There are more than 11 million overseas Filipinos worldwide, about 11% of the total population of the Philippines. (Wikipedia) They are scattered around the world sporting different hats and playing diverse roles in the communities and offices where they belong.
In Canada there are nearly 400,000 Canadians of Filipino origin. This is an estimate by the Canadian government as of 2007 quoted in Wikipedia. Upfront, there is a huge disparity in the two countries that includes weather, terrain, food and culture in general. Just how can Filipinos thrive in such an environment so different from the culture where they were raised?
Jerma Alas moved to Canada with her husband Cris and daughter Jerssey last October 2007. They stayed with Cris’ relatives in Ontario --- a province in the central part of Canada. In the Philippines, Jerma is a working mom. But since she is pregnant with their second baby and there’s no nanny available, she now stays at home with Jerssey while Cris is at work.
Cris was able to find work in their first week in the country. Quite remarkable especially that it’s a kind of work still in line with his job in the Philippines. In his first few weeks, Cris observed, “Ontario is indeed a home to so many races. Everytime I ride the bus, I always see Indians, Jamaicans, Chinese, Filipinos, and Americans.”
Jerma on the other hand noted, “Supermarkets here makes you feel like shopping at Cash and Carry. There, you’ll see the Pinoy favorites like instant noodles, wafer sticks and even tilapia.” She says grocery shopping has started to become a favorite past time for her. “There’s a 98% probability that I’ll overhear Ilocanos looking for frozen saluyot in the vegetable area or Bicolanos trying to find the best gabi leaves for their laing”, Jerma quips.
Attitude wise, Cris noted that unlike Filipinos, people in Canada don’t care much about brands. Even in cars, “My cousin bought a brand new Toyota Altis but when he got to his work, he saw how old and dilapidated his bosses’ cars were. Instead of being proud of his new possession, he felt ashamed since he was just new but he already opted to buy a brand new one. For them, so long as it still serves their need, there is no need to buy a new one”, he adds.
On a lighter side, Jerma feels funny having to engage in a quick conversation with just anybody from grocery cashier to McDonalds crew before they serve you. “First they’ll ask you, how are you? Then you’re obliged to reply, I'm okay. Then ask, how about you? This happens all the time everywhere we go”, Jerma said. “Unlike in the Philippines, a smile or a nod is enough, in Canada it is considered rude not to engage in that kind of conversation”, she adds.
Aside from these notable observations, weather too is terrible. They have already experienced -5 degrees celcius. Far from the very tropical Philippines where the coldest only gets to below 20 degrees celcius but normally it stays at 31 degrees celcius. “Good thing there is heater in the house but if you need to get out, you’ll need all sorts of thermal clothes to keep you warm. We also had our first snow experience last Christmas”, the husband and wife said. They added, “Jerssey was so happy to see real snow for the first time. It made her Christmas so special”.
Based on the Alas’ experiences and some other stories from Filipinos overseas, it is perhaps part of being Pinoy to be able to grow in communities where they are planted. It must be a cultural strength that any Filipino can successfully adapt to any culture in the world.