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The Filipino Mystery?

Updated on September 26, 2015


You see, roughly about FIFTY YEARS ago, hardly anybody in the West had heard of the PHILIPPINES or of FILIPINOS. Well okay, maybe World War Two Vets who fought in the Pacific and their immediate families did.

Now going back about a HUNDRED TWENTY YEARS ago, the Philippines (or the Philippine Islands) was hardly known outside of Spain who was holding dearly into this prized colony of Spanish speaking Roman Catholics in the Far East, but not for long.

And about a HUNDRED YEARS, the Philippines became known as a United States Territory. And if you, your kids or grandkids who might be the only ones still living today were among the thousands of people who attended the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo (or the Saint Louis World’s Fair, yes back in 1904) then you would have known Filipinos as the Igorots, the primitive people from the Far East (see below Igorots).

Now about SIXTY to SEVENTY YEARS ago, the Philippines became an independent nation (yes they kicked the United States out of their land as opposed to Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, American Samoa, and other U.S. territories). Now and for the longest time, most people in the Philippines are kicking themselves on the head for kicking the Yankees out of the PI instead of being subjugated by yet another World power, yes if they only knew then what they know now.


Now starting some FORTY YEARS, started the exodus and the migration of Filipinos to every part of the planet, dry land, water and air. I guess, Filipinos themselves were kicking out their fellow Filipinos out of their own land too.

Now, for the last FEW YEARS at least, it would be hard not to notice people in most places around the world who have those distinctive Far East Asian features but are not quite Vietnamese, not quite Chinese, not Japanese nor Korean. They are not Cambodian, Thai, Malaysian or Indonesian either. No, they aren’t. Definitely they are not Hmongs. And they are not Singaporeans either, not that you can distinguish these people from one another anyway.

Speaking English

Most of the Filipinos speak English and in most instances surprisingly good or better than one might otherwise expect, although most would have that distinctive accentuation, intonation and choice of words, unique to Filipinos. But do not be surprised that in just one year or in a couple of years they would be able to speak in the same style, manner and choice of words as you or most of the local populace.

And of course, the second, the third and the nth generation Filipinos born abroad are almost always speaking only the local language and it is pity as many do grow up and are raised not being bilingual or in most instances trilingual and even multilingual as their parents or grandparents were, who first migrated out of their country.


Many of these migrants claim to be University or College graduates (some having double-degree majors or skills certificates), even when many of them are still studying or are there on student visas. And many of them are working in blue-collar jobs or jobs where most of the local residents wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Some are licensed medical doctors back home but maybe working as nurses, medical technologists and other medical positions abroad. Some are college professors, high school teachers, certified public accountants and other licensed professionals back home but are working as nannies, tutors, household help or elementary teachers. Some are business professionals, business owners or showbiz personalities, but are non-working stay-at-home spouses, mainly wives to mostly foreign nationals abroad.

Many seem to have come from decent families, have been brought up right and are extremely religious and superstitious at the same time. And as I have said, most are Christians which one would hardly expect from people coming from that part of the world.

And yes, they count, read and write in the same way most Westerners do, not in those special characters and symbols we see in Oriental restaurants, stores and businesses.

I know, most of you have probably asked yourself and others, “Who are these people who just seem to be nowhere and everywhere at the same time?”



Yes, they are none other than Filipinos and Filipinas, males and females from the Philippines who have started to invade every part of the world, the high seas, the airlines, the deserts, the outbacks, the beach areas, the inner cities, the United Nations, the White House, the US Navy and other Armed Forces Units, the West-End Theatre of London, Hollywood and LA, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Asia, Australia, Europe, Canada, the concert scenes and every place in between, even the boxing scene.

And you see them all over the web as well, twitter, skype, flickr, youtube, facebook, Friendster, chat rooms, blog sites, online forums, penpal sites, dating sites, matchmaking sites, mail-order bride sites, and in the news, both the good and bad.


But for me, the most mysterious part of them is the fact that they could be both the cleanest people anybody could meet and also the most unsanitary. They could be both the most honest people you can meet and also be the most insincere. They could be both the most hardworking people you can ever employ but they can also be most indolent.

They could be the most law-abiding people in your city and at the same time they could be among the most annoying neighbors you could ever have. They could be among the safest drivers who hardly have a moving violation all their life and they could very well be among the craziest drivers on the road.

They could be both the most hospitable people on earth but at the same time they could be the most uncongenial. They could be the meekest, soft-spoken and most unconfrontational people on planet Earth but at the same time, they could also be the most postal when they are totally fed up.

They could be the most unsickly or the most unlikely person to call-out sick for work or for school, but at the same time they could be the most unhealthy and illness-prone people in your area. They could be the friendliest who have the most ready smiles ever but they could also be among the most unsociable and the most unpolitically-correct people on earth.

They could be the best people to keep your best-kept secrets safe and they could be the most loose-lipped people you could meet. They could be the most pious people on earth and at the same time, they could be the most gregarious.

They could cook the most sumptuous food one day and they could cook the most revolting and most stomach-churning meals the next.

They could be among the best singers, musicians, song writers, even dancers of any race but they could also have the most nauseating singing voice you have ever heard in your life.

Such is the Filipino Enigma, The Filipino Mystery as I call it.

Apples and Oranges

And comparing Filipinos abroad and Filipinos in the Philippines are in most cases like comparing apples to oranges, or apple pies to “buko” (coconut) pies. For, it is as if Filipinos think, talk, act and are a totally different breed if they are living abroad than if they are living in the Philippines, go figure. And don't even make me start with how some people are one person in real life and a totally different person online (but that of course could be said of all people everywhere).

So in the end, it is always, always, always hard to put them in a box, or label them or classify and categorize them, as most times they had broken the (balikbayan) box they came in with.

So if you could ever figure out that Filipino or Filipina in your area, in your office, in your class, in your job site, send me a message, please, as I am truly mystified myself. “Mabuhay ang Filipino!”


Writer is a Manila born, raised and educated Filipino now based for almost a decade now in Sunny California, US of A.


St Louis Expo 1904 (Human Zoo)

A group of Igorot villagers from the Philippines on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.
A group of Igorot villagers from the Philippines on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.

The Igorots from the Philippine Islands

(The First Look For Most Americans For the People In the Philippines)

The United States made the Philippine campaign the centre point of the 1904 St Louis World's Expo. In what was enthusiastically termed a "Parade of Evolutionary Progress," visitors could inspect the "primitives" that represented the counterbalance to "Civilization" justifying Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Pygmies from New Guinea and Africa, who were later displayed in the Primate section of the Bronx Zoo, were paraded next to American Indians such as Apache warrior Geronimo, who sold his autograph.

But the main draw was the Philippine exhibit complete with full size replicas of Indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the "civilizing" influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains' natural resources on the heels of the Philippine-America War. It was, reportedly, the largest specific Aboriginal exhibit displayed in the exposition. As one pleased visitor commented, the human zoo exhibit displayed "the race narrative of odd peoples who mark time while the world advances, and of savages made, by American methods, into civilized workers."



Submit a Comment

  • J@ps profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Southern California

    You've hit the bullseye, & the result among other things are as you have mentioned, flipping and flopping & lack of identity if not a crisis of identity.

    And you are so right, 150 years of Islam, 300 years in the convent, 50 years of Hollywood plus 5 years of the Jap occupation coupled with the Chinese, Indian and now the Korean invasion really makes for a bad mix.

  • A.Villarasa profile image

    Alexander A. Villarasa 

    8 years ago from Palm Springs

    Actually most of us leave the Philippines out of economic needs. The 300 hundred years and the 50 years that we were under Spanish and American colonial rule respectively did not do much for our own self-esteem. Someone joked that Filipinos, after having spent 300 years in a Spanish convent, then suddenly be exposed to American culture (Hollywood and all) for 50 years, became so schizophrenic that their sense of national identity just did not come to full fruition. So we flip and we flop in almost evewrything that we do, as your article so revealed in great detail.

  • J@ps profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Southern California

    Hello Mr. Villarasa,

    I appreciate your comment, many thanks. And you are correct with the bad leadership coupled with the bad weather, haven't thought of that.

    On the other hand, I did mention the fact that apparently, Filipinos were kicking out their fellow Filipinos out of their own land, or something to that effect, for the last 40 or so years.

  • A.Villarasa profile image

    Alexander A. Villarasa 

    8 years ago from Palm Springs

    Excellent piece, but you failed to mention the most important factoid of all about Filipinos... that they, over the past 60 years, have become exiles in their own land, orphans of God in a country persistently ruled by bad leaders and episodically riled by bad weather.

  • J@ps profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Southern California

    Thanks bro.


  • denden mangubat profile image

    denden mangubat 

    8 years ago from liloan, cebu, philippines

    nice bro


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