3 things to do when you’re the only noypi on site

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[ Please enjoy the slideshow while playing Pinoy Ako by Orange & Lemons. Thank you for the YouTube video to YouTube poster John Kenneth, and thanks so much to our kabayan for allowing use of their photos. Mabuhay! ]

LATE 2000s, YOUR KABAYAN was leaving for New Zealand and while I wasn’t aware then, I was starting a new chapter of my life working in NZ. In the process I never got to be a Pinoy Big Brother fan. the soundtrack of “Pinoy Ako” by Orange & Lemons has stuck to my mind and spirit all these years though.

Every time I think it’s not worth it anymore working as a Filipino in faraway New Zealand and showing our hosts what we’re all about, I just hum through the song to myself, get a little emotional, think of how lucky I am being an OFW with the job I have, and renew my reserves of energy for work.

For Pinoy Ako, intentionally or not, embodies how proud the Pinoy migrant and / or migrant worker should be in his/her work ethic, his dreams and his craft, anywhere in the world. It’s almost like the song is talking to each and every Filipino worker, telling us: You’re not perfect. But with all your faults, you’re the best the Inang Bayan has to offer, you shine brightest away from home, show the whole world the best face of the Filipino, and come back home to your country’s warm embrace.

But enough of that, I just wanted to show you how in my experience we best showcase our Pinoyness when we’re the only Filipino in our workplace, as is often the case in New Zealand (unless you’re a nurse in a big hospital or a builder in a big construction worksite). If we can just manage to do these three things we balance being the best Pinoy version of ourselves and at the same time show how good we are as interdependent  citizens of our adopted New Zealand:

Highlight the positives, downplay the negatives. As any sociable person would do, when we meet someone new, we talk about the good things first, we put all negative aside for a more candid moment later. As a people, facing other races, we do likewise. We are hardworking. We get along. We smile regardless of the occasion. We make friends with other races easily, and so on and so forth.  Then of course the negatives. We are gossipy. We suffer from crab mentality. We don’t support our own. But the nega, these don’t need to be broadcasted to Kiwis and fellow migrants. When we are in front of others, we put our best foot forward, represent ourselves with the best characteristics ever. As it should be.

Never be ashamed of ourselves. For a long time, I was not only the only Pinoy at our work site, I was the only Asian, probably the first full-time worker who wasn’t European New Zealander (which really means white), Maori or Pacific Islander.

Then a funny thing happened Around a year and a half ago, a Punjabi Indian assumed the role of assistant plant engineer , decent enough, but when I mentioned to him that we were the only pair of Asians on site, he matter-of-fact corrected me.

I’m not Asian bro, he said.

What ??? What are you then I asked, knowing full well the answer.

I’m Kiwi of course. Everyone within earshot laughed, but I knew he meant it. He probably considered himself Indian before, but that was a thing of the past, he was a Kiwi now.

But whether he was just joking, half-meant it, or was serious, I myself would never deny my Filipino origins and ethnicity. The unchanging nature of his appearance only added to the absurdness of his claim, but in my case, brownness or no, I will forever remain a Filipino first, and maybe New Zealander second. I suspect many other kabayan feel this way, without explaining why, and I feel we will be respected more this way.

Stop riding the stereotypes. There was a time when our womenfolk were popular as “mail-order brides” as a way to escape poverty and lack of opportunities back home, and this dubious distinction made its way to New Zealand shores. When one of my colleagues remarked that he might ask a favor from me to procure himself a Pinay bride, I went along with the joke, and promised to look up a prospect or two. I later regretted it, as it didn’t help our image as a decent, hardworking people any. Of course our Filipinas continue to be popular as partners to many New Zealanders, but never let it be said that any of our Pinays are for sale.

There are many other stereotypes. Our being little brown brothers to white colonizers, our  being entertainers of the world at the expense of our equal abilities as scientists, tradesmen, artists, and entrepreneurs. Our being bad drivers. The list goes on, and we don’t need to perpetuate these stereotypes at all. Just be ourselves.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!