this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on July 9, 2013.

We live in an age where the world is one vast and intertwined net. What happens in remote places resounds across the globe. In fact, if you wish, you can find out almost anything about anywhere with a few taps on your keyboard. 

In times like these, it is easy to forget who we are and, in some cases, believe that our race is a race of maids, construction workers, and manual laborers. I’ve seen a daughter of domestic helpers in Hong Kong sneer at her siblings simply because she was born in Hong Kong and thus is a Hong Kong, not Filipino, citizen. I’ve seen and heard various insults and slights about and against Filipinos, but I would not change my nationality for the life of me. I say this: I would rather die a Filipino than live as anyone else. 

A few years ago I first heard the song “Noypi” by Bamboo, but as I grew older it drifted into the recesses of my mind. But recently I listened to it again, and though it sounds trite one line struck a chord in me: “Ang dami mong problema nakuha mo pang ngumiti (Your problems are many yet you can still smile).” 

Attending university in Hong Kong, I see many Filipinos throughout the city. Many of them are domestic helpers, and they are worse than second-class citizens. From the denial of permanent residency for Filipino domestics in Hong Kong to that particularly “lovely” article titled “The War at Home” by Mr. Chip Tsao, we have come to realize that to some, the Filipino may be a little higher in standing than the family dog. Nevertheless, we go and keep going to places abroad to work. Though these domestic helpers and other overseas Filipino workers face disrespect and bigotry, I have found that no matter how sordid their conditions, how little material wealth they have, or even how lowly and unsung their station in society, they can still crack a smile and respond with hospitality. To me, they are the heroes—“mga noypi nga sila, astig (they’re Filipinos, they’re tough).” 

My own mother has experienced prejudice. She was in line at a pharmacy when a local man attempted to get ahead of her in the queue. Annoyed, she told the man to get back in line. But instead of heeding her, he muttered things under his breath. My mother thought she heard the man swearing at her, and she demanded to know if he had done so. The man looked at her and said, “You are part of a parasite race.” At this point, my mother was at a loss for words and simply said, “Well, you are a very rude man.” And the man left without a backward glance. 

It makes one think: What makes him think that he’s any better than us? What makes them think they’re better than Filipinos? No one thought to help my mother when this man tried to belittle her. Why? 

Across the globe in almost every technical or menial job possible, there is almost a 100-percent chance that you will find a Filipino. From serving in the US Navy to working as laborers and architects in Saudi Arabia, Filipinos populate the world. Even Filipinos living in the Philippines forget that OFWs are perhaps one of the most respected and skilled at their jobs. Though often mistreated, these OFWs practically kill themselves every day, slaving away to be able to send all the money that they can to their spouses and children. We hear horror stories of OFWs raped, robbed, mistreated, even murdered, and yet more and more of them keep going abroad to work in the hope that someday their children may graduate from college and not have to go through the punishment that they have had to endure. Truly, Filipinos are the bravest and strongest in these circumstances. 

In the Philippines I see children on the streets laughing and playing. Sure, given the chance they will try to ask for alms from you, but who can blame them? Yet, despite all that, they seem happier than the average person that I see on the streets in Hong Kong. That person in the MTR dressed in his fancy clothes and smelling of expensive cologne, wielding his iPhone, iPad and other gadgets, should logically be happier. After all, he has money, and infinitely more than plywood and a few GI sheets to call home. Still, when it comes down to it, he doesn’t give a damn about those around him. Why should he go out of his way to even show little acts of kindness to complete strangers? He has clawed and brutalized his way to where he is. He is better than you and me, is he not? 

What about that teenager dressed in a spike-studded leather vest, bright red denims that hang from his hips, and thick-rimmed glasses without lenses? Why should he give his seat to that bent-over old woman right in front of him? She has legs, doesn’t she? She has been standing for a large part of her life; surely she can stand a little more? He got to the seat first, didn’t he? And so what if he’s sitting on the seat marked “priority for people with disabilities”? 

We Filipinos have something great in us. It is very evident when we are abroad. We are renowned for our warmth, hospitality, and spirit of “bayanihan” that benefits even non-Filipinos. In one of my classes, we discussed an article published in The Economist titled “The Filipina Sisterhood: An Anthropology of Happiness.” It’s about Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Many of my fellow university students were required to take this class, and we were tasked with analyzing why Filipino domestic helpers spread throughout Hong Kong seemed to be so much happier than the locals although their condition was obviously harder and poorer. It was evident in the article that despite being away from their homes and loved ones, and despite being complete strangers to each other before that point, these domestic helpers found the bonds of community so strong that they reached out to and supported each other through various difficulties. 

As one woman was quoted as saying in the article, “We’re heroes because we sacrifice for the ones we love, and homesickness is just a part of it. But we deal with it because we’re together.” 

We have a greatness inside that few others have. It is a pity that those in power forget this and rob their constituents blind. We have it, and if we can manifest it as a country, then we will no longer be the subject of abuse and the butt of jokes. Until the people in power realize that “the Filipino is worth dying for,” until those who put the corrupt in power become wiser, the future will remain pretty bleak for our people, despite the apparent power of the Philippine economy in recent years. 

1 comment
  1. Can I just say what a comfort to find somebody who truly understands what theyre talking about on the net. You certainly understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely possess the gift.

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