Rising Above Labels: How Pinays Deal with Stereotypes | Pinay.com
How would you go about describing a Filipina? Anybody who has ever gotten the privilege of meeting one would be hard-pressed to come up with a single adjective to describe this incredibly fascinating woman.
Over the years, the likes of Corazon Aquino, Jessica Hagedorn, and Lea Salonga have done a great job of highlighting the many strengths of a Filipina. The unfortunate reality is, however, Pinays are still commonly depicted in a negative light by foreign media, often portraying them as mail-order brides, illegal immigrants, or worse, sex workers. While there is some truth to this, there is more to a Filipina than the negative labels that have been attached to her.
In order to understand how these stereotypes come about, Pinay.com talked to several Filipinas who are currently living or have spent some time abroad. The following are accounts of their various experiences dealing with stereotypes and how they chose to address them.
An Exchange Student in the American Midwest
Candace Sarmiento, 23 years old, is currently working as an editor for one of the country’s biggest television networks. During her days as an undergrad in University of the Philippines Diliman, Sarmiento applied for her school’s cultural exchange program, leading her to study in the Midwest for a semester.
Having lived a life of privilege, Sarmiento initially had reservations about leaving her comfort zone in order to study in a foreign land. But thinking of it as the perfect opportunity to hone her journalistic skills, she took a leap of faith and boarded the plane to America.
After the initial excitement she felt about studying abroad died down, reality set in and homesickness started to get the best of her. She had a difficult time fitting in.
Despite being well oriented on American pop culture and speaking impeccable English, some of her classmates treated her as just another ‘fresh-off-the-boat’ Asian. “I felt more isolated than I felt I belonged,” says Sarmiento. Lonely and homesick, she felt more comfort in doing laundry than socializing with her peers.
Things weren’t any better in school, where her classmates made uninformed comments about the Philippines. Although she let some of them slide, hearing one of her classmates wonder whether the Philippines was still a territory of America was where she drew the line. “I actually thought they were well aware of the fact that their country had given us our independence in 1946, but I guess I was wrong,” she says frustratingly.
Though not all of Sarmiento’s experiences were bad. Her roommate, whom she described as a classic all-American beauty, made a conscious effort to learn about her culture. Through music, she was able to give her a glimpse of what Filipino culture is actually like. “One time, I showed her the music video of Gloc-9’s song, Walang Natira (Nothing Left) and through that, I was able to make her understand the plight of Filipino Overseas Workers,” she recalls.
Sarmiento generally describes her experience of studying in America as a positive one. Homesickness aside, the only thing that really upset her was how little the people there knew about the Philippines. “Americans had such a huge impact on our culture, yet it seems like our shared experiences are just a footnote in the rest of their history,” she sadly notes.
A Pinay Growing up in the South Pacific
Mira Presto-Dalangin has a very welcoming air about her, leading many people to assume she is just your typical young mother. Despite her conservative appearance, however, she is a forward-thinking woman, who can transform from being the meek Charlotte York to feisty Samantha Jones of “Sex and the City” (minus the promiscuity, of course), in just a snap of a finger.
Presto-Dalangin credits her “worldliness” to the fact that she spent most of her formative years in Papua New Guinea, where her family relocated when she was just six years old. And although there weren’t a lot of Filipinos in Port Moresby during the 80s, she never felt like a minority because she went to a multi-cultural school.
“Stereotypes cannot be helped because you take note of the fact that you guys are different,” she says.
One example was the time she got teased for being a “cannibal,” after her classmates noticed that she and the other Filipinos would always have meat for lunch. Although she didn’t dwell on their comments too much, she was somehow pressured to start conforming, at least where food was concerned.
“I sort of tried to promote our culture,” she explains. By making her friends try Filipino dishes and explaining to them how life is actually like in the Philippines, she felt like she managed to give them a better appreciation of what Filipino culture is all about.
There are some instances when it is Filipinos themselves encourage stereotyping by their actions. She recalls the time when her father hosted a party for the Filipino community in their house. Aside from the fact that the party got rowdy, her father also slaughtered a goat in their backyard. This lead their predominantly white neighbors to label Filipinos as loud and obnoxious.
“Despite all our shortcomings, there are so many things about our culture that we can be proud of,” says Presto-Dalangin.
A Working Student in Australia
Kristine Duquez never dreamt of living abroad. However, matters of the heart led her to leave her life in the Philippines to join her boyfriend in Australia.
Having worked as an English teacher in the Philippines, Duquez initially had a few reservations about working as a part-time nanny in order to support her studies in Australia. Fortunately, she came to realize that Aussies don’t have anything against blue-collar workers. “They actually prefer hiring Filipinos as housekeepers because aside from the fact we speak English fluently, they also like our work ethics,” she says.
While she says Filipinos are generally well liked in Australia because of their cheerful demeanor, they still fall victim to various stereotypes. She recalls how she once got a proposal from an elderly man when he found out she was a Filipina. “He actually thought I was that desperate to become an Australian citizen,” she says laughingly.
Despite having to deal with the usual hardships Filipinos abroad go through, she says that living in Australia isn’t all that bad. “You can’t avoid being stereotyped, most especially when you’re in a foreign land. It’s either you shrug it off, or just try your best to prove them wrong.”
Psychologists say that people are wired to stereotype. Labeling makes life easier. So, no matter who you are, regardless of your age, gender, race, or social status, you will never avoid stereotyping or getting stereotyped. It’s all a matter of overcoming the labels other people like to box you in.
Sarmiento, Presto-Dalangin and Duquez have shown how well they dealt with stereotyping. There are many more like them overcoming the same issues every day. We believe Pinays are on their way to gaining the respect they so rightfully deserve from the rest of the world.
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