It was a scene I remember too well. My teacher asked us to raise our hands if we identified ourselves with her question, an introduction to her next topic about overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
First, she asked who among us had one parent who works overseas. Eager to be part of the majority, I raised my hand and shared that my father (like many others) works abroad.
The teacher asked a second question – who had two of their parents working overseas? Still too eager from the engaging activity, I raised my hand. I was immediately cooed and comforted. It was then that I realized that I was alone.
I did not know I was not part of a norm and that scene remained in memory. Those musings ended up in my journal and was not shared to anyone. I was more worried about the reaction of my parents, I didn’t want them worried about what I thought.
I was 12 when I first left the country, hopping into what would be my first long-haul international flight. We were headed for London. What was scheduled to be an initial, three-month holiday after being granted dependent resident visas, turned into a 10-year affair.
It was a 10-year struggle of flying to London to visit our overseas parents when schools were out and then flying back to our humble abode in Iloilo two to three months after.
Fast forward, 12 years later, I finished my degree in the Philippines and rejoined my family in London permanently. I didn’t realize that I was becoming one of a few Filipino 1.5 generation immigrants.
It was a thought that I welcomed whole-heartedly but it was also a reality that most of our family and friends do not understand. We were one of the lucky ones, they say. We get to live a different life, embrace two cultures, speak our native tongue, but still engage with foreigners in a new place.
It was an experience only few had, and in some ways, we were contented. However, one also doesn’t understand the feeling of having two homes. Every time we are in London, we get to miss everything about our life in Iloilo, its ambiance and simplicity, especially the family and friends we have known and loved. Yet each time we go home to the Philippines, we miss the sound, the smell, the entire hustle and bustle of London.
As a working daughter of two parents working abroad, I know the value of work that delivers food to our table and finances a comfortable lifestyle. People back home just don’t realize the difficulty of belonging to a new country.
I had minor bumps with racism, given my brown color and what they dubbed my American accent.
There were minor bouts where I some people would change seats while on the train, just because I was brown. This happened several years ago, on a trip to the countryside.
In a city like London, everyone looks foreign and diverse, but most of them are British. Believe it or not, there are quite a number of people who would tell you off for speaking in accent they don’t understand or use terms that are colloquial or “Americanized.” I brushed off those quite easily, aware that such comments came from people who refused to accept diversity in the city.
In the past few months, I’ve started to become upset about being made to feel that being an immigrant is somehow wrong – especially after news reports on the increasing number of immigrants seeking greener pastures in the United Kingdom (UK) and their impact on the local economy.
To be honest, the negative comments were unfair, considering that most of the Filipinos employed here only fill up labor demands that UK citizens could not supply. How could we be criticized when we pay our taxes, contribute to the country’s economy, and claim no benefits? I ask myself, why are we being judged for being immigrants?
If the UK’s National Health Service did not hold mass recruitments in the Philippines and woo our parents, we wouldn’t be here. They made their demands clear when they recruited nurses back in 2000, so why does it feel like we’re now unwanted? I refuse to believe that the vibrant diversity of London that we have embraced for the past years is fading.
As immigrants, we’ve also made our own sacrifices. We had to leave a part of our life in the Philippines and take on a new one in a foreign land. We embraced a foreign culture and made adjustments to balance our own upbringing with theirs.
We may be a minority but we’re here. We may be in a new land. We’re here. We exist and try to be a good representation of Filipinos. – Rappler.com
Angelie Benjamin came from the city of Iloilo, trying to fit into the busy city life of London. She flew to London for the first time in 2001 and is now a permanent resident as of 2009. She works there as a junior nurse and a freelance writer for a Korean music news site.