Chameleons? Why Filipinos live & work in just about every country in the world

The words “why are Filipinos like chameleons” showed up on my blog’s search engine terms recently.

Chameleon definition

Mixed-Up-Chameleon by Eric CarleI did not write an article (until now) that connected the two words — Filipino and chameleon — but I do write often about Filipinos and the Philippines, wildlife, and about a particular chameleon, as in the Eric Carle book that I read to my grandchildren, The Mixed-Up Chameleon.

Initially I thought the search words were funny.  Chameleons — a special kind of lizard — are not native to the Philippines.  And then I wondered what information was sought…was this inquiry and the string of words derogatory?

And are Filipinos like chameleons? We Filipinos do tend to blend in, don’t we?   We all speak English (very well — and most with a clear American accent) and since English is one of the most popular language in the world, all that much easier to blend in, right?

Aside from language, is it also because most Filipinos are Christians?  A Pew Research demographics study on global religion found that Christians are the most evenly dispersed around the world and represent the largest percentage among the world’s religion  (2.2 billion or 32% of the world’s majority religion) .

20_religionCountryMap from Pew Research

Graphic on majority religions by country from Pew Research. The Philippine archipelago has the most Christians among countries in Southeast Asia,

I am pretty sure that Filipinos live and work in just about every country in the world — around 10% of the total population, and 2.2 million contract or Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) — according to Philippine government data.

  • When I lived in Germany in the mid 1980’s, one of the first things our landlord, Klaus, wanted to do was to introduce me to the Filipina married to a local German, in our town of Dudeldorf.
  • When we first immigrated to the United States and living in Portland, Maine (of all places, right, and not exactly a hotbed for Filipinos in America) my mother quickly found another Filipina living nearby who befriended us.

So,  super chameleons?  Able to survive in any environment, no matter where on the globe?  Or rather, is it more because we don’t stick out?  The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898, so most Filipinos have Spanish last names.  Is this another way we blend, since our names are not so unusual?

A friend theorized that because the Philippines is a nation of islands (over 7,000 in case you did not know), Filipinos are accustomed to traveling beyond their own island to the next…and the next, so what is another 5,000 more miles?  It’s in our DNA!  Hmmmn, interesting, and maybe!

Are Filipinos everywhere because they like adventure, because Filipinos like to travel? Is it by necessity, for survival? Because we must…as a sacrifice to contribute financially for the greater good of the family?

In 1980, the Philippines scored higher than China, Thailand and Brazil on the United Nations (UN) Human Development Indicators (HDI). The most recent UN HDI report show these three countries now have higher HDI scores than the Philippines.  And after World War II, the only other country in Asia richer than the Philippines was Japan.

So what happened?  Could it be because the Philippine population has more than DOUBLED in the last 3 decades?.

The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world, and according to United Nations GDP / per capita income data, over 40% of Filipinos live on less than $2 per day.

These days, I think Filipinos are everywhere primarily because of over population and because the economy cannot support the population…so by necessity.

Every year, millions of Filipinos have no choice but to leave their homeland to find work elsewhere.  Many work in the shipping industries (notice that when cruise lines, or container ships are in the news, often, there are Filipino crew members?)

The Philippines export nurses all over the world.  And most recently, our teachers, too.

It is easier to understand Filipino communities in neighboring countries like Australia, New Zealand, especially Korea and Japan.  But Zambia?  ICELAND, The Isle of Mann?

Tropical Philippines web

Photo of banka (traditional Philippine outrigger boat) From lush green tropics to….Scandinavia?

And how is it that Filipinos manage to survive, and even thrive in countries with climates and cultures so different from their homes?  And do we — the chameleons —  blend in no matter where we are  because it’s safer if others like us, accept us, include us in their, and what then becomes OUR community?

In Sweden alone, there are over 20 Filipino communities! (see Fincomlas Sweden)

I admire Filipino characteristics — our friendly, caring nature, resilience, our sense of humor, and strong commitment to family  — and yes, maybe the chameleon qualities in a positive sense.  But I do hope that in my lifetime, the majority of Filipinos who live and work overseas will be because of their own choice to do so, and not because they have no other choice.

This post was inspired by a search query on my blog, and turned emotional when I thought of families torn apart and separated for many years due to the economic needs of Filipinos.  I’ll continue to explore more on this topic, and of course to celebrate and remember our food and culture.

In the meantime, if you are a Filipino in a faraway place, please share your experience, or your family’s experience.  Do you think Filipinos are like chameleons?  If so, is this positive or a negative?

Related posts:

Biggest and Smallest Shark

I’ve posted several articles about sharks on my blog — originally because of my irrational fear of sharks.  When I think of sharks, I usually think of BIG sharks…like the 4,000 lb shark tagged in 1990′s off Santa Cruz county caught in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Q A book about Sharks by Ann McGovernMy older grandson read the Scholastic book Questions and Answers about SHARKS by Ann McGovern, and we learned more!  Note: The book is great for readers in Grade 3 to Grade 5.

So…we knew that there were over 370 different types of sharks and about the whale shark — which at 60 feet long is the biggest shark, and the biggest fish in the world.

We didn’t know about the a tiny shark that fits in the palm of your hand.  Except:

The Japanese named it tsuranagakobitozame.  The word means “the dwarf shark with a long face.”

At about 5 inches long, the tsuranagakobitozame is one tiny shark (with a very long name)!

To learn more about whale sharks (which are listed as Vulnerable” on the IUCN Redlist. because of pressures from unregulated fisheries in China, India and the Philippines), please visit the Georgia Aquarium’s FAQ page, here.  The Georgia Aquarium and the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Japan, are places to see whale sharks on exhibit.

Also visit the The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Ichthyology Department for a great FAQ page on shark basics, here…and if you are curious to know if sharks sleep, if sharks have bones, or how long sharks live.

Did you know….fossil records show that the ancestors of modern sharks swam in our oceans over 400 million years ago?  That makes them older than dinosaurs!  Turns out that sharks have changed very little over time.

Click here to view’s shark related posts

Books – Learning Colors

~ Here are two great books helpful to youngsters who are learning their colors, and will be added to our Favorites Pages.  Four-year old Gabriel really enjoyed the construction of these color books. ~

The Mixed-Up Chameleon – By Eric Carle

Eric Carle has written so many books that most households with children probably has at least one (even outside the U.S., as his most popular book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has been translated into 50 languages).

The Mixed-Up Chameleon is among our favorite Eric Carle book.

The book is about a  chameleon who sees a zoo —- and instead of just blending into different colors like a regular chameleon — he actually turns into the color and parts of the various animals he sees. This results into strange-looking combinations, making the chameleon look even stranger with each new animal and color he encounters.

Constructed with cutaways, each new page reveals a color tab on the right side, and matching color/animal on the left side.  By the end of the book, a rainbow is revealed, with the chameleon returning to his true shape .  One of the best color-learning books that we have come across.

Lemons are not Red – by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

This book is constructed with clever cutouts that work in bright colors and objects as you turn the page.

My grandchildren particularly enjoy these types of books, and they looked forward to turning the pages to reveal the correct object color.   There is minimal text so the focus is on learning colors.

Lemons Are Not Red starts out with yellow pages with a cutout of a red lemon.  When you turn the page, the lemon cutout reveals the previous (yellow) page and is then the correct color.

The pattern repeats with other objects like eggplant, carrots, flamingos, etc.

Book: Artichoke Boy

~ We will add this book to our Favorites Page ~

We live in an area perfect for growing artichokes…so pretty much, if we drive to go anywhere, especially on the way to Tae Kwon Do practice, we see fields with rows upon rows of artichokes.

And so with the boys already familiar with artichokes, it was fun for them to read a book about an artichoke boy and his artichoke-loving family.

The artichokes show up in the pages as ears, eyeballs, hair, knees, and there is even an artichoke bath and an artichoke bed.

But of course, being 4 and 6-year-old boys, the favorite artichoke boy picture page was the when artichoke boy was at the beach — and showed a little of his artichoke derriere.

Seems boys this age laugh out loudly at anything having to do with derrieres, or as they call it, but-buts.

The book is the first written and illustrated by artist Scott Mickelson.  Published by Boyds Mills Press.

Scott is a member of the San Francisco based alternative rock/folk band, Fat Opie,

Bob Staake’s Look! A Book!

~We are adding this book to our Favorites Page~

Look! A Book! By Bob Staake

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (February 1, 2011), 48 Pages.

My grandsons — especially 6-year-old Jun — are currently into “I Spy” types of books.  The boys really liked this book…and with a subtitle  “A Zany Seek-and-Find Adventure”,  I could see why.

Right from the start, the boys were intrigued by the page style.  It starts out with 3 rhyming word lines and 3 punched holes on the page– that peeks into the next page.

They liked putting their fingers through the holes, then flipping the pages back and forth before settling in to search for the item they were supposed to find.

The pictures were terrific and there were many details — as you would expect — to make the find challenging.  This is the first book we have read by the writer / illustrator Bob Staake, who won a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award in 2006.

The structure of the book kept 4-year-old Gabriel engaged to the very end…and both boys were disappointed that the book ended.

So it’s a good thing the author included another “finding” exercise at the end!  Which we did not have time for –but was a nice enticement to continue looking again the next day.

I remember when my daughter was a little girl, the “Where’s Waldo” book series were very popular and she had a few of those books—though I don’t remember the Waldo books having the fun rhyming words.

Great rhyming words are always a good feature for beginning readers — so in that sense, (plus the interesting punch through holes) this is a definite improvement from the Where’s Waldo series.

Book – I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!

~ We added this book to our Favorites page ~

Six year old Jun was already familiar with this book– from his teacher’s classroom.

And it is how I came across the book, during my last day of volunteer time.   I still find it hard to believe that the school year is over!

My task that day was to watch over a group of kids while they watercolor painted — on paper– a drawing of their arm.  They must have recently read the book…

This book is about a little boy who gets into big trouble when caught painting on places he is not supposed to, like the floor, the ceiling, the walls etc.

His Mom yells “Ya Ain’t a-Gonna Paint No More!” and puts away his paints and brushes, far away —or at least she thought—inside the closet’s top shelf.

With his dog’s help and a makeshift stair/ladder, the boy gets his paints and brushes back,  and proceeds to paint his body, one body part at a time.  He paints his dog too.

The rhyming words were great to guess what body part the boy will next paint.  The illustration is fun — black and white until the boy paints— and then so vibrant that it seems the paint may still be wet.

Jun remembered the picture with the painted hand, and before we turned the page warned me it was “scary”.  We turned the page to a picture of a face (on the hand) with ants crawling into the mouth.  He said, “See Lola…I told you!”

He then he declared prior to the painted leg picture page that it was going to be BEAUTIFUL…and it was.

Four year old Gabriel enjoyed it too, though he was more quite than usual. Maybe he was tired, or remembered that he was recently in trouble for taking a green Sharpie pen and writing on the stair and hallway walls.  Oh oh…

By Karen Beaumont and Illustrated by David Catrow.  Published in 2005 by Harcourt.

Book – Llama Llama Red Pajama

~~We have added this book to our Favorites page~~

By Anna Dewdney

An instant family favorite, this book was a gift from Jun and Gabriel’s great-grandmother Nancy.  The rhyming words are fun to read and to hear, and the pictures are so sweet and truly adorable.

The story is about Llama Llama’s bedtime routine and feeling alone after his Mama kisses him goodnight.  The boys — and I think most children — related right away to Llama Llama’s anxiety, impatience, fear and his “Llama-Dramas”.

When we read the part of the story where Llama Llama, feeling afraid, puts his bed cover over his face, the boys ask to pause… so they too could put their own bed covers over their faces.  Only then are they are ready to continue when Llama Llama yells for Mama Llama to RUN RUN RUN!

The worried Mama rushes up to check on Llama Llama, only to find that Llama Llama is OK and was just impatient.  Hands on her waist, these lines from Mama Llama follows:

Baby Llama, what a tizzy!  Sometimes Mama’s very busy.
Please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your Mama.

Anna Dewdney has since written 3 more Llama Llama books.


Book – Little Pea

~~We added this book to our favorites page~~

We read this book about 1 year ago, and it still comes up in conversation for the boys, so we recently read it again.

It is by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Illustrated by Jen Corace.  Published by Chronicle Books.

It is about a Pea (as in the vegetable) family — the Papa Pea, Mama Pea and Little Pea.

The Little Pea liked many things except for CANDY.  And that is what Little Peas had to eat …candy.  Candy on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so on.

We enjoyed the simple illustrations, and especially the various candies Little Pea had to eat before he could have his dessert — which was his favorite, SPINACH.

The pages that shows Little Pea reluctantly eating his candy, one by one, and the accompanying word sounds, Yuck… Blech… Plck, Pleh… made the boys laugh.  They liked repeating the funny sounds Little Pea made.

The boys do love eating spinach too, so that was a plus…and a little book about a little pea that makes all of us laugh, is a plus too!

Here is the link to author Amy’s (very cool) website.

Sitting In My Box

~~This is a book we added to our Favorites ~~

Recently,  my grandsons played for hours with two giant boxes that came from a delivery.  Lucky, they were the same exact size!  They put pillows and blankets inside, and in the living room watched an entire movie while inside their boxes.

I have heard parents talk about holidays where new gifts or pricey toys were ignored in favor of playing with the huge box that the gift came in — so it is easy to see why the boys enjoyed this book.

Sitting in my Box is by Dee Lillegard, with pictures by Jon Agee (Originally published in 1989 and recently republished by Marshall Cavendish Classics).

The text is fun to read to children, and great for beginning readers.

The story begins with a little boy reading a book inside a box.  Each page follows with animals wanting to be let in the box, starting with a giraffe, then an elephant, baboon….etc. until there is no room to sit.

That is until a flea knocks and bites the animals, causing them all to leave, and ends with the little boy by himself again with his book.

City Dog, Country Frog

I think by now I have read hundreds of books to my grandchildren.  This book is one of my all-time favorites for its pictures. 

The beautiful water colors capture touching expressions from the dog and the frog.

The story ventures into territory not often explored in children’s books — the life cycle, and yes…even the loss of a friend.

The book is about a city dog who goes to the country and finds a frog for a friend.

The story spans all seasons, from Spring to Winter, then Spring again.

It is a story that was understood by the little guys, and still had a happy ending.

The picture of frog holding a leaf over dog during a Summer rain was so precious, as well as in the Fall, of frog telling city dog about  “remember-ing games”

This book does have a sad part, but its message of fun and friendship overall is heartwarming. Families with pets are confronted with the cycle of life at some point, especially when a family pet dies.  This book presents a valuable lesson in that sometimes friendships may end, but you will also find new beginnings —- and new friends.

Some of the page pictures were so beautiful I wanted to frame them!

Words by Mo Willems and pictures by Jon J Muth.  (Hyperion Books for Children-2010)

Do Froggies Say Ko-Kak or Ribbit-Ribbit?

When my daughter was about 4, she asked me what sounds frogs made, and having grown up in the Philippines, I replied “Ko-Kak, Ko-Kak”.  She then went to her Dad asking the same question, and of course, being an American, he said “Ribbit-Ribbit”.

Frog on Lily Pad

Photo by Rosemary Ratcliff,

What to do when you are a four-year old multi-cultural little girl?  Why, combine the two sounds of course, and she happily hopped around the house saying “Ko-Kak, Ribbit, Ko-Kak, Ribbit, Ko-Kak, Ribbit”.

We always remembered this story, because together her combined froggy sounded, well… so cute.

We have read some fun books on animal sounds that my grandchildren enjoy.

The first is called Mung-Mung, A fold-out book of Animal Sounds.

It is by Linda Sue Park with illustrations by Diane Bigda. (Charlesbridge, 2004).


The second is Everywhere the Cow says Moo!, by Ellen Slusky Weinstein and illustrated by Kenneth Andersson.

(Boyds Mills Press, 2008)


Mung Mung has many animal sounds from English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Italian, Russian, Polish, Hindi, German and Swedish, Arabic and French.

Everywhere the Cow says Moo! is focused only on English, Spanish, French and Japanese.

Both books are about the same number of pages and have great pictures and fun placement of text, which my grandchildren had fun with (works well with their ages 4 and 6).

Let me know if you would like to add other similar books to this post so we can learn more animal sounds from different cultures.

Lola Jane