Filipinos have never been insular in the sense of staying in their archipelago. Early accounts of Philippine delegations traveling to China, with some participants staying there or meeting death from any cause, i.e. natural, martyrdom, etc., are recorded. Our two recognized Catholic saints were evangelizing in Japan and Guam when they met their Creator.
The Manila Galleon brought Filipinos to the Americas and there are records of Filipino settlements in Mexico and Louisiana, even California, and the cultural spread of Filipino customs and native plants as a result.
Today there are OFWs who are in the Middle East in substantial numbers, as well as everywhere else – Japan, China, Southeast Asia and just about anywhere in the world – Alaska, the southern hemisphere countries, even some in Russia and the country close to it. There are also large numbers of migrants in the United States and European countries.
The fact is that Filipinos are practically everywhere in the world. And they keep their friendliness and hospitality, our innate traits, especially when they meet other Filipinos there.
By traveling everywhere we are likely to meet our compatriots. In fact, one can never be lost in a big city without seeing a kababayan and asking for help, which will be easily given.
My travels have taught me to seek them out when needed like getting directions or asking for advice.
Sometimes it is given without asking. I was once on a bus in Rome heading to Termini, the giant train and bus station known for its criminal elements like pickpockets and scammers. I thought I was smart using a belt pouch. I wasn’t smart enough. A Filipino saw me on the bus and suddenly said, “May magnanakaw dito”. I was so surprised that I thought he was up to something and didn’t respond. After a stop, he remarked: “Bumaba na yung magnanakaw”. He told me to be vigilant but I hesitated to believe him. It’s the only time I’ve been the victim of pickpocketing. My wallet was removed from the pocket without my noticing.
I cruised the Mediterranean and 90% of the crew were Filipino which means my friend and I were spoiled hearing their stories, receiving their goodwill and wonderful sense of humor and resilience.
On this last trip to Europe, I noticed Filipinos everywhere. In Madrid, it is the equivalent of the Quiapo-Sta. Cruz de Cuatro Caminos neighborhood. Filipinos were very visible shopping with children, some in strollers, which meant that these were families living there and not touring. They were in cafes, malls and walking on sidewalks. A Filipino was manning a lottery booth who made me buy a ticket (didn’t win).
In Barcelona, there was a Filipino running a stall on the Ramblas selling flower and vegetable seeds, talking on the phone in Ilonggo with someone. Also, in Barcelona, at the rooftop bar of the hotel, there were Filipino customers, obviously tourists like us. But there was also a Filipino waiter who, when I ordered a second drink, said, “It’s my fault.”
In London, there is the Romulo Cafe where the Filipinos who live there gather. When I went to change money at a money changer, the Filipino at the counter was much quicker than the other migrant from another country I had the misfortune to get stuck with, waiting for him to figure out what to do while my friend with the filipino changer was done in a jiffy.
If you get lost in a Paris metro, look for a Filipino to guide you. You could be escorted to your destination as I once was. When you can’t find what you’re looking for, wait for your fellow Filipino to show up, which won’t take long, and ask for help.
At Mont-Saint-Michel in France, which is the second most visited tourist spot in the country, and which is literally an island with a small town at the foot of the famous abbey built on a hill, and which is considered rather isolated, we met a filipino woman running a souvenir shop. Unesco has declared Mont-Saint-Michel a World Heritage Site and no public transport such as tourist buses is allowed there. They have to park miles away and shuttles are used to take tourists only to a pedestrian bridge that crosses the sea to Mont-Saint-Michel. But there was the woman from Cebu who apparently owned the shop, who had been there for 27 years and said she was too busy to leave the place. When it’s not tourist season, she has to do inventory, bring supplies, and tend to the business of owning a store. She is planted there. Of course, she speaks perfect French now.
At the church in London where I attended mass, the choir was made up of Filipina women and the conductor was also Filipino.
You could say that it is the Filipino diaspora that is causing the brain drain in the country. I do not agree. We have a lot of brains here and the world has already reached it.