The Irony of Immigration
The good? Immigrant communities exist. The bad? The reason why they have to.
The already blazing sparkle in my eyes from the sight of all the Filipinos surrounding me was nowhere near to the intensity to which my mouth was salivating over the smell of freshly cooked Filipino dishes. It is a Saturday afternoon, and my first week living in San Francisco for the summer, and I chose to be here, sitting down in the middle of the food court of this “Seafood Market” in Daly City.
To my left: Grill City cooking up barbecue chicken, pork on skewers and other grilled delicacies. To my right: fried everything! Greasy & oily bagnets, chicharones, and other fat-saturated stuff that cater well to tastebuds, but make heart attacks come at earlier ages. In front of me: the bee of Jollibee staring down at me with his large eyes, the aroma of Pan de Sals steaming out of Valerio’s bakery and a new and large Red Ribbon sign still kept pristine (for now). And of course, TFC (The Filipino Channel) and SMDC (SM Megamall Development Corporation) advertising their home-in-a-channel-box and condominiums-for-sale. Behind me, the supermarket, a Filipino immigrant’s shopping haven with Mang Tomas bottles, sampalok sachets, imports of all shapes and sizes, and intricately shaped meats cut up to cater to the best way to make your everyday Filipino cuisine. One last: an street food buffet with kikiam, fishballs, squidballs, turon, and more to boot.
I’ve been warned that Daly City was called Filipinotown for a reason, making up maybe 80+% of the population in this town. (And making that lone White woman at the checkout counter and the sole Arabic couple buying produce feel like outcasts in a sea of brown Pinoys.)
But despite meeting and befriending a multitude of Filipinos globally (on a bus ride to Brussels, on the streets of Copenhagen, in a restaurant in Rome, along the shopping isles of Dubai), and despite knowing the statistics of the global Filipino population, I’m always still surprised to see so many Pinoys in one place. If, by some crazy mind-control frenzy, all Filipinos banned together to wreak havoc in the cities they reside in with the goal of becoming a superior group, we could probably take the world over in a week.
After not being in the Philippines for a while (by a while I mean a few months, probably nothing compared to the many more years others have been away, but far too long by my standards nonetheless), it’s exciting being around “my people”: hearing the language, speaking it, basking in the familiarity of their faces, feeling that quiet sense of community.
But while it’s great that there exist these pockets of Filipino communities globally, I recall why they must live elsewhere in the first place. Because of the depressing status in life they had back home and the lack of opportunity for themselves and their future families. That they chose to leave their houses, their loved ones, their communities for a chance at a “better life”. That they seek possibilities in a country that will (and I quote from my grandma) “always treat them as second-class citizens.” That they have to constantly search for home through imports and foreign-established Jollibees because the group of islands they once called home is not an option they can endure any longer.
And we have a long way to go before we give these people all the more reason to go back.