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CULTURAL TIPS WHEN DEALING WITH FILIPINOS

 

            With its almost 400 years of domination under Spain and with almost half a century of American rule, Philippines, along with its own indigenous culture, has become a “melting pot” of culture. This gave rise to the seeming inexistence of a truly “authentic” Filipino culture. While “undisturbed” native tribes, i.e., those unaffected by modern technology and Western influence, continue to exist both in the northern and southern islands of the Philippines, the culture of what is considered “dominant population” has been a mixture of what has been handed down through the Spanish legacy and the American influence.

            Most Filipinos today reflect this “cultural mix”, although in some, this may appear to be more pronounced than in others, as evidenced by some Filipinos behaving more aristocratic than the residents of Madrid and more “western” than the Americans. The economic gap between the haves and the have-nots has also given rise to this disparity. While there is a small percentage of those classified as “rich” (3-5 % of the entire population), a good majority belong to the middle class, who have access to education and from which these “cultural advancements and refinements” are acquired.

It is therefore not surprising to encounter Filipinos who are more proficient

with the English language than their other compatriots and more “refined” in their etiquette and manners than the rest.

            This disparity is present among the Filipino Americans who migrated to the United States. First, there were those who came to pursue higher education in American universities and colleges. Then there were the farmers who were asked to come to work on American farms for as long as they do not know English “that well.” Then came in the ‘60s the wave of migration of doctors and nurses as well as those who sought independent migration. And then, there were those who came as tourists and decided to stay and take the risk. These groups gave rise to the “Filipino-Americans” who were born and raised here; truly Americans except by the color of their skin, and would form what would be called the “Filipino community” here in the United States.

            This brief background material may help explain the Filipino component of the Asian population in the country.

            The following are some of the helpful hints you may find helpful, should you decide to involve Filipinos in your congregations.

            The Philippine is predominantly Roman Catholics although there are a good number of those churches considered as Protestant. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) has very little membership although it turned 100 years old two years ago. With a bigger population is the Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) with whom the ECUSA has entered into a Concordat of Full Communion in 1961. Filipino Episcopalians would go to the nearest Episcopal Church in their area. Some PIC’s may not as they may not be familiar with the Full Communion agreement. This is a good window of opportunity to advertise and welcome them. Also, there are a good number of “un-churched” Filipinos and these are good candidates to our evangelism.

            If you happen to see for the first time in your worship service, what might be a Filipino, insure that he or she is not side lined and left alone during coffee hour. Filipinos, like any other ethnicity in a predominantly Caucasian community, initially seeks a “welcoming” stand in their newly found environs. Invite them to come back. Show interest in them. More often than not, however, members of the congregation talk to themselves alone. Newcomers, especially non-whites, are often ignored. I have heard stories of why Filipinos chose not to return and worship in Episcopal churches – they simply felt un-welcomed. I was personally a victim of this mistake too many times – both from the lay and co-clergy!!

            Assuming that the invitation to stay has been offered and received, what happens next? Work with them. Filipinos are very interesting people; hospitable, generous, loving and caring, shy, community-oriented. There are many other attributes about them which you will unravel in the course of time working with them.

            Hospitality is one asset Filipinos are famous for. Sometimes they may even be branded as overly doing it. This is evident in Filipino-hosted parties. It’s impolite to refuse what they offer. If you see food recipes you’re not sure of, ask them what it is and if you say no, they’ll understand. Their ease in hosting might be utilized later on to get them involved in welcoming groups or hospitality teams.

            You will find out that Filipinos do not often volunteer! It could be that they are shy and do not wish to stand out or simply because he or she works two jobs to look after the family. Time might be the reason rather than inability to lead a group or disinterest in a project. Once involved, however, you will be surprised how caring and devoted they could be. Since you’ll see more of their women than their men, it might be a good idea later on to get them involved in the ECW or Altar Guild.

            Talking about time, there is such a thing as “Filipino time” which means “not to arrive on time” especially during parties. This is part of their Spanish legacy. If they arrive too soon, it might be construed that they’re too hungry or too interested.  Thus, it is “proper etiquette” to arrive a bit late. Unfortunately, this is reflected in their perennial tardiness in church attendance. If they come in late while the lessons are read, this may bother the other members of the congregation but not bother them. After all, it’s all right to arrive late. But then again, their tardiness may really be due to traffic or the unavailability of parking space.

            As indicated earlier, there are other values that Filipino-Americans continue to practice especially by first and second generation Filipino Americans. Those in the third are just as American as their buddies in school. As a community, they’re generally a nice bunch to work with. Language is seldom an issue. Age is treated with respect. Their elders are given respect. Most of them uphold traditional family (husband and wife and children) but may be supportive of other alternative set ups. While many still consider male gender as the seat of authority (padre de pamilya) there are more of those who view the equality of gender. They normally do not have problem with female clergy. Clergy are almost always addressed as “Father” or “Mother”. Addressing them in their first name sounds very irreligious!!

            Knowing them begins in that simple gesture of handshake and smile and showing interest in them. So, if you decide to incorporate them in your church life, you’ll be surprised to find how God’s grace is just as operative among them as it is in your own people.  Thank you and hopefully this brief material has generated interest towards the Filipino community. Thank you.

The Rev. Bayani D. Rico

Vicar, Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church

Daly City