My PhD supervisor informed me about Kristine Aquino’s talk ‘Everyday anti-racism in the lives of Filipino migrants in Australia’ to be held at our university. I was interested.
It is a topic that every Filipino in a foreign land wants to know about. As I can not attend due to work commitments, I have asked my wife to be there and take notes for me.
I then emailed Kristine, and was only too pleased to hear she would be happy sharing her research to the wider Filipino community.
Kristine Aquino is a Doctoral candidate at Macquarie University and is in the final stages of preparing her thesis for submission. She is based at the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion where she has been researching the experience of everyday racism and resistance among Filipino migrants living in Australia.
Born in Quezon City, Kristine and her family migrated to Australia when she was 6 years old and they settled in the Penrith area. A good student, Kristine was on the honour roll in both high school and university. She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Sociology) at Macquarie University and later undertook her Honours in Sociology where her thesis on ethnic identity development among second generation Filipino-Australians was awarded first class distinctions and the highest grade amongst her batch. Kristine was then granted a Macquarie Research Excellence Scholarship in 2008 to commence her PhD research.
During our interview, Kristine talked about her earlier findings on the cross-cultural differences between first and second generation Filipino migrants, and the anxieties that can enter the family and community.
For instance, how older Filipinos worry about their children not knowing enough Filipino culture or language. Yet, Kristine adds, this phenomenon is not unique among Filipino migrants and she argues that second generation Aussie born and bred Pinoys actually take pride in their being Filipino, albeit in their own way.
A lot of them ‘love Filipino food’ which is enmeshed with the significance of family and community and they also enjoy return visits to the Philippines. The latter particularly rejuvenates their sense of ‘being Filipino’ – enabling them to acknowledge their historical roots, though they may not speak the dialect.
Kristine’s PhD thesis turns to how racism manifests its head in subtle everyday life and in ordinary, mundane exchanges and interactions, rather than the dramatic or extreme types that grab headlines.
Based on her 2 years of field work in Sydney, she found that Filipinos experience a multitude of everyday racism. From incidents of ‘random racial slurs’ on the street to being ‘stared at’ in areas with little to no migrant population, and to young Filipino men being denied entry into bars and clubs in the city despite adhering to entry regulations.
Filipina women also spoke about being ignored or rudely treated by sales attendants, being labeled by non-Filipinos –rather stereotypically and degradingly- as ‘Mail Order Brides’. Many older Filipinos also cited ‘de-skilling’ as subtle racism wherein their equivalent qualifications were not recognised if not perceived as inferior ‘Third World’ qualifications.
So how do Filipinos subvert these subtle -and not so subtle- racist exclusions?
Kristine cites many, but due to space limits, I’ll cite three: attributing ignorance on the part of the perpetrator; skilful use of ‘cultural capital’ such as socio-economic mobility; and generating respect and recognition .
According to Kristine, regarding perpetrators of racism as ‘ignorant’ (i.e. ‘they don’t know better’, ‘they’re uneducated’) allows Filipinos to elevate themselves as morally higher than racist perpetrators. In this way, Filipinos distance themselves from being the ‘victims of racism’ but more interestingly they position themselves as more ‘cosmopolitan and worldly’ whilst racists are the ones positioned as the ‘Other’ – ‘inferior, backward and uneducated’ who ‘haven’t caught up with the rest of the world’.
Acquisition of ‘cultural capital’ is another way of coping: one, by ‘arriving’ economically, e.g. buying a house – or houses – and perhaps having high status cars. The other is by way of language and behavior.
This is done through putting up a certain accent, or donning ‘Western’ demeanor, behaviour, and preferences. Particularly, for the middle class, positioning themselves as educated, successful, and culturally compatible are among the strategies they utilize to undermine their racialization.
Where this is not enough, Filipinos may also recoup respect transnationally, by investing in their status in the Philippines. Thus, we hear narratives of money and balikbayan boxes sent back home, of nephews and nieces sent to private schools, and the construction of mansion-like houses even in hinterlands.
Return visits also act as respite from the marginalization they might experience in Australia. Also, gift-giving or just through sharing stories of life abroad, such migrants are admired as ‘providers’ and even ‘heroes’ in their families and communities left behind.
So, Kristine emphasizes, Filipinos creatively resist oppression and subjugation by ‘rewriting’ and ‘reconstructing’ their identities in order to redeem the respect and dignity that racism denies.
Talking with Kristine made me understand bits and pieces of the difficult transitions every migrant typically goes through. Many are painful experiences and, if I may add, not often discussed or articulated even among the Filipinos. Yet, Kristine says Filipinos are resilient and refuse to be victimized, giving us a great capacity to cope through tough times. We also have a great capacity to care.
This particularly comes out in the experiences of the recent influx of migrant nurses who, Kristine says, despite reporting being given ‘heavier workloads’ on the assumption that ‘Filipinas never complain’, to being assigned difficult patients or being seen by some patients as ‘maids’; still take so much pride in their jobs.
Needless to say, there are genuine friendships, deep connections and opportunities forged in this country to which Filipinos are most grateful. I believe Kristine’s research can do much to educate both Filipinos and non-Filipinos on how to live in a multicultural setting in harmony and respect. Promoting meaningful dialogue and interaction will help. Or, going through volunteer and cooperative endeavours where each sees the other’s good intentions and strengths. Indeed, there is much we can learn from one another.
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