Why Norman Latosa is my Favorite Kinoy*

El Presidente

Whenever I see a Johnny Walker Black Label or Jim Beam bottle, one of the first memories that comes to mind is that of probably the first Pinoy (outside of family) that I met in New Zealand, in Auckland 2003, Engr Norman Latosa.  We weren’t drinking then, and he was still quite formal and polite, having just been introduced to me by my brother George, but after that, we had lots of quality time spent over many a bottle of liquid fire, as it loosened tongues and made every joke funny.

He was (and is) such a first-rate drinker that he could nurse his drink without finishing even half of it (if he was driving home later) or, he could outdrink half a dozen men twice his weight and towering over his modest frame.

But that w0uld be unfair to him, remembering him only for his love for wine and good company.  He has since the early part of the previous decade been organizing basketball tournaments for the Auckland Pinoy community, particularly in and around the North Shore City area.  He has successfully managed year-round basketball for youth, inter-color, age-group, over-35 and, the most competitive of all, the Men’s Open version of Pinoy basketball under the aegis of Pinoy Basketball sa Auckland (PBA), one of the pioneering Pinoy sports organizations that have spun off into various tournaments and clubs throughout the Auckland region, and probably elsewhere in NZ.

Largely because of the talent development spawned by the PBA of Norman and his group of merry men, Auckland has sent several quality teams to the annual nationwide Pinoy sportsfests held during the Queen’s Birthday in June and the Labor Weekend, when by rotation, different NZ cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch (among many others) host multisport extravaganzas, including of course basketball.

Either because of the quality of basketball talent, or just the fact that Norman’s PBA has always attracted the best players, Auckland teams have usually fared well in these NZ wide Pinoy sportsfests.  But more importantly, the friendship and camaraderie that sports and athletics foster are the best results of the Queen’s Birthday and Labor weekend events.

As usual, with people like Norman, the honor and recognition associated with leading basketball clubs is secondary to the sense of accomplishment of having served community and countrymen, and this we guess is what keeps him going after so many years.  He doesn’t receive anything for his time and effort and yet he continues to hold tournament after tournament without expecting anything in return.

And that’s why Norman Latosa is my favorite Kinoy !

PS. You can read about current activities and tournaments of the the PBA on their website, http://pinoybasketball.co.nz/  Mabuhay!

*Kinoy is a contraction for Kiwi-Pinoy, a non-racial term for Pinoys who live, permanently or otherwise, in New Zealand.

From cheesy to sublime : How Kiwis perceive Pinoys

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

Image via Wikipedia

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! (http://filipinoartistsnewzealand.wordpress.com/) 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.
                **               **               **               **               **
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 !

Dying Days of A Work Permit in Kiwiland

Skyline of Auckland, New Zealand, from Westhav...

Image via Wikipedia

Dear kabayan, schoolmates and friends :

NOT to be morbid about it, but I’m in the dying days of my current work permit (WP).

It’s been a great gig the last two years, and of course I’d like nothing else but to continue work, but I’ve been too lucky the past 24 months (29, counting training and waiting time) and a sudden negative decision from Immigration NZ would frankly be part of the law of averages.

In short, I’ve been too lucky (masyadong sinuswerti) and the odds aren’t my friend this time.

It’s way too easy to declare, (allegedly) indolent locals and industrious WP holders notwithstanding, is INZ in touch with reality at all? Don’t the training, experience and credentials earned by guest workers count, arrayed against the unskilled, inexperienced and (most importantly) unwilling locals who don’t even bother applying for tradesmen jobs?

But it would be, as the Poms say, “bad form” to cry and whine.

I will not dishonor the memory of those more qualifed and less fortunate than I am, Filipinos who have dared and died in the NZ labor marketplace, those who sold the carabao and mortgaged the last piece of arable land in order to pay processing, visa fees and travel expenses to try their luck in the First World Never-Never Land. They deserve more than that.

My most poignant memory is walking to the lunch bar one day at the Albany Industrial Park, North Shore City early 2008. I discerned two figures coming my direction on the sidewalk, which turned out to be a male and female Asian in office attire. Strangely familiar were not only their height and complexion (similar to mine) but the office attire that channeled Makati and Ortigas Centre, short sleeves and necktie versus smart vestida and sensible pumps.

It only took half a second to realize that they were compatriots and countrymen, kabayan who were looking for jobs in the area. Quick hellos and kumustas were exchanged, mixed with the unmistakeable warmth of Pinoy wayfarers crossing paths.

It likewise didn’t take long for their voices to break.

Kuya, ilang linggo na rin kaming naghahanap ng trabaho rito sa Auckland, malapit na maubos ipon namin. Ayaw pa naming bumalik sa Pinas pero mukhang yun na lang ang natitirang option kapag alang swerte.

I couldn’t bear to tell them that I myself was nearly at the end of my rope, using up the remaining few weeks of my tenure before my WP employer would close down for good. From there, I would be looking for a job myself, awkwardly skilled and poorly placed in the job market for suitable PR (permanent-resident) hopefuls like me.

So like the dutiful plastic Pinoy cheerleader that I was, I told them to keep your chin up, kaya nyo yan, keep hunting for that job, and stop counting down till WTR (work-to-residence) Doomsday.

I forget their names, and honestly I’m unaware of their fate. For all I know they might’ve gotten engaged to good jobs, achieved permanent residence status (PR) by the skin of their teeth, and are now living the Kinoy dream, kudos to them. But I wouldn’t bet on it. If they went home and started from scratch anew, it wouldn’t be news to most of us.

And that’s the defining bittersweet memory I have, among a few others, of New Zealand.

** ** ** ** **

But on to happier topics. The silver lining in my dark cloud is that for this and the next generation of Kiwi + Pinoys or Kinoys, the latter will have their cake and eat it too. Families will be better housed, children will be better fed and educated, and overall quality of life improved.

No small feat is the recent UNDP (UN Development Program) report ranking New Zealand third in terms of quality of life, ahead of all first world countries except Norway and Australia. At the same time, money will be sent back home to send relatives to school, improve houses and communities in the countryside, and hopefully infuse our economy with physical and human resources reinforced and enhanced by the wealth and technology of a First World dynamo.

All this will happen whatever my lot as an accidental migrant. But my sojourn here would not have been as memorable without the effort and compassion of a few countrymen, who I must mention as a simple gesture of sincere thanks:

Steve and April Dods : I’m not sure if they’re in Auckland still, but the Dodses gave me their first job offer, without which I couldn’t have secured my first work permit, and absent which I couldn’t have stayed in NZ. They didn’t ask too many questions, gave me my first break, and for that I will always be grateful.

Efren and Butchie Pascual – Against their better judgment and common sense, the Pascuals helped me up when I was down and out, and didn’t expect anything in return. With one vacancy in their roster, they could’ve chosen more qualified and experienced Kiwis to staff their store, and yet they chose me, only because I was a kabayan who needed a break. It will not be forgotten.

Jerome and Lady Jalbuena – Another couple that smiled upon a complete stranger and gave him shelter, as well as encouragement from despair. Again, they had no reason to open their doors for me, share their dinner table or offer me the hospitality of their home. But logic and good sense will always be at odds with kindness, altruism, and an indefinable instinct to pull up the fallen. May you always be blessed, as you blessed me.

Norman Latosa, Bong Fiel and the Pinoy Basketball sa Auckland Family – My happiest days in Auckland were spent as a scorer, timekeeper and unlikely participant in the over- 35 tournament; I played like a kid and forgot I was overseas. All because of the magic of basketball, thanks to you.

The Downer (and Chorus) family of Pinoy linemen, installers and troubleshooters – The best way I can describe them would be genuine Pinoy Good Samaritans. They are part of the 60-strong batch of recruits from all over the Philippines flung via the four winds to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. My second month in Windy Wellington , the Downers (in name only) spotted me and took me in without batting an eyelash and treated me like one of their own. I became an Ilocano, Kapampangan, Ilonggo and Bisaya as well as a Tagalog well-versed in the traits of all because of you. Mabuhay !

AKLnzPINOYS & upalumninz and other community e-groups – Ka Uro, Jinkee Say, comrades in the same groups and the Maroon stalwarts of the State U community, you have done more than your share to promote camaraderie among the Pinoy community in your respective circles. Thank you for allowing me a forum with which to vent and destress myself. You may have helped kabayan more than you will ever know.

The Bautistas, Agustins and Montenegros of Johnsonville and Newlands – In true Pinoy fashion, we had a soft landing in Wellington courtesy of a trio of cousins (and their families), notably Eric and Hope Bautista, Tom and Ineng Agustin and Ricky and Maya Montenegro. They extended to us every comfort and courtesy and gave us a genuine impression of how Filipinos treat kin and loved ones abroad. Maraming salamat po.

George Bautista – I would never have been able to conceive staying here beyond a short visit if it hadn’t been for my brother George, to whom I owe the fruits of generosity, pearls of wise counsel, hugs of tough love, and utterances of unconditional support. No greater compliment can I pay him than to say that he made everything possible, and the debt of gratitude can never be repaid. Maraming salamat, kapatid.

So many more people to thank, so many kindnesses to remember. If I have momentarily forgotten you, sincerest apologies and I will make up for it (if there is a) next time.

** ** ** **

In closing, I note today that it is again one of those perfect, cloudless days in Wellington worthy of a Hobbit shoot or an Avatar inspired tableau. There is not a trace of the howling storm last night, responsible for a million windstrewn leaves all about.

If one were to choose how to spend one’s last days in New Zealand, this would certainly be ideal. For after the whirlwind of uncertainty and struggle, one hopes that the accidental migrant in me will regain the sunshine of a better life in Aotearoa.

Thanks for reading kabayan, and goodbye for now !