Friday, December 30, 2005


On the surface, it seems that Filipino communities abroad have broken the deeply ingrained social class/status awareness that is so prevalent back home. It would seem reasonable. After all, when the Filipino community is made up of only a small number of families, dyads or singletons, it makes sense to think that banding together is easier, if not a given. The logic is that we are all Filipinos in a different land, and that since we speak a common language and share a common culture, we ought to be sympathetic to each other and desirous of the company and fellowship of our countrymen. And since extended or permanent residence entails taking root, we struggle with the reality of acclimatization and the weight of loneliness.

To a great extent, Filipinos abroad welcome each other. But sadly, in my observation, after a few weeks or months of open arms, many Filipinos revert to the nastiness in their bones. Like water, they seek other Filipinos whom they consider to be on their own level. Thus, dollar-rich doctors seeks other doctors or rich professionals. Wealthy Filipinas (here due to their Filipino or American husband's largess) eschew the company of other Filipinos whose work is less than acceptable (remember: in the Philippines, the only noble "professions" are doctor, lawyer and landed gentry). Intelligent, educated, native-English-speaking, newly-minted expats seek out others like themselves who can use idiomatic expressions of speech. Like seeks like, and only in the cases of holiday celebrations does the entire community congregrate as if nothing is amiss.

But to the visitor, the class divide is glaringly apparent during these omnibus gatherings. It is equivalent to a party held at my Manila house by my mother, with all her invited guests of different social or familial standings forming little cliques, with the servants bustling about, ignored by all. None of the people I've met here have maids, of course, but they treat some of the other Filipinos here like their own servants - though not obviously, and not all the time. Sadly, in an effort to be accepted, some people willingly allow themselves to be treated as if they were of a lower caste. They fawn over the rich and influential, hoping to be included again or invited once more to the next gathering because exclusion means life as an Outsider. Since the Filipino is almost helplessly social by nature, not being part of a group activity like the community's New Year's Eve celebration is unthinkable.

As a guest and family relation of one of the inlfuential families, I've got it made. Nikki, Sage and I are treated well. We're the center of attention, receive offers to be driven around or shown the sights or taken shopping, offered use of vehicles, pools and houses, introduced to other people left, right, up and down the strata.

But my attention is drawn by the Outsiders, the least powerful at the ball, watching from outside the metaphorical gates. We lock eyes and I am shamed to be on the inside with a glass of white wine.


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