The first time I went to Michigan to meet his family, Dave invited his buddies and requested me to cook Filipino food. Imagine my surprise, when I met David Gawlik, Dave’s childhood friend. David speaks fluent Tagalog. He knew all the salitang kanto (street slang) but in his Midwestern accent! He asked me if my husband is “andres de saya” (henpecked).
David had a lot of good memories of the Philippines. He was with the US Navy and was stationed for 4 years in Subic Bay. David married a Filipina and named his only daughter, Filipina. His current American wife understands his love for Filipino food and happily cooks lumpia and pancit. American ingredients aren’t good enough for David, he insists on the authentic ingredients– Silver Swan soy sauce and Datu Puti vinegar.
Over mechado and adobo that I cooked, he regaled their Michigan buddies with his colorful account of Olongapo- how he roamed the streets eating skewered pork and playing bingo with the old women- and some other stories strictly for the boys. He talks about going back and opening a sari-sari store. I was not surprised that on a trip to Las Vegas one of his first stops was Max’s.
Surprisingly, this is not unique to David Gawlik. While writing this article, I chanced upon an ex US Navy blogger who was also stationed in the Philippines. His article about Olongapo had so many comments from ex-servicemen. Most of them, like David had so many good memories. A lot married Filipina women and returned to the Philippines to retire.
So I get asked, not just in Michigan, but everywhere we travel in the US – “What is unique about the Philippines? Is it true that the beaches are beautiful?”
The gentle Filipinos
The first time I was asked that question, I paused and thought about it. And this is what I said – “There are beautiful beaches in other countries, too. I’ve seen Bondi Beach in Sydney, Phuket in Thailand, Bali Indonesia and Maui”.
As I go about my day to day life here in California, trying to blend in my new culture, slowly I began to reflect on that question? What is good about the Philippines?
In the hodgepodge of colors and culture in America, it was refreshing to look at the Filipino, from a different lens. What makes us desirable workers and attractive partners?
Values so uniquely Filipino
I once worked in an office in Downtown LA, where 6 out of 8 employees were Filipinos. While the rest of the employees would clock out lunch and leave at exactly 5, the Filipinos would have working lunch and stay for at least half an hour more. No overtime pay. That’s just how we are. We have utang na loob and malasakit. These values are so uniquely Filipino, there is just no English word for it. We are naturally grateful to our employers and I guess to God, for our jobs.
The Filipino value of deep love for family influences our work ethic.
We value our jobs and work hard to send money back home and make sure that the balikbayan box gets there on time. This is counter-cultural to the individualistic culture of America, where they believe each one’s life belongs to himself and he has the right to live it as he sees fit
Filipinos are naturally mabait. I once got stuck in Hong Kong airport, for three days and two nights! The airline’s ground crew and the Hong Kong airport officials were so rude and indifferent to our situation. Finally, we got home.
I have never been so happy to see the Philippine airport. Yes, it’s not the nicest. It’s chaotic, small, and disorganized. But the Filipino immigration officials are polite and not arrogant. Whether you are a Filipino national or a tourist, everyone gets treated with courtesy.
That’s why in foreign land we gravitate to each other. I have never seen a culture so happy to see a fellow man abroad. We are always longing for a piece of home.
Whether we like it or not, we become the showcase of what is good or bad about our culture. The food we eat. Our time-honored values. Even our idiosyncrasies.
The beauty of the Filipino people
There is no tourism ad, travel magazine or YouTube video that can capture the compassion of the Filipina caregivers or the efficiency of our nurses. In the global workplace, we shine best when we interact.
So, this is what I told Dave’s friends in Michigan. “The Philippines is more than beautiful beaches. It’s the people. It’s the Filipinos that make the Philippines beautiful. We are grateful, warm, kind and gentle.” It felt good to say that.
Thank you for spending time with me.