Maria Clara De Los Santos is the leading lady and fiance of the leading character Crisostomo Ibarra in the novel Noli Me Tángere, written by the Filipino National Hero Dr. José Rizal.
While Crisostomo Ibarra was studying in Europe, Maria Clara was sent to a convent school, where she received rigid education under the Catholic religion.
This character has become the ideal image to describe a traditional woman in the Filipino culture, a woman who is shy, demure, conservative, one who never speaks out and who is supposed to be an obedient and respectful daughter, a good wife and mother.
However, my experience tells me that if you marry a Filipina, chances are that you will share your life with a woman who has very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
I’ve been in a relationship with a Filipina for 20 years, I’ve been to the Philippines a few times and I have daily contacts with the Filipino community of Rome and I’ve never really come across a Filipina who corresponds to the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara.
Many of my wife’s female relatives are teachers, engineers, college professors while, often, their husbands barely work and mostly do menial jobs like driving tricycles or magsasaka (farmer).
One of my wife’s cousins teaches in a school in the Sierra Madre Mountains and her husband’s “job” is to take her there with his motorbike and, when the lesson is over, take her back home.
Most Filipinas who live in Rome were the first ones to arrive here and few years later they petitioned their husbands who, more often than not, earn even less than their wives, provided that they find a job.
So, it seems to me that, quite often, Filipino women have more “power” than men and, definitely, have very little to do with the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and, actually, the Philippines has already experienced having two female presidents while here in my country this is still taboo.
My wife left the Philippines in her early 20’s and learned very early in life what it is like to be self-sufficient thereby developing a very strong character, while in my early 20’s I was still relying on my father for support and I live in a country where, sometimes, even in their 30’s and 40’s men still live with their parents as the cost of living is too high.
So, far from being women who are shy, demure and submissive, many Filipino women are actually in a financial and psychological position to put men ander da saya, including Western men.
“Ander da saya” is the Filipinized term for “under the saya” or under a woman’s dress. Many Filipino men are actually in subjection to their wives.
Being aware of the huge difference between the stereotype traditional image of Maria Clara and the actual modern-day Filipina is something that one who wishes to marry a Filipina definitely needs.
Many modern Filipinas have a rather strong personality, they certainly have no inferiority complex toward men and know how to get what they want.
So, be prepared, don’t expect a shy, submissive and obedient woman, rather get ready to deal with the exact opposite and look for ways to avoid being put under the saya.