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

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…..

Pagtratrabaho sa Abroad: Magagamit ba ang Tinapos na Kurso sa Kolehiyo?

Sa maikling salita ito ay depende sa bansa kung saan nagtratrabaho ang isang OFW.

Kilala ko ang isang Pilipina na nagtratrabaho sa isang bansa na nasa Hilagang Europe at nagagamit niya ang kanyang degree.

Siguro sa mga bansa ng Hilagang Europe mas malaki ang posibilidad na gamitin ang tinapos na kurso sa unibersidad, ngunit dito sa Italya may dalawang hadlang:

Una sa lahat ang isang Bachelor degree na kinukuha sa Pilipinas, o kahit sa ibang bansa kung saan may tatlong uri ng college degree (Bachelor, Master at PhD), ay hindi ang katumbas ng Italyanong college degree: dito sa Italya walang shortcut sa pagiging doktor, ibig sabihin na isa lang ang degree dito na tinatawag na “laurea” at (more or less) katumbas iyon ng isang PhD.

Halimbawa ang asawa ko ay may Bachelor degree sa Accounting na tinapos niya sa Pinas at dati teacher siya sa Pinas, ngunit dito hindi magagamit ang kanyang degree dahil hindi iyon katumbas ng Italyanong “laurea”.

Ang isa pang hadlang ay na dito napakaraming mga Italyano na may college degree ay hindi nakakasumpong ng angkop na trabaho, ibig sabihin na kahit may PhD ang isang dayuhang Pinoy, may maraming mga “PhD” dito na nagtratrabaho bilang waiter, tagaluto sa restaurant, tagalaba ng pinggan etc. dahil medyo bagsak ang ekonomya…..

Kaya, at least dito sa aking bansa, hindi masyadong uubra ang ideya na “tatapusin ko ang kurso sa kolehiyo at mag-aabroad ako para masumpungan ang disyenteng trabaho sa mayamang bansa”.

Baka pwede iyon sa ilang mga bansa, ngunit may mga Western na mga bansa (tulad halimbawa ang bansa ko) kung saan wala gaanong saysay ang pinag-aralan, kaya kailangang timbangin lahat ng mga aspekto bago tapusin ang isang kurso upang, sa bandang huli, magabroad.

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.

Do Filipinos Really Need to Work Abroad?

The first time I visited the Philippines I met C. (I am not going to reveal her name for privacy reasons), a young lady who used to be some kind of au pair in my mother in law’s house.

She was studying agricultural engineering at the Bulacan Agricultural State College.

C. is now a successful engineer and she also travels abroad for work, she was in Japan recently.

What struck me is that I saw C. ‘s house that is situated in a nearby barangay close to the Sierra Madre Mountains and I noticed that her parents’ house is the simplest of homes which evidently means that she is from a very poor family. Her parents’ house is one of those “patchwork” homes made out of different materials including hollow blocks that are not coated with plaster and that have a metal sheet as roof.

C. is not the only Filipina I met in the Philippines who never thought of moving abroad and if a very poor lady like C. can do it this means that many more could do it.

It is true that life is tough in the Philippines but while people like C. are masipag (industrious) a lot of Filipinos ay nakatambay lang, they just hang out aimlessly. Sometimes you can spot them sipping hard drinks while being engaged in kwentuan or maBOTEng usapan.

So by being masipag and staying away from bisyo some Filipinos could actually make it in the Philippines, not necessarily becoming as successful as C. but at least managing to create a situation where they have a decent life and, more importantly, don’t have to leave their family members in the Philippines to go to work as seamen or somewhere in places like Hong Kong, Saudi or even in wealthy Europe, U.S. or Australia.

As I have already mentioned in this blog, I know Pinoy families here in Italy that had a very hard time reuniting and, actually, even when they managed to obtain the entry visas for their spouse and kids, they kept living apart from them because they were working live-in while their family was living in another apartment.

As husband of a Filipina, and observer of the Pinoy culture and mentality, what strikes me is that Filipinos are very religious and their religion is theoretically all about “family first”, I mean that the Bible talks about being physically present to raise and train one’s kids and it also says that it is better to eat vegetables in a house where there is love (and by the way veggies are good for you, I’ve lost 30kg by going green….) than a fattened bull (or maybe baboy, I have never heard about Filipinos eating bull) in a house where there is no love (perhaps a 10 square meter basement in the mansion of your employer in a rich country where you only communicate with your spouse and kids through internet).

I actually know a Pinoy family that left Italy for good and moved back to the Philippines and they are doing pretty well (and when they left they had neither a mansion in the Philippines nor big savings). He is a guy who has no bisyo whatsoever and is very masipag and has a “family first no matter what” mindset.

Becoming an OFW is definitely not the only option and even if you do become an OFW I am here to tell you that there is a very big chance that the cost and the pain involved could turn out to be far greater than the gains.

So, mag-ingat….

Filipino Stalls in the Largest Multiethnic Market in Rome

If you are an OFW and want to meet more kababayan than you would normally meet in an average barrio in the Philippines, you need to come to the largest multiethnic food market in Rome.

The market is situated near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the largest square in Rome, and you can find there everything a Filipino needs as far as ingredients for Pinoy food.

For me going to said market is a weekly routine as my wife is Pinoy.

So, kung OFW ka at nakatira ka sa Europe pumunta ka sa palengke ng Piazza Vittorio at parang nasa Pilipinas ka na!

OFW and “Bayanihan”

Yesterday I was at a Filipino wedding feast, one of the many I have been to since I entered the relationship with my wife.

Many Filipino wedding feasts that I have been to here in Italy (including mine) follow the K.K.B. (Kanya-Kanyang-Baon= “each participant is supposed to bring some food”) rule.

This is one of the many manifestations of the bayanihan spirit of Filipinos.

In the Philippines bayanihan can get to the point where the whole bayan helps a member of the community to move his house by literally carrying the house on their shoulders.

Here in Italy when a Filipino moves to another apartment many kababayan help out with their cars, vans or 7-9-seaters.

And, when someone gets married, they often practice the KKB philosophy.

Yesterday the KKB only applied to the appetizers, but, after eating the appetizers almost no one needed the food that was provided by the catering service of a Filipino restaurant. Sometimes the KKB principle applies even to the main lunch or dinner!

This is one of the positive aspects of Filipino pakikisama that applies both in the Philippines and among OFW.

Utang na Loob and Utang sa Lending Company

As I mentioned in the past, one of the hallmark characteristics of Filipinos is Utang na Loob, an inner obligation to pay back with interest a favour that was done to them, maybe decades ago, and this creates some sort of fabric of interdependence where everyone ows something to someone else.

OFW, because they are viewed as wealthy, are particularly expected to return favours and when they visit the Philippines many “creditors” show up from nowhere.

The problem is that OFW, more often than not, don’t really have the money that their relatives or friends in the Philippines think they have and, at least this is what happens in my country, OFW often get into utang sa labas and borrow money to help people in the Philippines.

Interestingly here in Italy we have lending agencies that advertise their services in various languages including Tagalog, meaning that Filipinos are among their best customers.

Utang na loob and the consequent utang sa labas is one of the reasons why most Filipinos who live in my country struggle to save up and many reach age 65 with zero money in the bank and mired in debt.

It is very hard these days to save up any money in my country, even if one is determined to avoid getting into debt, so, if Filipinos cave in to people in the Philippines who demand the payment of some utang na loob, there is very little chance for OFW here to make the grade financially.