From cheesy to sublime : How Kiwis perceive Pinoys

Ati-Atihan festival in Kalibo, Aklan, the Phil...

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NOte from NOel : Belated happy birthdays to Doc Jeanette Jao and Mary Jone Tan (15th April), and happy birthday to Grace Chua – Tan (18th April), you’re all sorely missed !  Mabuhay and thanks to Christchurch NZ Pinoys for accepting us into their Yahoo!group, kudos to Auckland NZ Pinoys for their team’s performance in Super Rugby, and let’s all pls lend our physical and moral support for The Filipino Artists in New Zealand’s  Ati-Atihan project before a potential 2.5 billion TV audience of the 2011 RWC World Cup! ( OMG and wowowow! ]
WHICH is to be honest, a pretty presumptuous and across-the-board title for an email, as (1) the Kiwis we’ve met are limited to workmates, friends of Pinoy migrant families and members of Kiwi-Pinoy blended families in central Auckland, North Shore City and Lower Hutt, Wellington; (2) we hardly ever pop the question of “So what do you think of us Filipinos, huh?” lest we get stung by a snappy comeback to a vain-sounding, compliment-fishing question, and (3) we hardly think that we could in our wildest dreams accumulate an accurate cross-section representation of how our hosts see us.
What’s authentic though is that when we’re lucky, we get a genuine unscripted and unedited opinion of how New Zealanders think of us, everytime we collect the guts to ask just how much fun we are as guests and migrants in this Middle-Earthy, rugby-crazy and D.I.Y. conscious nation of theirs.  Results range from the tacky, baduy and antiquated to flattering, blushworthy and fulsome praise for our lahing kayumanggi.
No return, no exchange.  It started when a 60-year old co-worker not known for his political correctness ( he probably wasn’t even aware of the term ) mentioned, upon hearing our nationality, that a brother of his almost married a Filipina a while back.
Cost him a lot, too, before he got cold feet.  Probably paid around three grand for her.”
“Pardon me?  Did your brother buy his bride-to-be?  Or ex-bride-to-be?”
O’course he did, young fella.  Big group a’them too.  Didn’t get his money back though, all sales are final, so they said.”
O’course, part of us wanted to retort in indignant outrage that such practice back in the Islands was both unacceptable and now illegal, that the idea of women as mail-order brides was abhorrent and outdated, but breaktime was only 15 minutes.
I silently acknowledged the social reality prevalent back home in a bygone era, slapped my friend on the back, and said, “Never too late for love for you and me, eh?”  And that was that.
Stereotypes. It’s flattering, but unless the New Zealander has more than the cursory encounter with Juan (or Juana) de la Cruz, it’s hard to get out of the stereotype absorbed through the media and urban legend.  For Pinoys, it’s the eternally polite, team-playing, American-English speaking and shorter-than-average Asian, coincidentally qualities this writer is identified with. 
For Pinays, they’re even more typecast : a contractor I often spend breaks with commented that he usually associated Filipinas with “small, pretty girls” (his exact words) that he often mistook for teens just out of middle school.  This, coming from a six-foot four, hundred-kilo plus bloke, who undoubtedly would seem a giant if ever he courted a kababayan to be his potential wife.  Given the fact that his thumbnail sketch of a Pinoy fit me to a T, and that most of the Filipinas I (and he) knew were petite and youthful looking, I decided not to debate with Mr Contractor.
Spring rolls, horror stories and ATMs. Others because of a lucky friendship or two had a more textured image of us.  A colleague’s best mate married a wonderful cook who never came out of the kitchen without a dish of spring rolls or spicy pancit canton, someone who he later learned came from the Philippine Islands (they seem to prefer this term over the Philippines).  She never seemed to run out of stories for the kids, especially about how hard life was back home and how lucky they were to be born in Aussie (where they resettled from NZ).  To balance it out, my colleague remembered that as soon as she satisfied everyone’s hunger pangs, it was off to the mall for her, armed with hubby’s ATM card.  This was a common scenario every weekend, and on the whole it was something he looked forward to with his own future Pinay wife.  It was hard for me to add any commentary to that pretty picture painted, so I just smiled at his tale.
Graceful exit, cheerful goodbye.  But however you think of fellow Pinoys, you can’t help but smile when you realize how many Pinay (and Pinoy) nurses and caregivers are perceived, as I heard this from someone whose loved one passed away in a nursing home:
Of all the caregivers, I noticed that the ones who really knew their job and tried to give the most comfort to my dad [ in his last days ] were the Asian ones, and I was surprised to learn that they were mostly Filipinas.  They were cheerful and treated him as if he were family, and I knew it ’cause I was there often, they smiled at everyone like they meant it… if they were tired, and I’m sure they were, they never showed it.  They made life easier for my dad his last few days.
I wanted to tell him that most of the caregivers he saw were RNs (Registered Nurses) back home just waiting for better gigs; that many of our medical professionals were trained in the art and science of giving extra comfort to the very ill; and that Pinoy nurses commonly go the extra mile and treat their patients like one of their own, but it seemed almost rude to disturb the mental image and memories he had produced, and I merely nodded my head, reinforcing the positives whenever Filipinos came to mind.  He seemed to appreciate that.
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We’re not perfect, we’ve got our own quirks and shortcomings as a people, but on the whole we’re doing well as guests in our various adopted lands.  Because of this the good karma gets paid forward, not just to our countrymen and women but to later generations who’ll walk in our footsteps, and follow our happy trails.  Salamat kabayan for putting your best foot forward !
Thanks for reading !