I was never any good at Geography and to be honest, when I was younger, I never really had an interest in other countries or world affairs, so to be frank here, I didn’t actually have any clue where the Philippines even was or anything about the Filipino people. However, through watching Miss Saigon, I learned that the majority of the cast were Pinoy including the lead role of Kim, (Lea Salonga) and the alternate Kim (Monique Wilson). In those days, (late 80’s and the 90’s) there was no such thing as Facebook so it was hard to follow the lives of these stars or to learn about other cultures via social media channels.
I used to wait at the stage door on many nights, to collect the autographs of the cast and meet them. I even took a few photos, in those treasured days when you actually didn’t know how well your photo had turned out until you got it developed weeks later! (Til this day I still have some Miss Saigon memorabilia which I treasure).
So, I guess I developed a passion for Filipinos and Pinoy culture through my love of the show. I believe even now, Miss Saigon can be credited for bringing over a generation of talented Filipino stars and indeed introducing them to the world stage. You only need to look at the impact Lea Salonga has had around the world in terms of promoting the Philippines and her work in musical theatre. As well as being cast as Kim in London at the sweet age of seventeen, she went on to lead in other shows including Les Miserables where she played Eponine, and even performed at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.
There have been successive stars who have helped to introduce Filipino culture and talent to the world stage. These include many other cast members including Monique Wilson, Miguel Diaz, Joanna Ampil, Pinky Amador and now Jon Jon Briones (who starred as the Engineer in the last production in the UK as well as being in the original cast back in 1989) and the collection of more emerging Filipina talents such as Rachelle Ann Go, and the American-born Filipina Eva Noblezada who plays Kim in this amazing revival.
This article however is not really about Miss Saigon, what it is about in fact is the impact the Philippines and Filipino people have had on my life. So many people ask me why I love the country and people so much? I guess through my experiences and the hospitable welcome I received when I made my first trip ever abroad to the Philippines when I was eighteen years old; I have engraved the Philippines in my heart and mind.
So the question remains, why do I have such love, respect and admiration for the Filipino people? There are some eleven million overseas Filipino workers or OFW’s around the globe. You see Filipino’s in nearly every airport, hotel, hospital, care home, airline and other service sector industry around the world, caring for and helping people; be it looking after a sick relative, caring for the elderly, looking after people’s homes or family or serving the public.
Filipino’s are in my opinion a very caring and hospitable people, what helps them to stand out I believe and make them so employable in these sectors is their passion, dedication, empathy and of course their smile and ‘can do’ attitude. Filipino’s are never afraid of working hard to support their families and pursue their dreams. How many Filipino’s do you see relying on benefits or state support? In the Philippines, there is no unemployment benefit or many of the other benefits that we often take for granted here in the UK and Europe. Hard work and sacrifice therefore prevail, to the point of some Filipino’s being forced to leave their homes and families to seek a better life abroad is something all too common and I believe admirable.
Filipinos have managed to blend into society, culture and accommodated to different lifestyles worldwide. My worry with this however is that sometimes Filipino’s may need a voice, as they are often very tragically taken advantage of and mistreated due to their caring, accepting attitudes, unwilling to make a fuss or seem out of place. I never really wanted to become a voice or indeed campaign for Filipino issues and concerns, although through the power of social media and my writing of ‘Open Letters,’ I have stood up and become one of those voices who believe that the Filipino people deserve only the upmost respect and admiration for their contribution to the world. This voice needs to be heard and the rights of Filipino’s worldwide need to be respected and upheld.
Finally, I would like to see a day when leaving the Philippines in search of work and a better life becomes a choice and not a necessity, God bless the Philippines and her people. Mabuhay tayong lahat.'
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