The words “why are Filipinos like chameleons” showed up on my blog’s search engine terms recently.
I 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) .
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?
Photo of banka (traditional Philippine outrigger boat) Lolako.com. 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?
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