Excerpts [edited] of a speech at the Annual Conference of the Philippine Historical Association (PHA)
18 September 2009—National Museum, Manila
THE topic comes as a surprise: A national conference about the historicity of Filipino heroism, and ordinary people are included.
This is not to denigrate overseas Filipinos, or even us ordinary Filipinos.
But knowing the established criteria of saying who is a hero, and how historians document a person’s heroism, it will take a lot of deliberations to include some 8.7 million Filipinos into the hallways of heroes.
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HEROISM is [a] subjective topic, even if there’s a national heroes committee deliberating who qualifies as a hero (Diana Galang, 2008).
[According to] Dr. Esteban de Ocampo…a hero [is]: “A prominent or central personage taking an admirable part in any remarkable action or even, or a person of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger, or fortitude in suffering.”
Quoting book author Asuncion David-Maramda (2006, page v): “Who can measure greatness? Who can define a hero? Even without any criteria as to who is a hero and who is not, people will know a hero when they see one. Like love, heroism is better felt than defined, better recognized than analyzed.”
Then we take stock of the deeper meaning, if you ask Ed Aurelio Reyes, of the word bayani: bayani as the person, kabayanihan as the heroic act, and bayani as a heroic group, community, or nation.
So are overseas Filipinos heroes? Giving the tag “modern-day heroes” to this visible sub-group of the Filipino population was former President Corazon Aquino during the early years of her administration.
But are they really heroes? I asked that question to some of them overseas.
One was an undocumented or irregular migrant, a handyman who repairs compatriots’ houses and leaked pipes. Inside an inter-city train, he told me: “I think I am a hero for my family.”
I asked another undocumented migrant …a female dental assistant, who wonders why she is called a hero.
“We don’t feel like heroes. We can’t even explain to others why we are heroic.”
Says a ship captain, a resident of the land of heroes, Imus, Cavite: “What I care most is myself and my family. That is being heroic.”
The tag “modern-day heroes,” however, became a sales pitch for government (to showcase how the country address the socio-economic needs of overseas Filipinos and their families), as the tag also became a marketing person’s tagline.
In my limited knowledge about the economics of Filipino overseas migration, Filipinos abroad are called heroes because their dollars are the major lifelines of the Philippine economy.
Even in times of homeland economic slump, remittances have not gone down. These monies also improve the country’s balance of payments (or the summary of transactions between a country and the rest of the world), and beef up our foreign exchange reserves which the country also needs.
For a country that relies heavily on consumption, remittances fuel spending. All these happen because Filipinos with the opportunity to go overseas took the chance to earn higher incomes and too elude homeland unemployment.
These are the reasons why overseas Filipinos are the saviors of the Philippine economy, and are tagged “modern-day heroes”.
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[FILIPINO] overseas migration is as old as the numerous historical accounts of the Filipino nation. The history of the Filipino people suggests that migration is a natural tendency of the Filipino race (Vilardo Cabuag, 2003).
Sadly, while there are snippets of written material (not much from history) about the first-recorded movements of Filipinos to other countries, I think there are no authoritative materials that weave altogether the first movements of Filipinos to various countries that are then linked to the events that have shaped Philippine history.
A definitive and authoritative historical material about the overseas migration of Filipinos during the 20th century is missing, so is a well-written historical piece of how the Philippine government handled overseas employment.
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IT was documented that in 1587, Filipinos went to North America and arrived in Morro Bay, California, USA on board the galleon ship Nuestra Señora de Esperanza. They were even called “Luzonians,” the “Luzones Indios,” or the Manila Men. There were even Filipino permanent settlers in the United States as early as 1763 when some Filipinos were spotted near Barataria Bay in Southern Louisiana (Floro Mercene, 2007).
Filipinos are currently the leading group of seafarers in the world. The historical trace to such can be linked to the 1700s, when Filipinos were in demand as crew members of ships owned by Western traders and seafarers. In 1720, Pampanga’s Gaspar Molina oversaw the construction of the ship El Triunfo de la Cruz in California (Floro Mercene, 2007; Villy Cabuag, 2003).
Yet since 1668, natives from the Philippines have been going to the Mariana Islands.
In Augusto de Viana’s book In the Far Islands, he wrote that the history and culture of both the Philippines and the Mariana Islands are closely linked. Mariana Islands even became a province of the Philippines, and then ecclesiastically part of the Diocese of Cebu (Augusto de Viana, 2004).
Filipinos played a role in the Christianization and colonization of the Mariana Islands, even as Filipinos became immigrants during the 18th century and deportees during the 19th century.
[W]hat comes as a thrill to read is the work of Sydney, Australia-based Filipino historian Renato Perdon, titled Brown Americans of Asia.
Filipinos, Perdon wrote, were recorded to be in Australia when a certain Maximo Gomez was executed on 21 June 1880 by Queensland prison authorities. He was executed for murdering William Clarke of Possession Island in Australia’s Torres Strait, that sprang forth from a drinking quarrel.
But it is because of diving, and of divers, that the first Filipinos went to Australia.
As early as 1874, Filipinos and other Pacific Island nationals were recruited as divers for Sydney operators to collect pearl shells. An island called Thursday Island even had records that there were 147 Filipinos in the Island in 1885. In Australia’s pearl industry (Renato Perdon, 1998), Filipinos were crew members, divers, supervisors and employers of fishing fleets.
The fascinating story did not end there.
Perdon writes: “It was only in 1892 that Filipino women and children started to appear in the annual population statistics of Thursday Island. Eight Filipino women and 30 children were known living on the island that year.”
While now a sixth of Filipinos’ overseas migration is female, I think the [Filipino women] on Thursday Island show the first facets of the feminization of Filipinos’ overseas migration.
As early as that time, Filipino divers in Australia were considered “the most skilful of all divers …and exceedingly careful” (Renato Perdon, 1998) –similar to how foreigners in host countries
think of Filipino workers.
Perhaps the most popular overseas migration story during the 19th century was the overseas journeys of Dr. Jose Rizal. Looking at Eufronio Alip’s 1961 book I Traced Rial’s Footsteps in Foreign Lands, Rizal went to Spain, France, Greece, Austria, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Hong Kong.
Dr. Trinidad Parde de Tavvera wrote in 1918 in a material titled The Character of Rizal on why he thinks the national hero went to Europe:
“Rizal desired to go to Europe in order to educate himself, impelled by his desire to learn, to perfect himself, to become more useful to his people. He was not moved by the wish to have a good time and enjoy life” (Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, in Esteban de Ocampo, 1956: page 36).
[But w]hen it comes to documenting the history of Filipinos’ overseas migration, the United States is the most documented.
Take note of the year 1906, when 15 Ilocano sugar workers were recruited by the Hawai’i Sugar Planters Association to go to Hawai’i—thus staring the historical links between Ilocos Norte and the American island-state.
[G]iven the works of de Viana (for the Marianas Islands) and of Perdon (for Australia), the emigration of these Ilocano sugar workers to Hawai’i is perhaps not the first recorded overseas migration by Filipinos in the 20th century.
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[THE] Philippines has no integrated, credible and authoritative overseas migration history that is linked to Philippine events, to the histories of our many barangays, municipalities and provinces, and to today’s pursuit by government to send as many workers abroad for economic development.
The Philippines has yet to put together, as one panoramic compendium, the various histories of Filipinos’ overseas mobility.
The effort to improve writing about the history of overseas Filipinos can start with documenting carefully the histories of the Philippines’ diplomatic relations with certain countries.
An example is the work of Fr. Hermogenes Bacareza, SVD about Philippine-German relations where two bilateral agreements led to the migration of the first Filipinos in Germany such as nurses, midwives, medical technologists, hotel and restaurant employees, and seafarers. On 12 July 1968, a hundred hotel employees came to Hamburg, Germany for a three-year program between the two countries although these employees faced recruitment-related problems. They left their employers only after three months and they went to other places in
Germany and to neighboring European countries (Hermogenes Bacareza, 2008, 1980).
All the more that Filipinos who are in the host country, in particular those who are part of the “baby-boomer” generation, can write their communities’ histories.
That was what Orquidia Valenzuela-Flores, wife of Filipino publisher Eddie Flores of Munting Nayon [newspaper], did. She wrote that a Cavite resident named Ester Tala accompanied her aunt to sail for another continent in 1947.
Valenzuela wrote: “When the ship dropped anchor in the Netherlands, Ester Tala decided to stay behind and reach for her tala (star) in the land of the windmills. Ten years later, she met and married Rinus Jagtenberg.” Then Tala met the first Filipina midwives who arrived in 1964, and they became friends (Orquidia Valenzuela-Flores, 2008).
[In addition, there’s the former] Philippine government official Aprodicio Laquian and wife Eleanor [who] published Seeking a Better Life Abroad: A Study of Filipinos in Canada 1957-2007 since there has not been a written nationwide history of Filipinos in Canada at all.
In 1950, ten Filipinos were recorded in Manitoba and they were health workers who came from the US to renew their expired visas in hopes of returning to the US.
These “accidental migrants… never left,” the Laquians wrote.
The material has been cited by the Philippine diplomatic offices in Canada, as well as by Filipino organizations in Canada.
In the US, …migrant advocate …MC Canlas of San Francisco did a community history about Filipinos in the Bay Area.
Filipinos interpret their history, he says, from two perspectives: the pantayo, or the insider (covering those aspects of history and culture that are important to Filipinos’ perspective); and the pangkami, which focuses on explaining their history to foreigners who may have negative pre-conceptions about Filipinos.
Even the question “taga saan ka sa atin” (where are you from back home?) is part of Filipino identity formation. The question then facilitates the discovery of a common bond, [as expressed in the Filipino prefix] ka, as in kababayan (or townmates) and kamag-anak (or relatives).
Filipinos “naturally seek out levels and degrees of connectivity to build kapwa (the unity of self and others) and socio-cultural affinity” (MC Canlas, 2003).
Canlas …illustrated two types of Filipino communities in the Bay Area.
One is in the Daly City, the city in the US with the largest number of Filipinos. The other is in an area in San Francisco called the South of Market or SoMa.
SoMa bares a semblance of a Filipino plaza. There’s a Filipino church, some Filipino stores, a school for Filipino children, and a Filipino community center.
Thanks to such historical information, Filipinos are the first ethnic group to be given a one-dollar-a-year rental space in Bloomingdale’s mall in San Francisco.
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THE historicizing, however, can not and must not only be done overseas. Don’t forget our rural communities, the birthplaces of two-thirds of overseas Filipinos.
Have you ever wondered how …overseas migration figure into the picture in the …province of Cavite [where] old nipa huts became European-styled villas, as subdivisions have been targeting seafarers there?
For example, in the book Negros Oriental: From American Rule to the Present by Caridad Adecoa-Rodriguez (1989), there is one paragraph that is the only trace of overseas migration.
Citing a January 1950 provincial board resolution, the Siquijorian Protective Association in the US (Siquijor province was then part of Negros Oriental), gave P3,000 to the town of Larena to reconstruct the municipal building.
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AS local histories are becoming an increasing research endeavor, I hope that some will be interested to document the history of overseas migration from the perspective of the rural birthplace.
We remember what Resil Mojares wrote (1983-1984: page 5) in the Journal of History:
“The task of rural history lies in the documentation and analysis of broad processes which are important in shaping the quality of rural life. These include the breakdown of traditional communities, their integration into the network of a colonial economy, a national state and an urbanizing culture, and the various phases and results, dysfunctional or otherwise, of such integration. It is rural history that provides us with the unique view of such processes over time as they affect specific communities and groups of people.”
Local histories on overseas migration should take advantage of three trends.
One is that Filipinos abroad bring overseas their rural customs and traditions, and show these during community-wide celebrations in host countries. That is their way of reconnecting themselves to their roots.
Another [trend] is that second-generation Filipino-foreigners born in host countries want to know more about their roots and this should include the first Filipinos in their adopted homelands.
The [third] trend is seeing our tourism officials [encouraging] Filipinos to visit the Philippines as tourists while they visit their families in their rural hometowns. Elderly migrants, such as those belonging to the baby-boomer generation, are being egged on to retire in the country or build their retirement homes in their hometowns. If provinces such as Bohol and South Cotabato organize their annual or triennial global homecomings to welcome vacationing province mates, isn’t it that local history about province mates’ overseas migration can be helpful and insightful?
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WHAT the history of Filipino overseas migration can …do is help remind our leaders about the country’s future beside the exodus (Jeremaiah Opiniano, 2004) —that being a concern of development analysts and advocates for the protection of overseas Filipinos.
Aguilar, Filomeno with John Estanley Peñalosa et. al (forthcoming)
2009 Maalwang Buhay (Family, Overseas Migration, and Cultures of Relatedness in Barangay Paraiso). Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
2000 “Nationhood and Transborder Labor Migrations: The Late Twentieth Century from a Late Nineteenth–Century Perspective,” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 9(2): pages 171-198.
1989 Negros Oriental: From American Rule to the Present—A History (Volume II). Cebu City, Philippines: Jose Clavano Inc.
1961 I Traced Rizal’s Footsteps in Foreign Lands. Manila, Philippines: Alip and Sons, Inc.
Bacareza, Fr. Hermogenes S.V.D.
2007 Philippine-German Relations: A Modern History (1834-2006): Volume 2. Manila, Philippines: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.
1980 A History of Philippine-German Relations. Quezon City, Philippines: National Economic and Development Authority.
2003 “Four Centuries of Philippine Migration.” In Paulynn Sicam (editor). Philippine Migration Journalism: A Practical Handbook. Quezon City, Philippines: Institute on Church and Social Issues (ICSI) and the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Journalism Consortium.
2002 “Outside In, Inside Out: Seeing San Francisco’s Filipino Community.” San Francisco, USA: The Wildflowers Institute.
No date “Filipino Community Portrait.” In http://www.wildflowers.org/community/Filipino/portrait.shtml (accessed on 16 September 2009)
De Ocampo, Esteban
1956 Rizal, A Biographical Sketch. Manila, Philippines.
De Viana, Augusto
2004 In the Far Islands: The Role of Natives from the Philippines in the Conquest, Colonization and Repopulation of the Mariana Islands 1668-1903. Manila, Philippines: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.
2008 “The Gates to Heroism: Defining a Filipino Hero.” In http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/features/08/24/08/gates-heroism-defining-filipino-hero (accessed on September 17, 2009), 24 August 2008
1998 Filipinos and their Revolution: Events, Discourse and Historiography. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press (Read “The Revolution and the Diaspora in Austral-Asia,” pages 117-134)
Maramba, Asuncion David (editor)
2006 Mga Bagong Bayani: Modern Filipino Heroes. Manila, Philippines: Anvil Publishing.
2007 Manila Men in the New World: Filipino Migration to Mexico and the Americas from the Sixteenth Century. Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines Press.
1983-1984 “The Writing of Rural History.” The Journal of History, 28(1 and 2) and 29 (1 and 2), January-December 1983 and January-December 1984: pages 1-8.
2007 “Overseas Migration: A Filipino ‘Fixture’ Forms a Nation’s Future.” Pacific Rim Report no. 47, University of San Francisco – Center for the Pacific Rim. In http://www.pacificrim.usfca.edu/research/pacrimreport/pacrimreport47.html (accessed on 16 September 2009)
2004 Our Future Beside the Exodus: Migration and Development Issues in the Philippines. Pasig City, Philippines: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines.
2007 “Looking Back at Filipino-Canadian History.” In http://www.straight.com/article-90245/looking-back-at-filipino-canadian-history (accessed on 17 September 2009), 10 May 2007
1998 Brown Americans of Asia. Sydney, Australia: The Manila Prints.
Reyes, Ed Aurelio
1995 “’Bayani’ and the Heroism of the Filipino.” In www.tribo.org/history/bayani.html (accessed on 16 September 2009)
Topacio-Manalaysay, Kristy Anne
2006 “Pinoys Bare Heroic Life as Former Modern-Day Heroes.” OFW Journalism Consortium newspacket, 5(10-11), 20 November 2006 (this story was published in media outfits such as Inquirer.net, Philippines Today [Japan], SunStar Manila and Saipan Tribune [Northern Mariana Islands]).
2008 “History of the Filipino Community in the Netherlands.” Munting Nayon, In www.mnnetherlands.com/mn/articles/filhistory1.php 25 December 2008