ENFiD News & Views will be featuring essays that were submitted to the first ENFiD Essay Writing Contest held in 2015. With the theme “Ako Ay Pilipino sa Europa – Ganito Ako Ngayon, Paano Ako Bukas?” (This is how I am today, how will I be tomorrow?), the essay contest was launched to coincide with the 2nd European Regional Overseas Filipino Conference in Malta held last July 31-August 3. The purpose was to engage as many Euro-Pinoys as possible in ENFiD objectives as well as examine their roles in Europe’s multi-cultural environment. An overwhelming number of entries from 44 Euro-Pinoys were submitted and the first three essays which garnered the highest points were proclaimed the winners. The announcement and the prize-giving ceremony took place at the ENFiD Cultural Evening held at the Catholic Institute Auditorium in Floriana, Malta last August 1st 2015. Four judges were handpicked meticulously to choose the winners based on a selection criteria such as Creativity, Structure, Adherence to Topic, Grammar, Length and “Wow!” factor. “On Shame & Family Values” which was written by Charmian Lim from Netherlands, was among the top 10 entries.
On Shame and Family Values
My cousin Vicky had her first baby when she was 16. Had she been a little older, she would’ve been forced to marry the man who impregnated her, a friend of one of her overprotective brothers. In a way, she was lucky. She escaped a future stuck with a man who turned out to be the kind of person who abuses drugs and women.
She moved to the US and later married an American man of Filipino ethnicity, who accepted her first child, gave her a green card and her second baby. From all appearances, he loved her quite dearly.
I was surprised when my mother told me that she had a third baby, now four months old. This news was not shared on Facebook or the family grapevine, as if it were a big secret. Hiding a pregnancy in a tight-knit Filipino family is usually very difficult, but this time it was kept under wraps for over a year. The crux of the secrecy was this: the baby is black.
Contrary to the traditional joyful hullaballoo that surrounds a new baby conceived in the confines of (usually a church-sanctioned) marriage, Ate Vicky’s third baby still is shrouded in mystery: there are no pictures on social media, I am not even privy to the baby’s name or gender. What usually was a source of celebration has become a badge of shame. Ate Vicky’s father, my uncle, has even said, “If I had known she would shame our family this much, I should’ve committed suicide when Vicky became a teenage mother.”
Having been raised in a conservative Filipino culture in small-town Ilocos Sur, I understood my uncle’s reaction. Good girls are not supposed to have sex before marriage, much less get pregnant at 16. Ate Vicky’s fall from grace, in the context of Filipino tradition, is proof of her parents’ failure to instill in her the values that should have guided her to avoid the temptation of premarital sex. A child’s mistake is as much her parents’ own. My own father promised to disown me had I gotten myself with child while in school.
For years after Ate Vicky’s first pregnancy, she was the cautionary tale that my parents used to scare me into abstinence, to keep me from deviating from the traditional middle-class Filipino path of graduating from college, landing a job, finding a spouse and building a family. This path did not include me moving to the Netherlands nor adopting a viewpoint that veered away from conservative Filipino philosophies, but that’s what happened.
When I found out about Ate Vicky’s African-American baby, my reaction was not to feel ashamed of her. Instead, I felt sorry for her, for facing such a challenging life because of the choices she has made.
The fact of her extramarital affair was only a small shock to me, considering that I thought that she and her husband were happy. But the adultery itself was not something that scandalized me. Had I been confronted with the news a decade ago, I would have been outraged. These days, having been bombarded by advertisements in Dutch media for dating websites specifically for extramarital affairs, adultery is no longer an affront to the whole community akin to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the slightly Westernized corner of my mind, adultery is a private matter between the spouses and the third party. Not once did I assign any blame to Ate Vicky’s parents, nor did I consider her actions as a black mark against the family name. I am not trying to portray myself as a saint immune to the human tendency to judge others. I am as judgmental as the next person. I do not condone adultery. However, my point is that Ate Vicky’s shame – or whatever she might feel as a result of her actions – is her own.
This is the mentality I am slowly adopting as I live among the Dutch. There is more emphasis on the self as an individual, and less on the self as a part of a communal whole. My defeats are the result of my own failures; my triumphs are the result of my own efforts.
I am by no means abandoning my Filipino values. I would like to think that my family would always support me in times of defeat, and that they would glow with pride as I share with them my triumphs. As I prepare for building a family of my own with my Dutch partner, I must consider what values to instill in my future children. Will I be able to create a loving environment without fear of collective shame, but still be able to impart the importance of family ties? I certainly hope so.
ADVISORY FOR THE FILIPINO COMMUNITY IN THE NETHERLANDS
11 February 2016—The Philippine Embassy in the Netherlands wishes to inform our kababayans that Canada has updated its requirements for visitors to enter the country by air.
As of 15 March 2016, citizens of visa-exempt countries, including holders of diplomatic passports or official passports, who wish to fly to Canada or transit through a Canadian airport, will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) prior to travelling. This change does not affect individuals entering Canada at a land-border crossing or at a marine port-of-entry.
Information on this new requirement, as well as instructions on how to apply for an eTA, may be found at http://canada.ca/eTA. Filipinos who are in the Netherlands and who are planning to travel to or transit through Canada may also wish to contact the Embassy of Canada in the Netherlands directly.