From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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Prejudice against Filipinos in Korea

I thought that I have lived in Korea long enough to evade discrimination or at least get used to it, but when you are a Filipino living in Korea, you have to accept the fact that there will always be prejudice here against Filipinos, and you just have to deal with it, period.

Don’t get me wrong, life as a Filipina in Korea isn’t that bad. I have made a lot of Korean friends who are kind and unpretentious, worked with wonjangnims who treated me well, and met a couple of Koreans who have much respect for Filipinos and have good things to say about the Philippines; however, there are others whose blatantly racist remarks about my country and its people have made me feel so small, such as:

Oh, I can share a number of personal experiences with discrimination from the moment I came to this country, but to do so will make this article too lengthy and boring to read. I used to cry and complain to my husband about others’ unfair treatment, but I have learned that the best way to deal with prejudice is to NOT LET YOURSELF BE DRAGGED DOWN INTO THE PIT OF OTHERS’ IGNORANCE AND ANIMOSITY by feeling angry or drowning in self-pity. It’s either you ignore them, or you speak up. You can ignore jokes or petty remarks, but if you feel the need to say something, do so. Don’t sound so defensive, though. Speak to enlighten others of their wrong perceptions and not to argue.

They can't even get it right... T.T

They can’t even get it right… T.T

Last week, I started working in a new hagwon. While I was getting ready for my next class, a co-teacher approached me to say that if students ask where I am from, I should tell them that I’m from the United States and not from the Philippines, because as she puts it, Koreans “look down” on Filipino teachers. Although that wasn’t the first time I was asked to lie about being a Filipino, I was flabbergasted at how facilely those words came out of a fellow educator’s mouth. She probably thought that she was doing me a huge favor by giving me a heads up and by lying to the students about my nationality: “Some students were asking (me) where you are from and I said (that) you are from the USA.”

She wanted me to lie, too: “Maybe it’s better (if) you don’t tell them (that) you are (a) Filipino, because if they know (that) you are (a) Filipino teacher, they will not listen to you.”

“If their parents know (that the foreign teacher is from the Philippines), maybe they will not like it.”

As she was gabbling on and on about what Korean students or their parents might think if they find out that the new foreign teacher is a Filipino, I was thinking whether she was really referring to others’ prejudice against Filipino teachers… or she was trying to feign her own xenophobic attitude.

I was fuming inside, but I knew that if I let anger get the best of me, I would prove her right about all the things she previously said. “You know, the first time I was hired to teach in Korea, I was also asked not to tell the students that I am from the Philippines. I had to say that I was a Kyopo. I soon quit that job,”

I wanted to tell her to read my resume and watch me teach, so that her preconceived notions about Filipino teachers will somehow change, but even if I succeeded in changing her opinion of me, there are so many bigots out there who will always see Filipino teachers differently no matter how we try to prove ourselves.

Photo Take from: Pinterest

Photo taken from: Pinterest

“I’m not going to lie to keep a job,” I told her. “Besides, I already told most of the students that I’m from the Philippines, and they don’t seem to mind that their teacher is a Filipino.”

She looked at me, slightly surprised, perhaps not expecting that answer. Her last words to me before she left me alone were: “It doesn’t matter.” That was the only thing she said to me that day that actually made sense. I have been an ESL teacher for more than ten years, and I know that to the students I have taught, where I come from doesn’t really matter. I am a teacher who happens to be a Filipino. As an educator, I am damn good at what I do, and there are many Filipino teachers in Korea who are very good, too. It’s just disheartening that in a country like Korea, there are still some who believe that Filipino teachers are not competent enough to teach English, even if they have the degree and years of teaching experience.

An accomplished Filipina professor in Daegu, Prof. Emely Dicolen-Abagat, was also not spared from this kind of discrimination. In the Philippines, she wasn’t just any teacher, she was a respected administrator… but when one of her friends recommended her as a private teacher, this is what happened:

One time, my friend recommended me as a private English teacher to a “Gangnam Omma” to her daughter. We met in a coffee shop in Gangnam and the first question she asked me was, “Where are you from?” I proudly answered, “I’m from the Philippines!” Without hesitation, she tactlessly answered, “I don’t want a Filipina teacher for my daughter. I want a native speaker.” Without letting me finish my coffee, she left. When some Korean moms learn that I’m from the Philippines, they would immediately quote a lower price of tutoring fee compared with westerners.

(Source: abs-cbnnews.com)

If you search the net for teaching jobs in South Korea, you will usually find ads that require NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY. Some hagwons (academies) will hire Filipino teachers, but will offer the lowest salary. When I started looking for a teaching job in Korea, some hagwons offered me a salary that I thought I didn’t deserve, but no matter how I wanted the job, I DID NOT accept the offer. If you are a Filipino teacher in Korea, please do not accept less than what you think you are worth as a foreign teacher. It’s not merely about money. It’s about being treated fairly.

Discrimination is everywhere. The truth is, we can never get rid of it… but we can learn a lot from it and strive to be better. Because of experiencing prejudice in a foreign land, I have learned to love my country and appreciate my heritage. I have learned to be humble and tolerant of others. I have become stronger in my beliefs.

All the things that I heard Koreans say about the Philippines and Filipinos, whether good or bad, have helped me grow as a person. I may not be able to evade discrimination or get used to it as I have gotten used to kimchi, but now I know that I can cope with it by maintaining my integrity as a Filipino.  


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Representative Jasmin Lee Bashed for Proposed Bill

1For the past few days, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with shares of a post from Daum about the bill that Representative Jasmin Lee has (allegedly) proposed which seeks to give unregistered foreign children the right to a public education and government health services, and also exempts them from compulsory deportation and guarantees their right to live with their family in Korea. The post spawned negative reactions (and a few derogatory comments ) from Korean netizens, but what they fail to realize is that this bill was not actually proposed by the Filipina representative whom they are bashing. The bill was proposed by a group of Korean congressmen led by Representative 정청래.

What makes this bill controversial?

Although the bill is focused primarily on the rights of undocumented children, some netizens worry that it might worsen illegal immigration in South Korea, and even encourage it. Some commenters lament the bill’s possible impact on the economy if it gets approved:  If the children of undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay in Korea, the parents get to stay, too. They take away the jobs that should be given to Koreans and legal immigrants. They don’t pay their share in taxes, but they are entitled to free social services, and their children are given free education and healthcare benefits, which makes it unfair to tax-payers. The bill, however, does not only apply to undocumented children of illegal immigrants but to “all” undocumented children in South Korea, including those who have been abandoned by their parents and children who were born outside Korea whose documents have expired. It seems that there are also many Filipinos who are less enthusiastic about the bill, and sadly, they have no qualms about hurling stones at a fellow Filipino without really knowing what’s going on. One Facebook group of Pinay spouses was bombarded by negative comments when a member posted something about the proposed bill: 1 Most of the commenters are criticizing Representative Lee for prioritizing illegal aliens instead of foreign spouses and their children who need more government support and protection. On the other hand, there are commenters who voiced out their opinions regarding the proposed bill instead of taking out their anger on Representative Lee. A commenter suggested that more attention be given to abused women and children who have legal rights to stay in Korea, but are living in misery. She added that some families send their kids to school in other countries because Korean education is expensive, so providing free education for children of illegal immigrants who do not pay proper taxes at all is absurd. The truth is, both documented and undocumented children in South Korea are entitled to free public education until secondary school, only that education benefits of undocumented children are “limited” as described in an article from The Korea Times:

Under the current Education Law, children of registered citizens have free access to a six-year primary school and three-year middle school education. But it limits education for children of undocumented foreigners to the first six years. Furthermore, primary education is only available on the condition that a document identifying a child’s home address is submitted to the education authorities.

The problem with the current system is that most parents (who are illegal immigrants) don’t dare to enroll their children in public schools for fear of being deported if the schools ask for the address and identity of the parents. A family counselor in Korea told me that some schools do not accept immigrant children simply because they have no registration number. Take the case of a 16-year-old child of an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who was denied admission to high school because she doesn’t have a foreign registration number. Her middle school teacher sought the help of Gong Gam Human Rights Law Foundation and the girl was admitted only when it was explained to the local office of education that a child “may receive high school education regardless of the parents’ undocumented status” as stated in the School Registration Guideline for Multicultural Students issued by the Ministry of Education. The girl was fortunate enough to have someone stand up for her, but not all of these children are lucky. There are currently no laws that protect the rights of undocumented migrant children in South Korea. A couple of commenters are protesting about having to pay more taxes to support the needs of these undocumented children. Some are saying that they have to work hard to learn Korean language and assimilate into Korean culture, and wait for years before they are given permanent residence or citizenship, but this bill makes it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain legal residence in Korea until their children finish high school. They don’t even have to earn it; they just have to have kids that will give them the ticket. Some commenters believe that this bill will not get passed because Koreans won’t allow it, but if it does, it will create a conflict between Koreans and immigrants. There are those who are saying that we cannot bend the rules. If you stay in another country illegally and have a child in that country, then you have to face the consequences and not expect the government to cut you or your child some slack. My heart goes out to all undocumented children. It is not their fault that their parents choose to live in the shadows as illegal immigrants. It is not their fault that they were abandoned by irresponsible parents. It is not their fault that their neglectful parents failed to register their birth or that their documents expired. They are victims… victims of the law… victims of their parents’ actions. This bill, however, seems impossible to uphold if it does not set boundaries. It aims to help the children, but it also has huge drawbacks. Some are protesting that this bill tolerates people to break the law. Illegal immigration is a crime, after all. To be honest, I have my doubts about this bill, too. I always complain about the taxes that my husband and I have to pay in Korea, and I worry that we would end up paying more taxes once this bill gets passed, but lately, I began reading articles on immigration, and one of the solutions on illegal immigration that makes more sense to me is this one from an article from Phil for Humanity:

to allow illegal aliens to become legal residents and ultimately maybe even citizenship, thus illegal aliens would become legal residents who would pay their share in taxes

I agree with this solution, but illegal immigrants should undergo the same tedious process that legal immigrants go through before they get residence or citizenship in Korea. They should be given more requirements (or maybe do community service for a number of hours) for breaking the law in the first place.
We all have things to say about this proposed bill, but we are not even sure what it includes or excludes. What we know so far is that it seeks to give undocumented children in Korea free education, health care and social support until they finish secondary school. In the news articles that I have read, there was no mention of the children’s parents or how they might benefit from this bill. In this story, the protagonists are the children. We hope that this will all be about them… for them.
As for the bashing and fault-finding, let’s give it a rest, people! JTBC’s Fact Check has already explained this issue. The author of the bill is NOT Representative Jasmine Lee. I repeat… the author of the bill is NOT Representative Jasmine Lee.