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ESSAY: The Filipino History that’s Overseas – and that’s Missing

[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.

(To be continued)