Kababae mong tao, bumabyahe ka nang mag-isa. (Loosely interpreted: You, a woman, have some nerve to travel by yourself.)
Filipinos can immediately recognize the feeling of thinly veiled condescension and admonition that comes with this statement. Women who traveled, particularly on their own, were used to be viewed either with suspicion, as if they were about to seek out carnal, immoral pleasures of the world, or with helplessness, as if they were going to fall prey to the first pickpocket that they come across. It is easy enough to trace the roots of the sentiment conveyed. The culture and values of the Filipino woman, or Filipina, are shaped by the past colonizers of her homeland which has often been described as having spent 300 years in a Spanish convent and 50 years in Hollywood. A heady mix of old Catholic conservatism, meek and subservient Asian gender roles, dashed with a tinge of American liberalism just underneath the surface.
Travel within Filipino culture varies within the socio-economic strata. There are the affluent families who leave en masse during the sweltering summer months to vacation in the United States or take advantage of deep discounts during shopping sprees in Hong Kong. There are the middle class families who escape to one of the archipelago’s countless beaches, their cars heavy with extended family members and enough food to feed an entire baranggay or village. Still others make their way up the mountain city of Baguio, a former American hill station and designated Summer Capital of the Philippines, where Filipinos happily shiver and revel in their “winter” wear in the city’s 50-60s degree temperature. While the upper and middle class move about for vacation, members of the lower class board buses and boats to leave their provinces and barrios in the hope of seeking jobs in the big cities such as Manila, the capital.
Leaving the norm of the woman being tied to the home or to her family, countless Filipinas have left the shores of the 7,107 islands in the past several decades, typically on their own or with strangers. A vast majority of the departures were borne out of necessity, to work as an overseas contract worker to support the families they left behind or pursue dreams that were hard to achieve in a developing country wrought with corruption and poverty. Doctor, nanny, IT engineer, nurse, housekeeper, cruise ship worker, teacher – these are just some of the titles that these women carry with them as they board planes and ships to take them away to foreign lands. Physical therapist was the one I brought with me when my 25-year old self boarded a Delta flight, my first time ever on a plane, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
There is rarely a place on this earth that one would not encounter a Filipina or someone of Filipino descent. It is established that Filipinas are already out in the world. Now, they just need to see more of it, on their own terms.
There is a strong tendency for immigrants to latch on to the culture of the home they left behind. Understandably, this has been the single most effective way to deal with homesickness: to immerse one’s self in all things Filipino while being in the middle of a foreign land. This is why premium television network The Filipino Channel’s subscription numbers continue to climb with every new influx of arrivals. Women rush home from work to catch the latest episode of the telenovela they faithfully follow while they prepare a batch of rice and adobo, the unofficial national dish.
As is the norm for many overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, their salaries are carefully budgeted to cover their living expenses (TFC subscription included) and the monthly remittance they send to their families back in the Philippines. There are those who have established themselves financially after years of working and still have one place they would travel to when they have saved up enough money and vacation time: home.
As someone who has traveled back home every 12-16 months, I am not one to discourage a visit to family and home country. In fact, if it were not for the increase in economic capability due to overseas employment, many balikbayans like myself would not have been able to see more of the beauty of the Philippines beyond my own city and hometown. Boracay, Palawan, Cebu and Bohol were some destinations that I’ve only heard about from other people’s summer plans while I walked the airconditioned halls of SM City North Edsa to cool off. Encouraging Philippine tourism is definitely something to push for, as the country has so many fantastic sights and attractions that need to be seen. By all means, go home and spend your hard-earned dollars, euros and riyals to boost the country’s economy.
However, the Filipina traveler should expand her horizons and explore other places outside her comfort zone.
Between financial constraints and the desire to maintain some semblance of the Philippines’ touch in their lives, countless Filipinas living overseas have yet to fully take advantage of exploring their adopted home and surroundings. Those who live in the United States and Canada have the beauty of the national parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Denali, and Banff open to them. Those who live in Europe are a train ride or budget airline flight away from the gems like Madrid, Athens, Vienna and Florence.
For those who live in the Philippines, there is the tendency to be tied to the typical family excursions, group pilgrimages and company sponsored trips for their vacation and travel plans. While those are a good starting point and provide an excellent opportunity to get around, Filipinas need to chart their own travel destiny and go to places that they want to see.
We Filipinas need to stretch our minds and take advantage of what our environment, whether native or adopted, has to offer. Turn off the TV and go to a local fair or a take a bus to the next town over and see what they’ve got going on over there. Save a few extra euros, take the train and explore the European continent. Put away some dollars towards a family road trip to iconic American destinations. Budget your pesos and go on an adventure to a Philippine island or town that you’ve never visited but have always heard and read about.
Go somewhere new and come back a different woman, a true Viajera Filipina.
Pilipina ako. Pupunta ako sa kung saan ko gusto ko. Sa lugar na magbibigay ng saya, ng bagong kaalaman, ng bagong karanasan. Dahil gusto ko. Dahil kaya ko.
(I am a Filipina. I will go where I want to go. To places that will bring happiness, new learnings, new experiences. Because I want to. Because I can.)