My heritage is not your fetish; the microaggressions I have experienced as a Filipina
By Mikaela Delos Santos, Publishing Editor
I will start off with frankness to avoid being accused of hypocrisy. I have a white boyfriend and have had previous relationships with white cis males around my age (keyword, my age). But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that my background as a Filipina has presented me with the microaggressions of creepy old men who thought they could woo me with their whiteness and foreign citizenship. The experiences I have had have most likely been experienced by your Filipina friends, girlfriends, daughters, and neighbours.
I’ll tell you a story to give you a picture of what I deal with. Back in 2020, I worked a retail job mostly dominated by contractors and overall, white men. At the time, our store got a new manager, we’ll name him Dick for this article.
I was 19, still quite naive about the people I deal with at this job. I’ve only had great relationships with my previous colleagues and managers, and so I came into this job hoping to keep that same respect.
Dick was introduced to us, and in some weird way, he tried to hug me instead of an elbow bump. This was during the peak of COVID, and as store policy, we avoided handshakes. In an attempt to avoid his hug, I shrugged it off quickly and tried shaking his hand. To which, in front of my co-workers, he slyly says “Oh no, no handshakes remember?”
I shrugged it off at the time, thinking to give him the benefit of the doubt. But my gut said otherwise, to which, since then I learned to listen to more. Anyways, it wasn’t until a certain conversation during one of my shifts that Dick’s true thoughts started to show.
He tried striking up a conversation with me, confirming that I am Filipina. “Oh, did you know I’m friends with Manny Pacquiao? I used to fly with him in his jets.” He asks. In my head, I rolled my eyes. Sure, you’re friends and flew with Manny Pacquiao in his jets but you’re out here working a construction retail job? It’s not that I’m belittling retail workers, if anything I highly respect them for what they have to deal with. It was obvious he was trying to get me excited about his supposed friendship with the Filipino billionaire athlete.
He carried on, telling me that he used to fly to the Philippines all the time. So out of curiosity, and hoping for a wholesome answer like “Oh I’m a Christian missionary! I went on missions there.” I asked why he was there often.
“Well, what do old white guys go to the Philippines for?”
I’m not dumb. I know what goes on in my birth country. The Philippines is unfortunately known for its sex tourism and child trafficking.
According to End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT International), a global network of non-profit organizations that aim to end child sexual exploitation, around one-tenth out of 200,000 street children in Manila are trafficking victims. The same organization also states that there are more than 60,000 young girls exploited through prostitution in the Philippines.
Growing up, the city of Olongapo, more specifically the municipality of Subic, has always been known for ‘bars’ that hire minors to be prostituted. The bars catered to foreign men since Subic was once a US Naval Base.
I was stunned at what Dick had told me. On another occasion, he told me more about his Filipina wife.
“My wife is 25 years old now, so a little too old for me.” He said this, assumingly knowing that I was the youngest and only Filipina staff in the team.
With the help of another female co-worker, I filed a sexual harassment case against Dick, two weeks in his managerial role. It didn’t take until a white male co-worker complained against Dick that management decided to fire him.
Unfortunately, this behaviour is enabled by the sociocultural attitudes of many Filipino people towards foreign white men. Marrying a foreigner is seen as a way for many Filipinos, mostly women, to be able to go abroad, have a better quality of life, to rise up from poverty and help their families back in the Philippines.
I remember my grandpa jokingly telling me to “go to Boracay and find yourself a foreigner so you can marry him!” Boracay is a famous island near my grandparent’s home, known for its many international tourists.
While he probably meant well, it simply showed how it has been ingrained in the attitudes of many Filipinos to rely on foreigners. This outlook isn’t just exclusive to Filipino society. Television shows like 90 Day Fiance present the prominence of this attitude towards other second and third-world countries. One couple in the show, Mark, 58, and Nicki, 19, perfectly show some common stories and stereotypes of these attitudes.
Microaggression, as per Merriam-Webster, is described as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)”. Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster describes sexual harassment to be “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate.” While my experience is sexual harassment on paper, what I have experienced roots in the enabling of this microaggressive behaviour.
TikTok user @cupofchrissie has summarized the Filipino fetishization and microaggression that many Filipina women face. From my own personal experiences, Filipinas are exposed to these kinds of comments as young as during their pre-pubescent years. I was nine years old when my grandpa told me to find a foreigner.
It is important to note the difference between appreciating one’s culture, versus fetishizing it. I know when someone is fetishizing my heritage when someone mentions their Filipina wives or ex-wives unprompted, creepily calling me “maganda” (beautiful in Tagalog), and a constant need to impress with what they know about my culture. On the other hand, appreciating someone’s culture is a sincere and genuine curiosity about the traditions and values of one’s background. Those who appreciate it don’t feel the need to prove what they know about my culture, but rather they strive to learn more and understand the good and the contrasts between my heritage and theirs.
My passionate feelings towards the subject comes from knowing the unfortunate circumstances of many Filipino girls and children in the Philippines that are victims of predatory behaviours by older foreign men. Sadly, these circumstances are so commonplace and a ‘hush-hush’ subject that it enables these microaggressive behaviours.
I want to clearly mention that my story and my experience are not meant to generalize and put interracial relationships in a bad light. As someone who is also in a relationship outside of my race, it is something I am happy to talk about and celebrate. Rather, my aim in speaking out about this is to validate other Filipinas’ experiences and to put in writing the realities of what it means to be sexualized for my race, from someone who has experienced it firsthand.