Stories from the diaspora: PH Independence Day for young Filipinos abroad
MANILA, Philippines – For students in the Philippines, June 12 is a date to remember.
The week before Independence Day is usually filled with fanfare in many schools.
Homemade flags are hung around classrooms. Teachers come out with all sorts of tricks and strategies to make young ones learn about that 'glorious day in Philippine history.'
Some schools even have students prepare dance numbers or stage plays to commemorate the day the Philippines finally declared its independence from Spain in 1898.
For students, there's one major takeaway in all this: June 12 is a holiday.
Growing up in the Philippines, it’s hard to miss this special day and not know what it is about and who to thank for it.
But for Filipinos who grew up miles away from their home country, does the Philippine Independence Day mean anything?
“Honestly, it’s like nothing at all. I just wake up normally on June 12."
Jerica Jazmine Reolo, 15, answered when I asked her about how they commemorate Philippine Independence Day in Singapore, where she lives.
There's a stark contrast between this and how Singaporeans celebrate their independence, which she says is a 'grand celebration' every year.
Jerica has been in Singapore since she was 8, living with her parents who had been working there for a long time. She is currently studying in Northbrooks Secondary School, where she is known as a student leader and an athlete.
The Reolo household is still very much Filipino. They eat Filipino food, tune into news about the Philippines, and regularly go to church. Every year, they get to visit their relatives in the Philippines. "I’m just happy that [Rodrigo] Duterte is the new president,” she even shared.
But her home is pretty much where most of her interaction to the Filipino culture is. Being a secondary school student, she spends most of her time in school - with Singaporeans.
“So what is the Filipino culture for you?” I asked.
“It’s colorful. Vibrant. Proud,” she said.
“What do you know about Independence Day?” I asked.
"All I know is that it’s on June 12. That’s it,” she answered. "It doesn’t really have so much impact to me."
She did clarify that it does matter to her, knowing that she was born in the Philippines. But she doesn’t really have much opportunity to learn more about the country's history.
Despite that, Jerica says she is still proud to be Filipino. Her courage to take initiatives, she said, is something she attributes to her Filipino upbringing.
But when I asked her if she ever wants to go back and live in the Philippines, she answered, "I already have my plans, and it kind of leads to my dream to live in Japan. But I’d probably visit once in a while."
“It’s June 12, right?”
Isiah Galve, who will be turning 18 soon, said when I asked him what he knows about the Philippine Independence Day.
I said yes. His eyebrows furrowed as he started thinking of more answers to my question. He later gave up and said, "I’ll be honest, I don’t know much. It’s something with Jose Rizal, right?"
Isiah moved to the United States with his family when he was only 10. Unlike Jerica, he’s never been back to the Philippines.
He just finished high school in Wauconda, Illinois, and is preparing to go to college soon.
Their household remains very Filipino as well. They eat Filipino food, talk in Tagalog every now and then, and watch Filipino television programs.
Isiah says, however, that there aren’t many opportunities for him to learn about Philippine history, living in Wauconda where there aren’t many Filipinos. "To be honest, my family doesn’t really celebrate it here. We know it exists, but we don’t really celebrate it,” he said.
But the love for the country he was born in is still alive.
"Maybe it’s just me, but I love the place where I came from [Philippines]. I had a lot of fun memories there, so it still means a little something to me. It’s not like it’s completely gone, like I don’t care about it," he explained. "I think it’s important for Filipinos abroad to be educated about it and know where you came from."
“Do you have plans to go back and live in the Philippines?” I asked.
"Definitely just visiting, but not to live there. I already know that I do not see myself going back there, knowing that I’ve become accustomed here already.”
Isiah and Jerica’s stories are the complete opposite of John Michael Yadao’s, a 15-year-old student born and raised in Athens, Greece.
The 5000-strong Filipino community in Greece is tight-knit and well-organized. Currently, there are 6 Philippine schools in Athens, one of which is the Philippine School in Greece (PSG) where John has been studying.
The Philippine School in Greece is the same as other schools in the Philippines – they have the same curriculum but they also teach students Greek language and culture.
“My parents wanted me to learn about the Filipino culture. They wanted me to know more about the Filipinos. They wanted me to grow up as a Filipino,” he explained when I asked him why he chose to study in a Filipino school.
John's household, he said, is a mixture of Greek and Filipino, but more Filipino.
When I asked him if he still knows about the Philippine Independence Day, he said, “Of course. They teach it to us in school every year.”
Independence Day is a major cause for celebration for the Filipino community in Greece. Filipinos gather for a parade and all 6 schools perform in front of the community. John says his school usually does a play or an interpretative dance. There are also other performances from the community, and contests like their annual ‘battle of the bands’ are also held.
“[Independence Day] means a lot to me. Our heroes sacrificed a lot for us, for our freedom. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t even be abroad."
They have other colorful Filipino events in Athens as well. In May, for example, they have a Santacruzan and then ‘Paskong Pinoy' (Filipino Christmas) every December.
“It is very important for us to know about Filipino culture and history. Simply because we are Filipinos. We have to know about our home,” he said.
I asked him what usually happens to graduates of the Philippine School in Greece. He said that most of them go back to the Philippines to study college.
Asked if he also plans to go back to his ‘home,’ he answered, “I’m not really sure yet.”
Jerica, Isiah, and John are just 3 of many young Filipinos growing up abroad.
Data from the Commission for Filipinos Overseas show that 20.87% of Filipino emigrants from 1981 to 2014 are 14 years old and below, the biggest portion among all age groups.
The data also shows that more and more Filipino children migrate every year.
Children of emigrants have to go through a strenuous process before they are allowed to migrate. Aside from completing various visa requirements, those 12 years old and below are required to attend a peer counseling session with the CFO to help facilitate their adjustment to a new environment.
Are you a Filipino living abroad? What does the Independence Day mean to you? Tell us in the comments or write on X! – Rappler.com