and identity wherever we go.
coombs building, home to a.n.u.'s research school of pacific and asian studies (rspas)