Filipinos and Italian Food (Multi ethnicity in my Kitchen)

Pinoy food
….and more Pinoy food
My wife’s cutting-edge lasagna

This is more or less the way my kitchen looks like on Saturdays or Sundays.

One thing that I have found out in my 20-year long relationship with a Filipina is that Filipinos easily learn how to cook (quite proficiently) the foods that are typical of the country they work in.

My wife is not the only Filipino migrant in Italy who excels at preparing Italian dishes (as Filipinos usually work for rich and demanding employers) but, when it comes to lasagna, she does a pretty amazing job.

From time to time I try to fool around with lumpya and pandesal and I have a crazy idea to come up with my own version of halo-halo.

The best is yet to come….

Is Poverty Inevitable or a Choice?

Street vendors in Manila

The idea for this post came to me after reading this article on “Rappler”

When I talk about poverty I don’t quite mean that living a spartan and minimalistic life is bad. On the contrary, I am the number one advocate of a simple life, as I value reading, meditating, spending time alone in nature and finding a higher purpose in life much more than I value things (that many poor Filipinos actually value a lot) like cars, the latest electronic gadgets and so on.

If I were not married I could perfectly live without a car and I would be happy with a 15 square-meter apartment (by a lake or anywhere else close to nature).

On the other hand I would not like at all being a squatter in a place like Tondo or living under a bridge in Manila and I don’t like getting into debt.

So, although I am an advocate of a simple life, I truly believe that extreme poverty sucks and, unfortunately there are many Filipinos who live in extremely difficult economical situations and I have seen plenty of squatters, not only in Manila but also in Bulacan, on the riverbank of the Calumpit River.

As the “Rappler” article says, sometimes poverty is beyond one’s choice: if I were born in a family of squatters in the Philippines, and had poor health and no higher education, I could do very little about it and I couldn’t even move abroad, as Filipinos who live in Italy are people who already had some connections here, some family support or at least some savings.

Filipinos who come here are not the super-destitute, most of them have higher education, good health and speak English fluently and, as I’ve said, usually they have connections here, as here in Rome we have big Filipino families where each one is somehow related to someone else in town or somewhere else in the country.

So, as the “Rappler” article says there are Filipinos who, due to their circumstances and family upbringing, could hardly escape poverty and they could never even make it to another country to change their circumstances.

The flip side of the coin is that I know Filipinos who have been living in my country for 20-30 years and yet they are dead broke and mired in utang or debt, as I have already said in some of my posts.

I understand that these days the Italian economy is in recession and the cost of living is too high and so even the most hardworking and self-disciplined person may struggle to make ends meet.

But it was not this way 10-15 years ago, the economy was still doing pretty well and there was much room for saving up, and yet most Filipinos whom I know were already stuck in debt 15-20 years ago and they still are.

Is their poverty the result of a choice?

Honestly speaking the condition of many O.F.W. shows that, although there are extreme circumstances that keep millions of Filipinos stuck in extreme poverty, there are thousands of others who have had plenty of chances to break free from poverty (and, most of all, utang) and yet they have mismanaged their chances and they live in a foreign country almost as if they had never left the Philippines.

So, is poverty inevitable or a choice?

For millions of super-destitute Filipinos who are not much in the position to change their circumstances it is evidently not a choice but, based on my observation of the life of many O.F.W. here, there are thousands of Pinoy who choose to be poor because they have moved their bodies here but they haven’t parted with the bahala-na si Batman mentality.

Filipinos Rule the Internet World!

As I was going through my Facebook notifications earlier today, I stumbled upon a post from Filipinos AroundTheWorld that, much to my surprise (…lol), basically says that Filipinos rule the internet world and, more specifically, that Filipinos use Facebook more than any other group.

I briefly went through the comment section and, after reading a few comments that say things along the lines of “yes, I am proud to be Filipino” or “such a good way to connect big families and friends”, I came across a comment (followed by few others that convey the same message) that raises the question: “is that something to be proud of?”.

Because I speak Tagalog and Rome is full of Filipinos (you can find them at every bus stop or in any subway station), I like to approach them and strike up a conversation in Tagalog but, more often than not, they either completely ignore me or they just don’t get that I am talking to them in their own language because they are too busy checking their notifications and they walk away not even watching their step because their eyes are fixed on the screen of their gadget.

I got to know my wife back in the early 2000’s and, immediately after my relationship began, I also started associating with Filipinos who are part of the vast Filipino community of Rome.

One of the things that caught my attention is that they appeared to be way more technologically literate than most Italians.

Although back then there was no such thing as modern smart phones, there were already handheld computers that could be connected to a cell phone via infrared and, slightly later, via bluetooth.

The first time I saw an electronic organizer or a handheld computer was through Filipinos who were among the first people in Italy to have those kinds of gadgets that very few people in my country knew about.

In my conversations with them there was one word that was constantly on their mouths and that word was “Friendster”.

I had no idea what the heck that thing was all about and whenever I asked for clarifications they would say that Friendster was a social network. I had no idea what a social network was.

So, long before Facebook appeared here in Italy, and when social networks were still completely foreign to me and to most Italians, Filipinos expatriates who lived in Italy were already abreast with the social media culture that was getting started.

And today Filipinos rank as the country that has the most Facebook users.

Is that something to be proud of?

There is a nice Pinoy song entitled “Himig ng Pag-ibig” that has this nice line: “bawat sandali ay mahalaga” (“every instant is precious”). Most people, not just Filipinos, who are Facebook junkies (like someone in the comment section of the Facebook post I mentioned above who prides himself for being on fb 18 hours a day) just don’t realize how many things could be accomplished in few “sandali“, like, for instance, making progress with the language of the country where Pinoy expatriates work and that, by the way, is also the native language of their children.

It took me about a couple of years to become fluent in Tagalog by only spending 5-10 minutes a day (and only rarely longer periods, as I didn’t have the luxury to devote more time to this undertaking). I am not saying it to brag, I am just making a point and the point is that bawat sandali is mahalaga indeed given the countless productive things one could be doing by cutting back on excessive and, often thrivial, use of social media to buy out few extra sandali

“Bawat sandali ay mahalaga” also to give one’s spouse the gift of undivided attention.

“Bawat sandali ay mahalaga” to exercise a little bit, to read a book, pray, meditate, blog or to do anything else that can improve the quality of one’s life.

So, do you really think that being the country with the most social media users is something to be proud of?

Filipinos in Italy: Foreigners in the Country and Foreigners at Home

Few weeks ago I spoke with a 25-year-old son of a Bulaquenya who was born here and he has never been to the Philippines and, sure enough, he cannot even form a sentence in Tagalog.

I had the impression that his mother is very far from being fluent in Italian, so how can they develop meaningful communication at home?

Filipino parents are too busy at work and some who work live-in only get to see their spouses and their children on Thursdays (afternoon only) and Sundays (which are the only days that the typical live-in worker is off from work here in Italy).

Those who work “lungo orario” (meaning the whole day), and do go back home after work every day, have to travel at least two hours to get back home, as here in Rome we have more buses than we have subways, and so when they get home it is too late and they are too tired to teach Tagalog to their children.

On top of that the typical Filipino home is very hi-tech and there are all sorts of gadgets that get in the way of communication and the end result is that, in way too many Filipino homes in Italy, Filipinos are estranghero sa bansa at estranghero sa bahay because they struggle to speak Italian well, while often their children, who are native Italian speakers, hardly speak any Tagalog.

The interesting thing is that there are Filipino parents who ask me to teach Tagalog to their children, and, out of bayanihan spirit, I try to help.

The next one I am going to teach is the son of the Bulaquenya I mentioned above…..

Filipinos in Italy are always very busy and in a hurry

Italian husband of a Filipina teaching Tagalog to Filipino young kids

Are Filipinos Abroad Fully Integrated?

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

Filipinos eating at one of the few Pinoy restaurants in town

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 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 (

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…..

The town of Campione d’Italia, an Italian enclave surrounded by Swiss territory: a metaphor of the Filipino community of Rome

The road to Campione d’Italia in Swiss territory

Italian-Swiss border

Yung Feeling na…. Magiging Probinsya ng China ang Bayan Ko

“Made in Italy” (sa sweatshop ng mga Intsik)

“Real Italian” cappuccino sa bar na hawak ng mga Intsik=”cappuIntsik”

Marami ang nagsasabi na maaari maging probinsya ng China ang Pilipinas.

Ewan ko kung ano ang mangyayari.

Ang alam ko ay na tuwing Sabado ng umaga dinadala ako ng aking Pinay na misis sa pinakamalaking Chinatown ng Roma (isa sa marami….) at nararanasan ko yun’ feeling na….China na dito.

Masaya naman ang mga Pilipino dahil sa mga sari-sari ng mga Intsik mayroon lahat ng uri ng tsitseria na imported mula sa Pilipinas…

Mga Kabataang Pilipino sa Italy: Paghahanap ng Trabaho

Ang “Sushiko” sa shopping mall “La Romanina” sa Roma, Italya

Sa maikling post na ito nais kong i-share kung ano ang napansin ko kamakailan dito sa Italya may kinalaman sa mga kabataang Pilipino na naghahanap ng trabaho dito.

Parami nang parami dito ang mga negosyo na nagbebenta ng sushi at halos sa bawat malaking supermarket chain ay may sushi point o sushi corner.

Bukod dito maraming eat all you can na restaurant na hawak ng mga Intsik ay may sushi din.

Kapwa sa mga sushi point sa mga supermarket at sa mga eat all you can na hawak ng mga Intsik (at, dahil dito pekeng Hapones ang mga restaurant na iyon….) mga kabataang Pilipino ang nagtratrabaho.

Evidently, kapwa ang mga Italyano na humahawak ng mga sushi point sa mga supermarket at ang mga Intsik na nagpapandaar ng mga eat all you can ay nangangatuwiran na ang mga kabataang Pilipino ay angkop para sa ganitong trabaho, dahil mga Asiano sila at, dahil dito, madaling iniisip ng mga Italyanong customer na totoong Hapones ang mga tindahan iyon ng sushi (hindi masyadong naiintindihan ng mga Italyano ang pagkakaiba sa pagitan ng mga Intsik, Hapones o Pilipino, basta Asiano sila pareho sa paningin nila).

Last time na nagdate ako kasama ng misis ko pumunta kami sa isang eat all (the sushi) you can na tinatawag na “Sushiko” at, syempre naman, halos puro kabataang Pilipino ang trabahador. Baka ang pangalan “Sushiko” ay hindi Hapones kundi Tagalog (sushiKo, sushiMo, sushiNiya, sushiNatin, sushiNinyo, sushiNila….lol).

Bukod dito kung totoong Hapones ang mga tindahang iyon hindi sana dapat magtrabaho ang mga kabataang Pilipino mula umaga hanggang gabi dahil ang mga Hapones ay taga “Hapon” at sa “Hapon” wala yata “umaga” kundi “hapon” lang….kaya dapat sa “hapon” lang ang trabaho…

Why Filipino People Have Spanish Surnames

As husband of a Filipina I have regular social interactions with Filipinos and I know plenty of De La Cruz, Ramos, De Ramos, Lopez, Lachica and many other Filipino people who have Spanish surnames

I also have Pinoy friends who have non Spanish-sounding surnames like Binaban, Macaraig, Macaraeg.

My wife’s surname is Eco and this particular surname is actually common in Italy and Umberto Eco is one of the most famous Italian writers and best-selling authors.

I also know many whose surname is Tolentino, which could also be Italian and, actually, here in Italy we have the town of Tolentino and Nicola da Tolentino is viewed as a saint by the Catholic church.

While a lot of Filipino people have Spanish surnames, their first names are often English sounding like Jennifer De La Cruz or Liberty De Ramos or something like that.

Some first names are Spanish-sounding like Corazon (like a former Filipino president), Raul or Restituto, Juan, Caridad etc.

There are also Chinese sounding surnames like my friend June Chua and, actually, this first name June (or even June June) is not a real name as it stands for “junior”.

But why do Filipino people have Spanish surnames, or, at least, many of them (apart from the Binaban, Macaraeg etc.)?

The Culture Shock Philippines book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that the fact that Filipinos have Spanish surnames does not indicate Spanish ancestry.

Filipino Catholics started acquiring Spanish surnames like De La Cruz, Santos etc. but, apparently, that created a lot of confusion because there were so many De La Cruz, Cruz, Santos etc that it was difficult to distinguish people.

A decree was later issued in 1849 by govenor Narciso Clavera and Spanish surnames were given by decree.

Here in Rome, Italy, when I walk down any street I look at the intercoms of the various apartment buildings and I try to figure out if the many Spanish-sounding surnames belong to Latin American people (we have a lot of them in Rome) or Filipinos but, by simply looking at the intercom it is tricky to tell, unless they are sharing the apartment with someone with a non-Spanish surname like Binaban.

Close to my house I have seen an intercom with three surnames, two of which are Spanish-sounding while the third is Causapin. I rang the bell and asked “pwede ba kitang kausapin?”………….

On another occasion I rang a bell where there was a Spanish-sounding surname and I asked “Pilipino ba kayo?” and he replied “hindi”!!?!!!????

Well, these are the funny and interesting things about Pinoy surnames.

Filipinos have no Spanish ancestry or blood but their blood has some similarities with Spanish blood, in the sense that Spanish blood is caliente or hot and Filipinos are caliente (mainit) ang ulo….

Thank you, Italy, for treating Filipino workers well | The Manila Times

Recently I stumbled upon this article from the Manila Times that speaks in positive terms about the way Filipinos are being treated in my country.

Many amo or employers are mabait to their Pinoy mga katulong and Italian husbands (like me) treat their Filipinas well.

But Italy doesn’t simply have kabaitan to offer: we have nice weather, many islands like in the Philippines, volcanoes, a Jollibee restaurant in Milan and the Luneta Park in Rome.

Life overseas can be tough for Pinoy migrants but here in Italy Filipinos can find a warmer embrace…..

Why Rich Employers Hire Filipino Workers

Since I started courting the Filipina who later became my wife, I have seen some of the most luxurious penthouses, mansions and condos that there are here in Rome.

Filipinos whom I know work for famous Italian politicians, actors, singers, C.E.O.s and otherwise rich people.

There are employers who are particularly generous with their Filipino katulong and pay some of them rather well and treat them well.

I know a Filipino family that works for the owner of a big mansion situated on top of Monte Mario, a hill overlooking downtown Rome, and he lets his Filipino employee’s family occupy the entire ground floor of his mansion and lets them freely invite whomever they want to have a party around the swimming pool and even swim in the pool.

Other Filipinos sometimes receive their employer’s slightly used Audi, Mercedes, Bmw etc as a gift.

Generally speaking a Filipina or a Filipino earns more per hour than an Italian cleaner or domestic helper.

But why is that?

One reason is perhaps the fact that, while an Italian or another European domestic helper only does what he or she is paid for, Filipinos do a little bit of everything.

Generally speaking Filipino men have diskarte skills or, in other words, have a way with D.I.Y. and each one is a Jack of all trades. So they don’t just clean the mansion of their employer: they do some gardening, fix their employer’s car, do some plumbing, baby sitting, walk the employers’ dogs, do some ironing, cooking etc.

So, despite the economic recession, quite a number of Filipinos here have mabait at mayamang amo and know how to get those amo to like them.

The downside is that many Filipinos here have very little budgeting and saving skills and often run out of money and even get into debt and this tendency keeps them stuck for a lifetime in live-in jobs that may even pay well and yield some benefits like second hand Mercedeses or other expensive gifts but, quite honestly, give them very limited free time. Most live-in domestic helpers only have time off on Thursday afternoons and Sundays and spend the rest of the week working almost around the clock.

And not all rich employers are mabait, some don’t want their katulong’s family around, they only pay like 500-600 a month and their katulong has to sleep in a small 10-15 square-meter room in the basement of the condo.

But the point is: regardless of whether the employer is mabait or not, live-in jobs drain so much time and energy that they could destroy family life.

One may end up having a slightly used Audi or Bmw while being a foreigner in his own house because his children grow up speaking the local language while their parents are too busy working.

Yes, rich employers do like Filipino workers and a Filipino could stumble upon a very generous one, but before being tempted to move here and accept a live-in job, even a well-paying one, it would be better to consider all aspects involved and particularly how to buy out quality as well as “quantity” time for the family while working these jobs which is a very tall order to fill.