Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Newest Class of Filipino: The Rational Climbers

An observant anonymous commenter pointed out that my overview of the class system in the Philippines missed two important groups: (1) overseas workers, and (2) Pinays who marry foreigners.

The observation is correct and resulted in a fresh bruise to my forehead. But in a way, it is good, because I can give this subject the greater attention it demands.

As I reflect on the two groups, it seems to me that they are actually both a part of the same class. OFW's and Filipinas who marry foreigners belong to the class I will call "The Rational Climbers".

Please refer to my prior blog to pick up on the context:

The class of Rational Climbers is formed by people exiting three other classes: (1) The Subsistence Class, (2) Low-End Skill Workers, and (3) Professionals. They are rational because they intuitively do the math and decide the reward is worth the risk to embark upon a radically different lifestyle, and they are climbers because they have the clear aim of improving their lives.

The motivation that drives Filipinos to find new avenues to improve their lives is best summed up in the statement: "Enough of this!"

  • For professionals, the second part of the statement might be: "I have skills and am tired of struggling along on this measly income."

  • For a young, single woman, it might be: "It is a choice of security and money, or babies, and I want security and money."

  • For a worker, it might be: "Canada may be frozen, but businesses there pay real money", or : "The Middle East is strange, but they have oil and gobs of cash; I'm going to go get some."

People moving into and out of this class can be characterized as going through three stages:

  • Stage 1: Life Sucks so I'll Take a Fat Flying Leap

Now I tend to view OFW's and Filipinas who marry foreigners as belonging to the same class of explorer as Christopher Columbus, Magellan, or John Glenn. They have the courage to take a big step over a broad and deep abyss. For the sailors and astronauts, the gap is physical: thousands of miles of water or empty space. For the Rational Climber, it is a willingness to step away from the social/emotional assurances of convention and family.

It's a tug of war. Strong family ties hold Filipinos back from going overseas or marrying a stranger, and strong family ties motivate the Filipino to do better in providing for that family . . . and going foreign to do so. It is a yin and yang, or maybe some yanks, of competing dedications. The Rational Climber, in the end, decides leaving the family is better for the family than just doing more of the same.

Now if Filipinos are looking for heroes, they ought to turn their eyes away from the glare of spotlights on singers and actors and look at the courage of their own neighbors. The social explorers. Those willing to go where none has gone before. Those breaking trails for others to follow, more easily.

  • Stage 2: This is Different; Christ, This is Different!

Going overseas is a crap shoot. Do you end up with a good employer, or an abuser? A kind person or a shrew? A slave driver or generous employer? Where do you live? Will you have enough money?

If you marry a foreigner, who will he show himself to be after the initial blush fades? A thug or a sweetie? A loyal husband or a womanizer? A druggie or someone who helps around the house? Really rich, or fake rich? A good father, or a deadbeat dad? If he is older, will he live to fulfill a dream, or die to create a nightmare?

Each Filipino taking the risk pays the price or reaps the rewards. The only guarantee is that life will be so very, very different. And the Filipino must negotiate the asteroids and reefs, the minefields . . . the alien species . . . to build a good life. It takes a rational mind all the way. A determined mind.

  • Stage 3: Now What

After a few years in strangeville . . . a foreign country or a foreign marriage . . . everything settles into a new reality. The day-to-day challenges and accomplishments, the joys and the sorrows, become commonplace.  How to travel. How to deal in a strange language. How to adjust to different customs and practices. How to budget money.

Oh, yes, how to budget money. For many an overseas worker, the homebounds are a giant vacuum cleaner of effort and wealth. The requests for support are relentless. Eventually, some of the homies MUST get the big "NO". Or security and wealth overseas may elude one's grasp.

For the Filipina in a foreign marriage, the same relentless requests for money come in. And a failure to respond favorably generates the behind-the-back comment "she's changed; she's selfish".

The Rational Climbers who succeed hold tightly to the goal of a better life . . . and perhaps the fear, the motivation, of not wanting to return to a really shitty life. So they endure a lot. They battle through the angst and the anger, the loneliness and the sadness. The fears and the insults. They make adjustments as to who is declared a friend. They take charge of the family rather than letting the family give them the runaround.

And if they do it all right, and God blesses them for a few years or 30, some return to the Philippines and find the satisfaction that was not here before. Maybe a house. Maybe a car. Tight family and friends, with the leeches and users cast away. And some remain in the foreign country, too changed or too satisfied to return.

And it is all good. For the winners.

For those who don't win . . . back to the pit.


  1. there's a book here somewhere. "Filipinos through blue eyes" or something like that. Your insights are valuable because you are here, one of us, but not quite here and one of us yet.

    I've lived in several countries - US, Mexico, Malaysia - and I don't know why but in Mexico and Malaysia I saw both their similarities and differences with Filipinos. But in America, I could only see contrast. I've never been able to figure out why that was so.

  2. MB, nice title.

    I suspect that it is a combination of two things, the immigration drive that is found in America, vs the more laid back style of native heritage elsewhere. And Germanic/Irish northern style, you know, marching lock step to get things done, and drinking for fun.

  3. dude. u blew my mind.

  4. OFW's and Filipinas who marry foreigners belong to the class I will call "The Rational Climbers".

    Indeed and climbing for them is the easiest compare to other ethnic groups excluding the Irish. They speak English well and that alone puts them in a totally different category Compare to Hispanics (Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians etc) and even Hungarians who don't speak English at all. It took me yrs to speak English fluently. Russian was the only language that was thought in schools. My grandfather at least could learn German.
    I was doing odd jobs for yrs the type of jobs that I never ever seen Filipinos doing. They get the better juicier jobs here. I really don't understand them why they have the need to portray themselves as heroes. If they are heroes than what about the other Hispanics that are here working illegally or legally with little English doing the real hard work that Filipinos don't have to do. Totally misplaced sympathy. On top of that they make movies like "A Mother's Story". A movie about a Filipina housekeeper harassed and humiliated by a young white affluent American couple. This movie should outrage Filipinas working in the USA. It has nothing to do with reality. The type of people who are portrait in the movie as abusers are the least likely to abuse a Filipina. Why not make a movie about an Arab family who more likely to do that kind of abuse to a Filipina? I guess they are afraid that the Arab countries would not give them anymore work permit just the way Saudi Arabia did. That leaves the white man the last dog to kick in to. They need us to vent and release their frustrations on us because we are the only ones who they can do this to? Why is it OK for Americans to put up with it?
    Unless they apologize to us we should not give them work permit just like the Arabs do.

  5. I often get frustrated by Americans for letting others abuse them: Filipinos who dare to generalize Americans as an abusers and human traffickers. I hate seeing them marching down on Madison Avenue yelling with their large signs chatting "stop trafficking our people" and so on. It's all directed at the American spectators. I went after them and talked to the group they told me that it is about agencies who bring Filipinos as OFW promising them jobs but they are abusing them with extra fees enslaving them with unfair terms. I told them then they should protest at the Philippine Consulate or some other Philippine organization at not stick it in to the face of New Yorkers. Their reply was that some Americans are also doing it as they learned it from the Filipinos. I told them that maybe some Americans do it but I don't believe that it is typical and they should direct their anger at their fellow Filipinos. I also reminded them that after 9-11 there are no more Filipinos coming here on work permit. I reminded them that hey got it all wrong by directing their anger at the USA. Some of them become insecure after I argued with them and had to ask others to check on my statements. However some of them just acted like a stupid young communist party official did back in the days when I was a child in Hungary.
    Americans should not tolerate these punks and communist assholes. If Filipinos have a problem they should vent on themselves and if they don't we should grab them by their noise and stick it in to their own shit.

  6. Attila, I think a lot of protests in rich countries are irrational, whether by Filipinos or Americans or Greeks. I'm glad you went forth and argued some sense in NY.


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