By Jeffrey Cabuay, Toulouse
Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was one of the first Filipinos to ever set foot in France. This was the time when people had to brave the long sea voyages to go to Europe. His discovery of the country came about when he made a two-days-and-a-half stopover en route to Barcelona. A year after, he visited the country again and stayed for more than two months with the goal of improving his medical training through his visits to Parisian hospitals and its faculty of medicine.
Rizal was part of the first wave of Filipinos who went to France. He was amongst the affluent of the Philippines who can afford the expensive cost of living in Paris. They were mostly composed of intellectuals, artists and businessmen. Several waves of diaspora followed suit. The second one came from rich Filipino families fleeing the chaos brought about by the Philippine Revolution in 1896. Some headed to France because they were involved with the revolution and are escaping the Spanish persecution. Others came after serving the military alongside their American counterparts for the two world wars. They stayed and made France their home.
Asian New Year celebration at the Capitole, Toulouse with Hon. Consul Jeffrey Cabuay (center)
Filipino community in Montpellier together with Ambassador Theresa Lazaro (center)
The third wave came about in the 1970s when French companies which had projects in the Middle East hired Filipinos as part of their workforce. These employees working as technical men or service staff found haven in the country when conflicts in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq erupted. Many also came about because of the no-visa policy of that decade. France had a high demand for service staff during those times. The fourth wave came from family and friends of Filipinos who obtained legal working status in the country.
After a few generations, these people with Filipino roots aliment the growing workforce in industries like IT, medical staff, engineering, accounting and also in the legal field. The worldwide Filipino diaspora is about 8 million. Most of this population are in the Americas, Middle East & Africa and the Asia & Pacific. A mere 6 percent of this 8 million are in Europe and in this 6 percent, there are about 45 thousand Filipinos in France.
Get together in Lourdes
In the Hexagon, another name for France because of the geographical shape of the country, there is a region called Occitanie. It is located at the southern tip of the country and borders foreign countries as Andorra and Spain. This region usually receives lots of sunlight compared to most parts. The warmth of the smiles of Filipinos who reside the territory surpass the “sunnyness” of the heat experienced there. You can almost feel the warmth of their joy and character just by hearing their voices and feeling their presence. Filipinas here, yes most of them are women, are mostly married to foreigners, especially Frenchmen. Their children carry the same sort of joyous spark coming from their Filipino ancestry even when most of them have foreign parentage.
The Filipino community is very socially active. They join organisations, participate in their children’s activities and involve themselves in Filipino groups partaking in varied events that make them feel Filipino again. Individually, they invite each other to their respective homes and sometimes eat or snack out every now then. You can see them move around the pink city, Toulouse, which is also the region’s capital. They may walk along the beautifully tree lined Canal du Midi or do this with a 240-km bike ride. For those wanting to combine spirituality and history, they go to Lourdes or to the 13th century brick structured Sainte Cecile Cathedral in Albi. Some go to Montpellier to see its incredible, old-world charm. They may even venture to the mountainous regions of the Pyrénées.
Groups organise cultural celebrations during the Philippine Independence Day or the Asian New Year. Activities include cooking workshops, bingo games or sports fests. Often, their families and foreign spouses join in the mayhem when Filipinas come together and make these fun-filled events.
Wherever Filipinos go, be it in the sunny South of France or elsewhere, the most precious things are the laughter exchanged, stories circulated and delicacies shared amongst family and friends.
Book - The Philippines and France: Discovery, Rediscovery. Philippine Embassy in France. 2019.
Website - dfa.gov.ph/distribution-of-filipinos-overseas. 2015.