The New Breed of Excellence
Updated: Aug 16, 2021
How some Filipinos thrive and succeed on the south of Spain
Text and images by Jeno Pineda, Marbella
In 2017, Rhea Zamora arrived from the Philippines to Marbella. She came with her one-year old daughter and stayed with her sister until she could find work. A couple of months after, her husband followed. Uncertain of the future but mentally and physically prepared for a new life, they never gave up sending their CVs to every office in town until she landed a job in a Scandinavian I.T. company and him, in a telecom office. Four years after, she and her husband have been both promoted in their jobs, and are proud owners of a new apartment.
Rhea’s success story might seem like an anomaly to many. Afterall, most people expect Filipino immigrants to be working in environments we were always typecast in—in homes doing domestic chores, or in restaurants as wait staff. But in Marbella, a small but cosmopolitan town in the south of Spain, the narrative of Filipino workers is changing. The new generation of OFWs and migrants are breaking stereotypes through excellence in their crafts, powered by their innate Filipino work values and ethics such as handwork, commitment, responsibility and compassion.
Marbella is one of Europe’s favourite playgrounds for the rich and famous. Here, million dollar yachts and supercars are but an everyday sighting. It is one of the most sought after summer destinations in Europe thanks to its almost 300 days of sun, a very diverse population and a chilled lifestyle. With hospitality as the biggest industry sector, people come here not only to spend some days in the sun drinking Sangria but also to become part of its robust workforce. And of course, the Filipinos aren’t an exemption. Every year, they flock on the Costa del Sol like seagulls to try their luck and experience the well-balanced life that the town has to offer.
Marbella is part of the Spanish region of Andalucia where there are approximately 5,000-6,000 Filipino inhabitants, according to Leah Beltran, President of AFILCOS FED, the largest Filipino community group on the coast. In Marbella alone, there are 1,500 registered Filipinos, most of whom are working in the domestic and hospitality sectors, although in recent years a rise of Filipino workers in other fields has been undeniable.
“There are many Filipino professionals here in Marbella. I know of doctors, lawyers, realtors and business people thriving in this place. They make us all proud,” said Aurora Directo who has made a name for herself in Marbella’s real estate industry. Originally from Baler in the Philippines, Aurora has been working as a realtor in Marbella for twenty years and is considered one of the best in town when it comes to selling multi-million euro properties.
Asked what it takes for a Filipino to be successful abroad, she said, “It is a given that we Filipinos are resilient and hardworking people. This is why we can be considered as one of the best workforces in the world. But to be able to achieve more, I believe it boils down to education. We should continue educating ourselves in any way we can and strive for excellence at all times.”
Excellence is also what Jenny Baardsen offers as an English teacher to international students. “We Filipinos are kind, patient and hardworking. It’s the perfect recipe to a good teacher, I think,” she said. Having lived in Marbella for over six years, Jenny teaches all levels of English from beginner to advance, both Cambridge Exams and general English.
Of course, success is not immediate and it is not a Sampaguita-laden road to travel. Rhea, Aurora and Jenny had also experienced hardships and criticisms because of their heritage. “I once took a wealthy client for a property viewing. From where he came, he couldn’t believe that I was a realtor because A, I am Filipino and B, I am a woman. He was making snide comments to the point of being rude,” Aurora said.
“So what did you do?” I asked her.
“Well, we were in my car at that time so I stopped driving, open the passenger door, and politely asked him to step out. I hope he learned his lesson by the side of the road.”
We indeed hope he did. R&W
Jeno Pineda in Marbella
Rhea & family
Rhea with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and officemates
with Jenny Baardsen