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The Pinay of the World

Lillian Calderon Clemente is probably the most successful Filipina to come to America. After completing her degree at the University of Chicago, she became one of the biggest financial stock wizards in the world. I remember a story about her international business meeting with an elite business client. While dining at the client and his family, one of the children started speaking in the Filipino language to her. She was amazed at first, but later discovered that a housekeeper from the Philippines was caring the children. These are the many faces of Filipina workers we have abroad.

Filipino men came to America much earlier. Almost all of the early pioneers were sailors. The settlers to St Malo were all men. The farm workers that followed in Hawaii, California and the Alaska's were almost all males. Men almost 20-1 in the small growing Filipino communities outnumbered the women.

Felipe Madrigal  married Bridget Nugent, an Irish girl coming to America from Ireland in the 18th century, documenting the first Filipino family in the United States. They were blessed with 3 daughters that ended the Madrigal name, but the tradition of the times followed. Young daughters were matched with eligible bachelors who were sometimes as old as their father was.  Names like Burtanog, Martinez, and other family names from the Philippines continued.   Conveniently, the male to female ratio was improved.  The World War eased tradition according later Burtanog descendants. They were "liberated" the exact words the current generation of Burtanog sisters used.  The ninth generation of Madrigal still carried the unmistaken Pinay facial resemblance even today.  The men were always free to marry anyone outside their race but this was not always possible due to the anti miscegenation law in some states.

50 years ago the United States began recruiting men from the Philippines. It was the time when the service did not allow woman onboard ships so enlistment was limited to men. The ratio skyrocketed. However, at the same time Nurses were allowed to come as exchange students. The timing was right. There were some that fetched back and married  their hometown girlfriend.  They lived in Navy Housing very similar to the old plantation arrangement.  Whatever role the woman played they were able to supplement the family.

The entrance to the White House was through the backdoors opened by dedicated professional stewards from the United States Navy. Today, there are ranking Filipino government employees in the White House staff. Ben Cayetano, the first Filipino governor in the United States even slept in the famous White House guest bedroom according the guests' records. My favorite story, however, is of the Chief presidential Medical Officer. A proud Pinay, daughter of a Filipino Chief Petty Officer who was recruited under the provision of the US Navy enlistment in the Philippines. Now she is a Navy Captain who I hope will be an Admiral soon. Quite a contrast.

Now let me write about these forgotten domestic workers overseas, mostly Pinays. They are as professional as any member of the service industry is. This type of servitude has been ingrained in our culture since the beginning. Inside the Philippines and way before we were contracted overseas, housekeepers and personal caretakers has been a major trade in the country. If there is labor injustice of our overseas workers, it is not the household help but our workers who are performing well but are paid way below his/her job skills and education level. Some are left with being overqualified or unemployed. But the idea of job discrimination is slowly diminishing with exception of the "artificial ceiling." This type of job is hardly a lowly profession, as it is often perceived. Some of these workers are paid much more than average office or shop workers. They feel that they are helping their employers as they care for their own family and in most cases they are treated as member of the family. They are no different than the very caring professional nurses. Because of this special relationship they are also very vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse that we have to be vigil about. There are even more happy stories like a humble housekeeper marrying her employer than tragic endings.

There is a certain cultural attitude when we fail to compare a personal servitude to foreigner an injustice but not when performed to another Filipino. The conservative chivalry that the Pinay should marry her fellow countryman rather than the man she loved has been emancipated long time ago. We should be very proud that behind the two most successful black American males, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Businessman Lewis were two strong partners from the Philippines. The Pinay have endured. The first black Olympian to compete in the Winter Olympic was Tai Babilonia who is half Filipina.

Mixed marriage of Irish connection has more been more dominant for some reasons. Maybe because we have more in common with them in work ethics and tradition. It is probably the Catholic persuasion.

I do not think Rizal knew that Madrigal married an Irish girl when he wed her Irish girlfriend Josephine Bracken.  It is interesting to note that Maria Clara who we associate our woman and Rizal's early sweetheart was Leonor Rivera who broke his heart when she married an English engineer who was working on the first Filipino railway.  Rizal in his letters to his friend Bluementritt wrote, "The first hammer-blow in the railway has fallen on me!"  He had political explaination, "I do not blame her for preferring Kipping..an Englishman is a free man and I am not."  When I researched Roman Gabriel background and found that his father married an Irish girl I was not bit surprised.

Nestor Palugod Enriquez
phix7@yahoo.com