COMMENTARY: Faces of Filipinas Back Home. By Anderson V. Villa

OITA-KEN, BEPPU-SHI, JUMONJIBARU, Japan — Ku-gatsu (September), as the Japanese would say it, is the month when I first came here in Japan. August and September are also celebrated in many societies as ‘harvest months’ – attributed to the goddesses of harvest and fertility in Greek (Demeter) and Roman (Ceres) mythology.

Behind these frustrated ‘mythological idiosyncrasies’ of mine, I came to realize that I’ve spent a year in Japan as a Filipino scholar. Lots of things had already transpired and I can’t figure out how time passes by like the Shinkansen (bullet train in Japan) such that a year ago I never thought of finally completing the “four seasons”-experience I’d been dreaming of to see, smell, feel and even taste (especially the snowflakes). Since we have ‘summer’ all the time perhaps back home all I need actually is just the three other seasons to fill-in the gap of this ignorance bliss.

In the past four quarters since last year, I would sometimes reminisce my childhood years in a faraway island where I grew up as a nasty and hard-headed kid. It was a tough environment; I had to deal with clashing cultures – our predominantly Catholic, Bisaya culture alongside Muslim (Sangil) and indigenous (B’laan) cultures. I would often notice some women walking around wearing hijab (veil) or young women doing kabiba (an indigenous practice of women carrying their kids on their back) with just plain rugged shirt. It’s not something new for me when somebody talks about a multi-ethnic society since I’ve outgrown them all together with prejudices and all the possible misgivings to describe my feelings in such an ‘awkward’ environment, I guess.

Lectures about migration? Well, tell me more since my family were migrants too from the Visayas (Cebu and Bohol) to Mindanao (in Sarangani Island) in the Philippines. Interestingly, I also witnessed how these small, remote communities in an island turned into a diverse but united complex. Here in Japan, my surreal re-creations come into being as I explore further the city of origins of my kababayans (fellow Filipinos) every after Sunday mass. Just like me, many of those I’ve met in Kyushu came from Mindanao too. I would utter sugoi (amazing) just to express my astonishment – a South-South migration?

Back home when we were young, Mom would jokingly share with my brother, especially during Christmas Eve, that we would have been US citizens if only he said ‘yes’ to her American suitor who persistently courted her when she was still seventeen, not until Dad came. We would have been celebrating a white Christmas, she recounts. My father would just smile from afar since he doesn’t have that ‘Caucasian’ skin or pointed nose to make us feel that we’re also somehow Westerners with our ‘V’ surname. All of these things came to pass as a memory but up till now I could still remember that I had a different outlook then. I was daydreaming of a white Christmas and hoping that I would marry an American lady. But all of these changed when I went to study in a city in a big island. My perspective changed about the right woman for me when I met my only love, a Filipina of course, but that’s another story.

Anyhow, here’s the thing: I’ve never thought and dreamt of Japan as my country of destination, if given the chance to migrate or perhaps study abroad. The US of A would be my first choice. Back then, I was brought up in a nascent community where everybody idolizes someone, something or just anything from this faraway ‘heavenly’ state; colonial mentality was pervasive. Japan, on the other hand, wasn’t friendly with my vocabulary even with its advance technology as an enticing factor, as my prejudices against the country would run counter to it. As a young grade school student way back in the 1990s, I would oftentimes remember Japan as some evil place or even worst, hell (historical accounts of colonial aggression, of ‘comfort women’, invasion of the Philippines, death march, Yamashita treasures, among others). However, these prejudices were unobtrusively mellowed down by Japanese movies, animes and TV series such as ‘ultra man’ and ‘nine-men’, showing the brighter side of Japan too, in fairness to the goodness of its common citizens.

In my high school days, these negative perceptions were worsened by the surge of Filipinas becoming Japayukis (Entertainers in Japan). In Davao alone, it is not uncommon to encounter women suddenly earning ‘big time’ with lapads (Japanese money as described colloquially) and had their lavish houses in exclusive subdivisions. Even those residing in poor communities constructed their houses with intricate designs far distinct from the shanties outside their fences. Many of my friends described Japanese guys back then as desperate men wooing our beautiful gals to marry them. However, in a sudden twist of fate, I was dragged up in a positive way to this ‘mysterious’ island-country. I realize now that Japan has a lot to offer too, aside from the four-seasons-thingy. I appreciate the kindness and enormous sense of respect from local Japanese folks and most of all, I can always find some Filipinos around the corner – “Oh, many of the beautiful Filipinas are here also, no wonder why we had a few left behind,” I would sometimes think.

Moreover, my exposure to the dynamism of the Filipino community in Japan was made possible as I became relatively active in the Church’s choir, though on an irregular basis. Unsurprisingly, as entertainers are all over Japan, I began meeting Filipinas who used to be working in an omese (club/pub) and now have a family of their own with a Japanese husband and far successful than the rest of the Filipinas in the Philippines, and here in Japan. Conversely, I also met many of them who weren’t that lucky enough to sustain an expensive lifestyle and some ‘newcomers’ in the ‘entertainment’ life who can barely save for their families back home.

I remember a friend of mine describing this awkward phenomenon of entertainers coming to Japan, and sometimes ask tactless but critical questions such as, “We were once exploited by these ‘bad guys’, and now you’re going to Japan, looking for that ‘exploitation’ again?” But then again, I would rethink and reevaluate these premises, and in the end with all these debates and arguments from within, I would reach the conclusion that I can’t blame anybody for what had happened in the past. History speaks for itself; it has already decided who’s wrong, who’s right and who paid for it. It’s not fair that present-day Japan should suffer from its horrible past. All we can do now is learn from its history and be vigilant too, which is a call to the Japanese citizens as well. All the more, I can’t even blame the desperate Filipinas who are working hard here, oftentimes in menial jobs, just to earn something to fend for their families back home.

As I move further from one activity to another, I observe that like many other ‘enclaves’ or ethnic communities in a foreign land, Filipinos mimic whatever they have had in their country of origin – religious practices, traditions, business norms, entrepreneurial skills and even sense of discipline, respect for others, open-mindedness and having moral values, traits that are ubiquitous in these societies. Eventually, I encountered the many faces of Filipinas in Japan as I traveled from the south to the center of this faraway island-state (Honshu). Albeit most Filipinas work in the entertainment industry, I also got acquainted with many others who are missionaries, entrepreneurs, academicians, NGO workers and of course, students and scholars.

Looking back, while missing my parents and the small community I grew up with, I could share a glimpse of Filipino women standing up against all odds and all forms of adversaries. Like my dearest mother whose sense of integrity, humility and militancy to fight for what she think is right for herself, her children and her family are all over innately carved within her womanhood. It doesn’t matter if she’s a Filipino Christian, a Muslim, or of indigenous origin. I know that despite her many faces, a Filipina here will always be the Filipina I knew back home. (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ way of linking with fellow Mindanawons abroad who want to share their experience in their hometown in Mindanao or where they are currently based abroad. Anderson V. Villa, a native of Sarangani, is a PhD Student at the School of Asia Pacific Studies of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan)