A VOICE FROM AMERICA: WHY DO FILIPINOS FIND IT EASIER TO SUCCEED ABROAD?

MANILA, December 15, 2003 (STAR) A VOICE FROM AMERICA By Ernie D. Delfin - On a typical business day, I deal mostly with predominantly non-Filipinos and my mindset is very much different whenever I conduct business with a Filipino. It’s an inexplicable reality that Filipinos who have lived in America for decades have to deal with.

We laugh at the joke that Filipinos are indeed confused for having lived in the convent for over 300 years under the Spaniards, who subjugated the people with a Bible on one hand and a sword on the other, and another 50 glitzy years in Hollywood under the Americans. The effect of these two experiences on Filipinos is somewhat parallel with what descendants of black slaves from Africa experience to this day – their shackles may have been removed since the abolition of slavery but their psychological chains still exist.

For most American employers, dealing with African-Americans requires a distinct management paradigm because many blacks often raise the "race card" whenever some degree of discipline is imposed on them. The US government’s misplaced affirmative action gives blacks and other minorities "extra but unearned points" in matters of employee hiring, promotion or some set-aside programs on government contracts.

In an environment where freedom to excel is not curtailed but rewarded, Filipinos become successful. Unfortunately in the Philippines, the colonizers’ practices are still being reinforced by centuries-old institutions like the Catholic Church, and sectarian or exclusive schools which subliminally practice social segregation in many facets of public or private endeavors.

The Philippines still practices blatant discrimination, especially in hiring, which is unconstitutional in America. Consider the classified ads you see in newspapers for, say, an administrative secretary (permit me to exaggerate): "Must be 24 to 34, female, at least 5’ 4" in height, no more than l19 lbs., long hair, beautiful face, fair complexion, must talk like an Ateneo or Assumption graduate, must live in Forbes Park or Bel-Air and whose parents are also graduates of exclusive schools."

As the personnel departments are often headed by graduates of these schools, graduates of the University of Batanes or Tawi-Tawi Colleges seldom get the chance to be hired by blue-chip companies.

Ironically, these rejected applicants who are talented and ambitious are the ones dissatisfied with a country that puts a cap on their potential because they were born on the wrong side of the tracks. They migrate to America and other countries that give them a chance to work. It really does not matter how they arrive in America, the path is almost the same. The newly arrived immigrant faces challenges but he knows that he has better employment opportunities here than in the Philippines. America is a great equalizer for people like him – it disregards what your last name is, where you come from, simply because America is historically a land of frustrated immigrants from all over the world.

The typical Filipino immigrant works hard to prove himself in the eyes of his new employer. It is easy to excel in his first job as he is normally over-qualified. For instance, a CPA graduate becomes an accounting clerk where he competes against high school graduates instead of competing against American CPAs who are entirely in a different ball game. Soon, the boss gives the newly arrived Filipino a promotion because he doesn’t say no to overtime.

Many immigrants, including Filipinos, rise to become department heads, managers and executives of their employers with whom they stay for decades. Very few Filipinos, unfortunately, take the risks – which the Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese take – to become entrepreneurs. These are all the modern day "Victors" of America as documented by Professors Danko and Stanley in their best-selling book Millionaires Next Door, where they concluded that the first-degree immigrants in America have l6 times more chances to become a millionaire than the average natural-born American. Quite impressive. But this is the downside according to the authors: The first-degree immigrants make the wealth, the second generation enjoys it, and then the third generation squanders it. And the cycle begins.

In America, there is dignity of labor whereas in the Philippines during my time it was considered embarrassing to be seen by one’s former classmates to be holding a janitorial or waitressing job. In the US, working part-time is encouraged among high school or college students whereas the attitude in the Philippines is the opposite. When students from the provinces go to Manila to study, they often gravitate toward each other because they experience discrimination if not prejudice. Words like promdi (from the province) and Waray-waray carry subtle prejudice by many in the A society, especially those from exclusive schools.

I know this because I was subjected to it in my first few years in Letran as a working student.

As Filipinos are talented and resilient, there is really no reason why they cannot succeed in our homeland. We only need to learn the lessons of more progressive countries and adapt them to our own culture.

Our cultural flaws are being influenced greatly by the education bulimia in the Philippine system. Our curricula must be revamped and overhauled not only because of massive graft but also because what is being taught to schools is soon forgotten by students as it is not relevant in the real world. Students parrot words and memorize theories just to get passing grades. Like bulimics, students throw away useless knowledge.

Filipinos may hold college degrees but fewer and fewer are really educated.

It is not entirely the fault of the students but the schools as well. Students must not only enjoy their classes but must be taught things they would find useful. Like parents going through prenatal lessons, all students must be educated and be made mentally, physically, socially and psychologically prepared with what transpires in the real world where grades and school nepotism are no longer important.

F. Landa Jocano wrote in his book Anthropology of the Filipino People, "The notion of value in the Filipino culture has not yet been clarified. Even a cursory glance at what has already been written about it reveals the absence of working definition of the concept in the context of Filipino culture in terms of local knowledge and practices."

I also highly recommend the excellent book The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman about the dramatic changes in our world due to globalization and the wonders of the information society and the Internet.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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