Friday, January 31, 2014

The Useless Kids of the Filipino Middle-to-Upper Class
"The kids don't tend to lift a finger... unfortunately."
6th of January 2007

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Composition: Recalling an event in the Philippines from 7 years ago.
Previous Post: Social Hierarchy, Menial Jobs, and Fastfood in the Philippines

Sometime in January of 2007, I got asked, "How long is your stay going to be (in the Philippines)?"

Indeed, I had already spent a month and I had not yet really done any exploring, save for in and around the hometown.

I answered along the lines of, "Well, my return ticket has a specific return date (sometime in March?), but I would like to extend it. Before I head back to Canada, I would definitely like to see what life is like in Metro Manila. I also would like to travel around the whole country. I might actually have to extend my stay - I did take my sweet time readjusting, as well as recovering from a really bad, infected cough. Now that the New Year is over, I need to get a move-on. I do have leeway in when I can come back, because I don't return for work until late April. However, I may not have enough money."
How I spared a thought about the work I had to come back to - and stressing that fact in my reply - is essential, because the next thing said to me hit like an insult.

"Oh well," someone remarked, "just ask Mom and Dad for money again."

I'm not going to say who made the remark, or where exactly the scene was, because it's not really all that important. If anything, a lot of people probably assumed this of me during my vacation in the Philippines. However, I did not let this go easily.

"Again?" I snapped back, "what do you mean again!? I didn't, and would never, ask my parents for money!  I worked hard to earn this vacation! I work for whatever little luxuries I enjoy. This is a year in savings and planning. This is all mine. I never, EVER ask my parents for luxuries like travel, my personal vehicle, not even for eating out!.. which unfortunately can't be said of your kids here."

This definitely upped the tension, because the group I was addressing was my Dad's generation - my elders - and you don't address your elders in the tone I did. More than that, I talked about "their" kids - my generation - and how they raise them. In one statement, I tore into that person's assumptions of me, our values regarding money, and that elder person's parenting skills.

To be fair, this shut up the person who made the "ask Mom and Dad for money" remark. However, I can't really say for sure whether they accepted my explanation - whether they have updated their mental library of what they think they know about me, and the values I have learned from having lived in Canada. It is quite likely they just made tanim ng galit (literally: planted their anger. OR: wrote me off as an enemy for all eternity).

But, the "confrontation" ended there, so that's that.

If anything, I was the only one who was confrontational by way of my being overly defensive.

So, why was I so defensive?

Well, let's start with my moving to Canada in the first place: When we as a family moved here, I myself very

...I myself very quickly discovered that I had to realign my own views on work, working, and depending on my parents.

If you're from here, then you already know all this... but if you're from the Philippines? Read on:

Here in Canada, kids are trained in financial responsibility very early. Of course you can find examples to the contrary, but my point is that this is the cultural norm. The minimum working age is 15, but a special permit will let anyone around 12-14 work certain kinds of jobs. Paper route? Mowing lawns in the summer? Shoveling driveways of snow in the winter? You name it, almost everybody's kid works, even the kids of well-to-do parents. We do it to kids here because it's character building, we push them so that they know to save up for the things they want, we make them feel like they have done something and truly earned the things they have. If anything, this financial training probably even starts earlier. I have actually witnessed really young Canadian kids being introduced to the concept of working for something by way of fulfilling chores to earn their "allowance"* and enterprising at a very young age (lemonade stands are not just a cliche, it's a reality).

To be honest, even though I was already 15 when I moved here, I did not work during my first summer vacation. Probably because I was bitter and depressed. Bitter, because my counterparts** in the Philippines didn't work - so why should I? With my folks' income bracket in the Philippines, it's just a given that they give their kids "allowance" for as long as they're in school. I still had the "Filipino middle class mindset". I still viewed menial work as below me. Classist much? You bet! That's why I feel I have a unique insight for what Filipinos think in that previous post - because seventeen years ago, I had the same line of thinking. And as far as I know, I am not unique in this respect.

Being newly landed independent immigrants here in Canada, my parents' extensive professional credentials weren't recognized. They - We - were quite literally on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Now, it isn't and it wasn't all that bad since I do believe Canada is very egalitarian. Nonetheless, I had to very quickly realign my own unique brand of Filipino Classism and Elitism. Witnessing my Mom and Dad work their way up from menial jobs, like cashier and machine shop lackey respectively, really shook my philosophy. I mean, my Mom worked for the Philippines' Central Bank for goodness' sake! My Dad was at the top of his game as an agricultural consultant in our province before we moved! He has a Master's Degree for god's sake!

Materially, we were pretty much free from want in the Philippines. Before we left, we had two cars and a sizable house just 30km or so from the Capital. NO mortgage and no debt whatsoever.

Yet they gave up all that to move here in Canada. Only to become employed in... practically the lowest of the low-paying jobs, rent a crummy apartment, and share one shitass Hyundai.

More than anyone in the family, more than my parents themselves, I felt as though the jobs they were doing here in Canada were below them, and the tradeoff not worth it at all.

That's one of the bigger reasons why I was very bitter and depressed when I was new to Canada.

But by my second summer in here, when I was 16, I found employment cleaning toilets. It's not as gross as you think it is, but it's still a janitorial job (and "Janitor" in the Philippines is a euphemism for lowest of the low - the point being: There was NO WAY my parents would let me work a similar job, had we stayed in the Philippines). But, THIS was Canada, and at least I was earning my own spending money - lessening the burden to my parents.

By the time I was 17, still in High School, I had joined the Army Reserve (Infantry), and I would stay there until I was in my early twenties, whilst in College. It was great fun, being a student during the weekdays and then shooting and blowing things up in the weekends and summers.
I have also been a liquor store cashier, a photolab technician (before the advent of digital photography), delivery van driver, construction labourer, television station crew, tv reporter, and the job I had as I saved up for my trip: dump truck driver.

 I should probably note that my parents also prospered and prospered a great deal here. Typical immigrant story I guess: Start off low, but succeed through hard work, perseverance, and - perhaps most importantly - upgrading credentials and finding a well paying job.

"Upgrading"... Deep down, I even found that insulting. But at least it wasn't a long drawn out process where they had to take their University Degrees all over again. It was just a matter of making sure that they weren't completely faking their education or even literacy for that matter - something which, though unsaid, is generally assumed by Canada of its immigrants back in the day. None of your credentials counted. I've read academic papers on this; only very recently has Canada learned to make full use of its immigrant "Brain Gain" (the opposite of Brain Drain, where people with credentials emigrate out).

By the time I was in the Philippines for this four and a half month vacation after a decade here in Canada, my parents once again had paid off a house in the suburbs and two cars - the same exact thing I was bitter to have lost by leaving the Philippines.
Currently, I am a struggling/aspiring Independent Filmmaker with a first project that is so underfunded, it could very well tank. I have a huge student debt because I wanted to put myself through University (having come back for a four year degree in 2008-2012), without burdening my parents - because as successful as they are, that's theirs, and these are mine and my issues alone.

Again, compare that with my counterparts** in the Philippines and all the other middle class kids over there: Almost everyone has their education subsidized by their parents. In fact, so uncommon is it for students to work while in school there, that they have a special term for it: "Working Students".  I suppose I've heard that used here in Canada as well, but more often than not, I have observed that the norm is to work while you put yourself through school. None of this "iskolar ng ama't ina"*** bullshit. The kids don't tend to lift a finger... unfortunately.

Don't get me wrong! I am NOT trying to sound heroic by narrating all this. If anything, I will be the first to admit that I can be incredibly lazy if only given the chance.

But we here are rarely given the chance to be lazy, idle, and useless.

What can I say? The Canadian work ethic has rubbed on to me.


So there you have it.

THAT's why I was so defensive and quite insulted when it was assumed that I was like just any other Filipino young adult in the Philippines - that prototypical free-spirited, adventurous, trendy, and expensive-clothes-wearing teen or young twentysomething with all the disposable money, yet still financially dependent on their parents for everything, including luxuries and entertainment.

 And they dare call me "Lucky" to have moved to Canada!

Then again, I do suppose that one can still spin this into a story of "too much love". Perhaps Filipino parents simply love their kids too much that they will not only pay for their education, but also buy them vacations and leisure time if they can.


Spoiled brats, is what I call them!

Looking back now, I would credit this experience, alongside what I talked about in my previous post, for marking the beginning of the end of my "honeymoon period" with the place. All of it had a cumulative effect towards a slow realization that "I am not really one of them anymore". They imagine me as just a "westernized" version of their children, not realizing that their and my definition of the term differ greatly.

In a way, it also provides an answer to the question I raised:
"...what are they absorbing from "The West"? For all the Americanization, the Westernization, all the cable TV, Internet, and imported ideas and goods they have over there, why don't these little touches, these amazing little ideas that make "Western Living" so great, ever gain a foothold over there?"
To answer that, perhaps another quote from James Fallows' 1987 piece is necessary:
"College or graduate education in America is a mark of social distinction for Filipinos, as it is for many other Asians. But while U.S.-trained Taiwanese and Korean technocrats return to improve factories and run government ministries, many Filipinos seem to consider the experience a purely social achievement, a trip to finishing school."
In my case, instead of asking me what makes living in Canada so great, instead of probing what values have I learned during my transition to being a Canadian, and what style of pamamalakad**** I feel could be applied to the Philippines, there is a kind of Filipino who would rather ask me how much money I make, what car I drive, how many white chicks I've had sex with, all while marvelling at my accent that is "oh so, distinctly Fil Am!*****"

More than anything, the material advantages and the superficial glitz and glamour of living here in "The West" seem to interest them a great deal more than the values, social justice, and social mores that I personally feel are what make living here so great.

Related Post: Social Hierarchy, Menial Jobs, and Fastfood in the Philippines.
                         The All-Encompassing Rant about what it was like to be NEW to Canada

Next Post: What no one is saying about Coke's Super Bowl Ad

Related Reading:

 Helping people who can take care of themselves is NOT helping the Philippines - Philippine Daily Inquirer interview with Suze Orman

A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines? -James Fallows, November 1987, The Atlantic

A Telling Quote:
"Trouble is, people in the Philippines suffers from a massive affliction called culturolatry β€” a baseless worship of their own culture coupled with a closed-minded regard for external influences, which is ironic considering the colonial mentality Filipinos are renowned for. It’s as if we embrace the colourful and fancy cosmetic aspects of what the prosperous world has to offer but shun the work ethic and discipline that underpins their ability to export β€” even aggressively prescribe β€” their culture."
 -benign0, GRP Online

* Allowance = a Filipino cultural phenomenon used to describe parents giving their kids spending money without making them earn it, as though it were a given that by having kids, they must fund their luxuries too. Like I said in that other post, "The kids don't tend to lift a finger... unfortunately."

** Counterparts = I feel like using "Contemporaries", but that sounds too pretentious. ;)

*** iskolar ng ama't ina = literally: Dad and Mom's little scholar.

**** pamamalakad = Governance 

***** Fil Am = Shorthand for Filipino American. In 2006-2007, the majority of Pinoys either didn't care or didn't know enough to differentiate between Canada and the US.

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