A couple of years ago my wife and I went on a road trip to Switzerland.
One of the towns we passed by is Campione d’Italia. There is nothing special about Campione except for the fact that it is an Italian enclave surrounded by Swiss territory.
While we were driving along the shores of Lake Lugano, I stared at this unique town, one of the few in Europe that is physically situated within the boundaries of another nation while not being part of it, and, while staring at it, I thought that the town of Campione is an interesting metaphor of the cultural condition of the Filipino community here in Rome and the issue of integration.
The Filipino community in Rome is as large as the population of many small towns in the Philippines and it is, under many aspects, like a town of the Philippines situated within the boundaries of the Italian territory, a Filipino enclave in Italy if you will.
The reason why I find this metaphor of the “enclave” fitting is because my perspective as husband of a Filipina, who has been living in Italy for over twenty years, is that, by and large, Filipinos move their bodies to other countries but their hearts and minds seem to remain in the Philippines and, as a result, they spend a large portion
of their free time chatting with relatives or friends who live in the Philippines through social media and associating with other expatriate Filipinos and rare are the interactions with local people and the local culture that surround their “enclave-like” life.
Here in Rome thousands of Pinoy never learn Italian properly and I know quite a few who have been living here for years now and they can’t speak the language at all. And they don’t quite need to because, most Filipinos who live here, almost have the whole barangay here and they have dozens of relatives in some cases, they have their own churches in Tagalog, their Filipino clubs, Filipino banks, a newspaper in Tagalog ( “Ako ay Pilipino” or http://www.akoaypilipino.eu) and countless opportunities to have salu-salo or social gatherings.
This means that in this city they have very little motivation to learn Italian properly and hang out with local people.
This can be a challenge for a Western husband who might find himself spending almost all of his free time going to Filipino parties and having little time left for his family and friends.
I’ve got long time friends who have never met my wife and it is not as if they didn’t try to invite us (but lately she has become a lot more expansive though). Other Filipinos whom I know are no different, they definitely prefer to associate with other Filipinos to mingling with local people and it takes time and a lot of insistence to get them to mingle with locals.
This is at least what I observe here in Rome where there is a community of over 50,000 Filipino Overseas Workers, a Filipino town within the Italian territory, an enclave like Campione d’Italia!
In rural areas where Filipinos are more scattered and hardly have a chance to gather together, Filipinos are more likely to associate with locals because they have no other option.
I was in Ancona, a small town on the Adriatic coast, where a family of Pinoy friends lives and they said to me that sometimes they have to drive up to two hours to meet other Filipino people, while here in Rome you hardly ride on a bus or wait for a bus at a bus stop without spotting at least one Filipino.
As I said in my post about how to meet a Filipina for marriage, the fact that Filipinos hardly mix with local people is such that often the only way an Italian can meet a potential Filipino wife is if he has a connection with the Filipino community (https://buildingfilipinowesternbridges.com/2019/10/07/how-to-meet-a-filipina-for-marriage/).
The tendency that many Filipino overseas workers have to mostly associate with other Filipinos only is a deeply entrenched cultural trait of expatriate Filipinos who, by and large, haven’t moved abroad to explore other cultures and to widen their perspective but only to work and support their families, so their hearts and minds remain in the Philippines, especially if they live in a big city that has a very large Filipino community they can associate with.
It has been said that Western expatriates who live in the Philippines retreat into the protective shell of their cultural comfort-zone and “march to the beat of a different drum in a place where there are no drums” but so are thousands of Filipinos who live in other countries.
The Filipino community here in Rome, and in Italy in general, is by far the best accepted and beloved foreign community in the country, as 78% of Italians view them as hardworking and 66% view them as honest. Italians do appreciate Filipinos but a combination of shyness (often Filipinos associate the idea of an Italian person to the image of their “amo” or employer) and cultural conditioning on the part of many Filipinos keeps the two communities often as separated as oil and water.
Other foreign communities often march for integration and join protests against lack of integration while for Filipino immigrants integration seems to be a non-issue.
Personally I do not believe that integration is something that people need to march for or that politics can or should fix.
Integration is the result of operating from the mindset that we share the same humanity and that each culture has exciting aspects to offer to those who get past the protective shell of their mental comfort-zone and, as a passage of the New Testament says, are willing to “widen out”.
“Widening out” and stretching the boundaries of one’s cultural comfort-zone is by far one of the most exciting experiences for a human being.
Personally I am happy that my Filipino wife has made a huge effort to learn how to widen out (after I did my homework to embrace her culture) but, by and large, I view the Filipino community here as some sort of closed enclave that has miles more to go to fully blend with the surrounding environment…..but so are many Western expatriates in the Philippines after all…..