Saturday, March 01, 2014

Of F.O.P.s, F.O.B.s, and Filipino Clubs 
Expanded from, Discussing Citizenship (and Identity)

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Composition: Recalling both an event from 7 years ago which occured in the Philippines,
                           as well as my highschool life 17 to 15 years ago here in Calgary. Hell, this 
                           "travel blog" has turned into a "travel memoirs" of sorts! I might as well go back 
                           even further and relate my Philippine trip with my high-school life - because why I was 
                           so deeply affected by that trip has a lot to do with my first decade here in Canada.
Previous Post: Nothing, just some notes on layout...
Related Post: Reunion with the Barkada 

 Here's something pleasant before we proceed. It's Amorsolo's "Tinikling". I promise it'll make sense as you read.

My former classmates in the Philippines have all asked me, in some version or another, "What was Highschool like in Canada?" and "Did you have any Filipino friends?"

It was a very important question - both to them and myself. I left the Philippines after third year highschool, one year short of graduation, and moved to Alberta, Canada where highschool took a further two years, up to Grade 12. It was both a question of curiosity and also of concern; they wanted to know how I got on without them, my dearest barkada.

That second question of whether I had Filipino friends during this time was in fact asked, not just by my Filipino childhood friends and former classmates but, by almost everyone I met during my 4 and half month Philippine stay.

Truth be told, I feel as though I never did answer that satisfactorily. As in, I never really got into the nuanced and complex issue that it was for me at the time. Here is an attempt to really dig deeper:

In senior highschool, about 15 to 17 years ago, I used to hang out with Pinoys who were relatively Fresh off the Boat (FOB).

It's a pejorative, make no mistake about it! So don't go throwing around such a derogatory term/acronym. FOP (Fresh off the Plane) is probably more appropriate, because who arrives by boat nowadays? Though as used back then, FOP was usually reserved for well-moneyed immigrants, like the Koreans and Hong Kong-ers. FOP too is a pejorative, so don't go throwing around that word/acronym either.

Yet I heard them a lot during my late teen years.


People in my highschool would use such xenophobic and borderline racist terms on others and even on themselves. It's no joke: Highschool can be a very tough and mean place. It is practically a microcosm of an anarchic society where the cliques are like fierce tribal divisions, with their respective hangouts protected turf and territories.

Fights between groups did happen, though more commonly there was a kind of tenuous understanding that if you didn't stir shit, you'd be alright. The cliques were really there for people to belong to specific groups they already identify with, rather than manufacturing a division that did not really exist.

What was unfortunate is that when inter-clique fights did occur, the focal point became whatever kinds of cliques were fighting, so the news always broke out that the fight may have been "racially motivated" even though it never usually was. The Polacks vs the Anglo Whites. The Whites vs the Filipinos. The Filipinos vs Latin Americans. The Latin Americans vs. the guys from the Horn of Africa (gotta be specific, yo!)... these were all just readily identifiable markers. More often than not, the causes were just plain ol' stupid teen angst, hormones, insecurities, all rolled up into one.

As for me, I tried to be as multi-cultural as I can. In my mind then - and this is still what I tell everyone who's new to this place - I feel like you would be short changing yourself of the Canadian experience if you don't get to know other cultures.

I used to deflect the romantic interests of a Korean girl, while in turn being rejected by a very pretty blonde of Slavic origin I was going after. I was also put into ESL (English as a Second Language) Class in Grade Ten, even though I thought I really didn't need it. I acquiesced because it was a chance to meet new people. Ethiopians, Congolese, Egyptians, Polish, Czechs, Russians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Chileans, Vietnamese... No doubt I'm forgetting many other nationalities1 which composed my acquaintances then, but these are the only ones I can still put a face or a name to. The Canadian claim of multiculturalism and how people of all races, creed, and orientation can just somehow get along?  It's true!

But if I am to be honest, after class hours, I did end up hanging out with and befriending most of the FOB Pinoys. Because like I back then, they haven't been in-country for very long, having moved here in their early to mid teens, transposed from a Philippine highschool setting to a highschool here in the Canadian Prairie within view of the mountains. Not being citizens yet and nearly sharing the same memory of the country we left, we had at least that in common.

Those who came in earlier than us? Totally different clique. Derisively, they were called "Potatoes" or Patatas - brown on the outside, but white on the inside. Again, it's mean and it's a pejorative, so don't go using that word. By having been here so long, the Patatas possessed less and less of what we thought made a Filipino a "true Filipino".

What you had then were two to three cliques of Filipino: The second-gen and generation 1.5, or respectively, those who were either born here or were too young to remember any other place other than Canada; and then there was us, the FOBs who arrived within the last two to three years. There was a middle group there somewhere who came in before us FOBs but after the "potatoes". They were almost never visible, usually befriending anyone and everyone, regardless of ethnic makeup. I actually secretly envied this 'flexibility' of theirs. 

Every new Filipino arrival also tended to be absorbed into the FOB group. Very easily, in fact, because every newcomer was seen as bearer of not just news, but new trends, music and pop culture from the "motherland". The internet already existed, but was really still just taking hold, and social media as we now know it today was still to come. The more fresh 'recruits' there were, the "Fresher" Off the Boat we Pinoy FOBs stayed.

Like any highschool with numerous student organizations, we had back then - though I'm sure it still has right now - a Filipino club.

Funniest thing with that club, almost all the members would have been labeled Patatas by the FOBs. Too many of them did not speak Tagalog nor any of the other Filipino languages. A lot were more into Hockey - a "Canadian" thing for us FOBs back then - than Basketball, that I would wager no one kept up with what was happening with the PBA at the time, as we FOBs all did. Only a very few knew of the popular trends and topics, that they were all out of touch of the arts and entertainment scene in the Philippines. Of those who moved here at a young pre-adolescent age, I doubt any really kept in touch with their respective childhood friends still in the Philippines as I did and still do. Guaranteed, no Patatas would ever join a pinoy inuman with pusoy dos on the table - too low class for them. ...probably.

This is where my own view that the mere act of moving and living elsewhere changes you, even without direct conscious effort in your part. It simply cannot be helped. That Patatas clique, through no real fault of their own, really weren't all that "Filipino" anymore compared to us FOBs.

Yet there they were, representing Philippine culture with their costume presentations, tinikling dances, and pot lucks with Pinoy food during school cultural events. That really blew my mind: The LEAST Filipino group at school was the loudest to proclaim their Filipino heritage.

I suppose I, or any one of my other FOB friends, could have joined and infused that group with some 'fresh' blood.

But like I said, it was more a clique first, a club second. A clique that dressed up Pinoy, but really wasn't. I was content playing pick-up Basketball with other Pinoys and doing, what I thought at the time, was real, genuine Pinoy stuff. "Let them have their costume parties", I thought at the time. "I, on the other hand, do not have to pretend to be Filipino - I AM one".

Besides, there was real animosity between the FOBs and the Patatas. The worst fights, the worst insults I've ever heard hurled by "warring factions", and the worst longstanding rivalries (the gang-like kind of rivalry, not the "strive to get better and improve yourself for competition" rivalry) occurred between the FOB Pinoys and the Patatas. A lot of them seemed to stem from FOB insecurities being offended by the Patatas being uppity, snobbish, dismissive, even downright mean to FOBs.

Looking back now, 15 to 17 years on, of course it was all stupid, misdirected late teen angst, hormones, and stupidity. I also realize that having been a FOB, I probably pick that side subconsciously to this day.

This too is why I now tend to have the view that just because you share the same national backgrounds, it doesn't mean that you will get along. If anything, it is entirely possible to either import the same animosities from whence you came from, or make new ones unique to the immigrant Filipino experience. Basically, it was a Pinoy version of The Outsiders' Socs vs Greasers. Or the upper class vs the lower class; because the rivalry is as much a "class division" and "class rivalry" of sorts, more than a prime example of why highschool just kind of sucks.

Unfortunately, it is a Filipino cultural phenomena to look down on newcomers as though they are of lower class. It is one of our less endearing cultural traits, one which actually has been the focus of academic work.

Because of of all this, I promised myself, and continue to remind myself to this day, to never ever mistreat, look down upon, mock, or be mean to any new Filipino, or anyone who came after me.

Because if I'm to be honest, 17 years on, I am now closer to a Patatas.



So, in answering the question: "Did you have Filipino friends back then (when you were new to Canada)?" My answer was often a short, "Yes, yes I did", said in a way that also meant 'no biggie'. I might often add, "You'll be surprised how Filipinos turn up in the strangest places, actually. We are everywhere!"

Looking back now, I suppose I can say that I'm glad to have been friends with them. I'm happy that I managed to belong to something when I was bagong salta (FOB!).

But I am a "past positive" person. The more time passes by, the better I tend to view things back then, when I was new. Hell, that's why I can talk about it now! Nowadays, I am able to confront these topics a lot better.

So if I am to be honest, during that visit to the Philippines in 2007, after a decade of having been in Canada, I was so happy, so glad to have reconnected with my Philippine highschool barkada because I realized I was with friends I actually really, truly chose - friends I actually really liked and enjoyed being with - instead of friends I just kind of ended up hanging out with because of common nationality1

Wala pa rin tatalo sa mga kabarkada ko nung kabataan ko sa Pilipinas.

1. Nationalities = While I've made a point to never mistake ethnicity for nationality, the use of this is proper in this context. While I have no doubt that most, if not all, of those people I knew in my ESL class later became Canadian Citizens, we were all of different nationalities at the time, having only recently moved to Canada. 

Also, there's a Part II to this, so watch out!

Future Post: The Town Centre's Fiesta, Part II

Related Posts: Discussing Citizenship: What am I?
                            Digging Deeper: Why I went to the Philippines for an extended period.
                            Reunion with the Barkada
                            The Useless Kids of the Filipino Middle to Upper Class 
                            The All-Encompassing Rant about what it was like to be NEW to Canada

Further Reading: The Colonial Mentality Project
                          Read: S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders"

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