In summer 2008 I interviewed a lovely young woman from the Philippines, now very active in the community in Norwich. This is her account:
I was born in Metro Manila, 37 years ago, and attended St Paul’s and then LaSalle, where I received my doctorate.
I married an Englishman and came to Norwich in August 2003. I like Norwich, where we have our home, and I have not suffered from culture shock as such, but have suffered some racism here, which was frightening. People who don't know me and who have never even spoken to me sometimes seem very hostile.
When I worked in the Library one or two would refuse to be served by me. Once a drunken woman in the street shouted out “Fuck you, Chinese!” and when her companions tried to quiet her she called it out again.
In my work I have to travel a lot across the city and usually take the buses. Once I tried to get on a bus and the driver deliberately closed the door on me and stared with such hatred as he slowly moved off, not looking at the road. I ran after him and he eventually stopped and as I got onto the bus he said sharply: “You didn’t say ‘thank-you!’” It was threatening, but I refused to be a victim and I protested, so he really disliked me then. Then on another occasion, by bad luck, I had the same bus driver and he made me get off the bus that evening when it was cold and dark and left me in the road to walk the rest of the way, saying the bus was ‘out of service’. That was the final straw and I took full particulars and went next day to the bus station and reported him officially. Luckily the company took me seriously and he was held to account. But I wonder how that bus driver, who didn't even know me, could act that way? I did nothing to him. What was he trying to do?
My work here in Norwich is very interesting and fulfilling. I find the weather a challenge, and there are some adaptions I have had to make. For example, it was my colleague’s birthday, and she was off-duty, so I proposed to my other workmates that we call her up and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, but they told me I shouldn’t disturb her at home. Boundaries are more rigid here than at home in Manila, boundaries between professional life, home life, family, neighbours, friends and colleagues. It's no problem for me to adapt to those expectations, but I miss the more spontaneous friendliness and warmth of the Philippines.
The Filipino community is quite large in the UK, and we try to keep in contact with one another and support each other. Email and websites like Filipinos United Kingdom keep us in contact, and we even have regular fiestas and beauty pageants. We also have a dedicated weekly radio broadcast.
Some Filipinos are not happy here - carers in poor working conditions, some abused brides and so on - help is available, but sometimes they have to take the first step to acknowledge they need help. Unregistered Filipino workers are vulnerable to exploitation.
On a happier note the great success story has been the employment of registered Filipino carers, nurses, lab technicians and other hospital workers here in the UK. Most are paid good salaries and work in excellent hospitals, and most are so happy with this that they are extremely hard working in return. They are famous for their professional and caring work. They learn marketable skills. They are allowed to bring family members over with them, their children receive a good education, and they can send money back to the Philippines. They can buy homes in the UK and many Filipinos become committed and contributing members of the community.
Most of all, they are treated with respect in Britain. Here hospital workers are part of the middle-class. Sadly that is not so much the case in the Philippines. This can be a good place to work, although most Filipinos I know plan to retire back in the Philippines when the time comes. That is what they are planning and saving for.
We will not be a drain on your country, but rather we help to keep the country going.