Don’t be surprised when you face racism.

Here’s the good news: racism is generally going to work in your favor here.

Filipinos are incredibly kind and welcoming people by nature. They take people in and feed them and share and include you in karaoke parties and basically you are family right away, whether you understand what is going on around you or not. So, add to this the fact that you are from a far-off land, and you’re going to get a lot of positive, welcoming attention.

Most expats I’ve met here stand out like a sore thumb. Whether it’s from skin tone, hair color, height, weight, body language, language-language, confused faces, or any combination of the above, we are generally pretty easy to pick out of a crowd. So, there are going to be times when strangers decide to just single you out for kindnesses that you might feel awkward about. For example, the time we arrived at the airport and got in a very long line for security, only to have a guard walk way back to where we were, tell us to follow him, and proceed to escort us to the front of the line. When we figured out we weren’t in trouble and were just being targeted for kindness because we clearly weren’t from around here, we felt mostly bad for all those people stuck in line, but, yeah, a little pleased we didn’t have to wait. People will want to talk to you. They will encourage you extra hard to perform at parties. They will insist that you attend their parties to begin with.

But, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

First of all, unless you look like a Filipino, you’ll likely get more stares than you are used to. It won’t be so bad in places where other expats are common, but if you travel to areas where expats are a rare site, or to places that attract people from all over the country, regardless of whether it’s frequented by foreigners or not, you will get stares. Depending on the person, it might just be a stare or it might be open-mouthed, wide-eyed, and persistent to the point where they might follow you for a while. National landmarks and amusement parks are the worst in this regard.

Even if you do happen to “pass” as Filipino, when you first arrive, you are likely to get some stares. I blame it on “mental mapping.” When you are “fresh off the boat” anywhere and are unfamiliar with your surroundings, you tend to look around at your surroundings more. You take everything in as you move from point A to point B, rather than getting there as fast as you can while your mind turns over your to-do list. So, as your head swivels around more than usual and you stop to point things out to a companion, you tend to stand out as Not From Here. The good news is that as you get a sense for your surroundings, these behaviors die down, as will the stares you got from everyone watching you and thinking, “Newbie.”

Second, not everyone loves you. Hate to break it to you, but you  will arrive here with labels that some find offensive. Whether it’s American, Chinese, white, black, income level, education level, whatever. Filipinos are just as racists as any other group of people on earth, meaning some don’t really have an issue with it, but there are plenty of Crazy, Racist Uncles here, too. On a Facebook group for our community, I have seen foreigners (generally) described as lazy, entitled, looking to get away with things they’d never try in their home countries, the reason why school busses are allowed on secondary roads instead of just main roads, discourteous to neighbors, jiggly, fat, rude, and the reason why the Philippines is in the state it’s in.* My kids encountered some local children at the park who went into great detail about how all Americans are murderers, because they’d just had a lesson in school about Teddy Roosevelt’s involvement in the Philippines. I know a woman at church who sort-of, kind-of tolerates my presence, in a way that sometimes American people will sort-of, kind-of tolerate the presence of a foreigner, because the Philippines is so great and doesn’t need foreigners around thank-you-very-much.

Tell me how you really feel, right?

These are the outliers, though. In the first case, the relative anonymity of an online forum, coupled with the crankiness of older rich people living in an “exclusive” village is at play. The kids at the park had the seeds of a justifiable argument, if it was 110 years ago. And well, some people just can’t see beyond chauvinistic pride to the fact that where we are born has only so much to do with where we end up and how we behave as individuals.

But the fact is, speaking as an American, we get this thought sometimes that racism is an American thing and other parts of the world skip around holding hands and never thinking ill of other people. This in spite of the fact that our evening news is full of stories of warring tribes and clashing religions. Racism isn’t an American problem, it’s a human problem. If you were raised in a place where you were of the group that defined the “norm”, even if you were quite kind to all equally, don’t be surprised when you get here and start to experience the other end of racism. Likewise, if you were raised somewhere where you experienced the negative effects of racism, expect that it may still be an issue when you arrive, though it may be for a different reason or to a different degree. People are people.

* I will straight-up admit that some of these things are true of some foreigners. But I know no one for whom they all apply, and none of them that apply to enough of us to constitute them being applied as a general rule to all of us.


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