Euro Pinoys (2)
When one of my graduate students (now a colleague in the faculty) had to attend a conference in Tarragona, Spain, two years ago, she found herself in a bind: Her relatives, who were living in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain and in Rome, Italy, all insisted that she visit them.
In last Wednesday’s column I cited statistics from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) reporting that there were some 866,000 Filipinos living in Europe, half of them permanently. Spain ranks only fifth in the number of Filipino residents, surpassed by Italy, the United Kingdom, Greece, France and Germany.
Some of these Filipinos have lived in Europe for many years, with children and even grandchildren and, as my opening report shows, often involve entire clans, if not barangays, who follow the footsteps of an initial pioneer.
The migrants are in various professions, sometimes marked by changing demand across time. The fairly large population in Germany goes back to the 1970s when Filipino nurses were in great demand, with another ongoing exodus of nurses and midwives to the United Kingdom.
I’ve wondered about our Euro Pinoys leaving an imprint in their host countries. Has the Filipino sweet tooth convinced some Europeans to go for sweet wines or sweet spaghetti sauce, for example? If we hear occasionally of Filipino-Americans doing well in competitions like “American Idol,” I’ve also heard of Euro Pinoys making it into similar European competitions.
‘Balik Euro Pinoys’
In recent years we’ve been seeing a growing number of “balik Euro Pinoys,” mostly older ones who have come home to retire, living comfortably off their pensions, which are relatively high because of Europe’s social welfare systems.
Perhaps on a smaller scale, we’re also seeing younger Euro Pinoys coming home, usually children of intermarriages who cash in on their Eurasian features to model, or enter the movies. Then there are the Azkals, the football team, the members of which are the result of growing up in countries that appreciate football (soccer) more than the Americans.
I wonder what they bring home in terms of expectations shaped from their life in Europe. Do they imbibe the liberal social attitudes of western Europe toward sex and sexuality, for example? Do they get exasperated, having benefited from the generous national health services of Europe, in contrast to our own which is left pretty much to free market forces—that is, pay out of your own pocket?
I wonder, too, if the Euro Pinoys are watching how Europe is dealing with tribalism and regionalism. When European friends, usually academics, cite our regional loyalties—national elections are still marked by the “Ilokano vote,” “Bisaya vote,” or “Bikol vote,” for example—as a cause of underdevelopment, I remind them that Europeans have been even more “tribal” than we are: nations emerging within nations, rising, sometimes expanding aggressively and through warfare, only to disintegrate.
It’s not just in Eastern Europe that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of countries; it also happens in Western Europe, where there are threats of secession—the Scots in the United Kingdom, or the Catalonians and the Basques in Spain. The Italians, although on the surface united with one language, are still marked by a strong regionalism that goes back to the Middle Ages when Italy did not exist and instead there were city-states, maritime republics and papal states. It was not until the 19th century that one Italian nation-state emerged.
Not surprisingly, ultranationalist ideologies have taken off from the tribalism, and thrived. These ideologies have led to so many conflicts, including the two world wars. The European Union was in fact a response to these ideologies, an attempt to bring the “tribes” together, finding common cause in that vague concept called democracy. I often hear political scientists saying that Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) will have difficulty surviving because its members are so different from one another. But the European Union brings together even more diverse cultures.
The United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union should not be surprising either. While it was able to bring together England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland, its unity has been tense, Scotland being the most restless in recent years. Look at the map and you will see how geography may have shaped its national mindset. Great Britain is one huge island about double the size of Luzon, and the entire United Kingdom looks so isolated from continental Europe. Geography does contribute to insularity.
And insularity includes a fear of outsiders. Brexit (Britain Exit) was a reaction to the European Union’s policies on the free movement of Europeans, with UK citizens convinced that they were being too generous with other Europeans—for example, Polish workers. There’s irony here because it has been relatively easy to become a UK citizen (or subject, given it is still a monarchy), so the faces of the British aren’t quite white anymore. Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that there would be a mayor of London described as coming from a “British Pakistani” family? Might we see, in the not too distant future, references to “British Filipinos”? There are a growing number of Filipinos who carry UK passports, including some through same-sex civil unions and marriage.
My point is that the political systems and governance of European countries, so different from our own copied from Mother America, just might capture the imagination of Euro Pinoys who, if they return to the Philippines, might want to introduce innovations based on European models, whether in more equitable healthcare coverage, or even more radical changes. Italy’s Parliament, for example, includes seats reserved for Italian citizens living overseas.
Those, of course, are macro changes. I think change is happening on the individual level: Euro Pinoys come home with new tastes in food and architecture (with real estate companies trying to cash in, offering subdivisions with an Italian touch). Some aspects of culture are more quick to pick up than others: I don’t know if Filipino-Italians have acquired a taste for classical music and opera, for example.
(I was at an affair at UP Diliman last night showcasing our athletes and dance groups, and one presentation—ballet—drew audibly mixed reactions.)
I also wonder what happens to Filipinos who study in Europe for a few years and come home. Many are in government service, charting policies and implementing important projects. Does their stay in Europe give them new insights? Or, even more radically, a different way of looking at issues and problems?
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