FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND FILIPINO COMMUNITY
The Filipino community in Far North Queensland is estimated to have a population of about 6500 with members in a range of regional and rural areas. The majority of Filipinos live in Cairns in the Mooroobool, Manunda and Westcourt areas, where there is a community of about 2000 people.
The Filipino community has a unique position within the Far North Queensland population. The majority of Filipinos are women, who came to Australia on a fiancee or spouse visa, and most have some level of English as it is taught at school in the Philippines. However, there has been concern about the number of Filipino women experiencing difficulties with expectations and the reality of Australian life and with domestic violence.
The following have been raised as issues facing the local Filipino community:
· Cross-cultural conflict
· Inaccurate expectations about life in Australia
· Domestic violence
· Non-recognition of overseas skills and lack of employment
· Geographical isolation
· Accessing information, services and resources
· Keeping Filipino tradition, culture and values alive and passing this onto the younger generation
There is still a certain amount of stigma attached to being a Filipino who has married an Australian, although changes to immigration laws have meant that it is increasingly difficult to be a 'mail order bride'. Members of the Filipino community have commented on racism directed towards them from some of the wider community and a feeling that some judge them based on the colour of their skin. There are specific examples of overt racism, but many Filipinos also believe that more subtle, unspoken discrimination and prejudice takes place on a regular basis. The Filipinos, sadly, have accepted this as part of Australian life (and politics).
Those who lived outside major cities in the Philippines might not have had the opportunity to attend or to finish school and their English language skills may be limited or non-existent. This creates some difficulties with accessing resources in Australia, although there is quite a large amount of information translated into Tagalog (national language).
English taught in the Philippines is based on American culture and many English-speaking Filipinos have a slight American accent. As such, American terms are prevalent. There are reports of conflict between husband and wife due to language difficulties; although they are both speaking English, the Filipino does not always understand Australian terms or slang. A migrant also made the comment that when a Filipino comes to Australia, they are expected to learn more English / take English classes, but the husbands are not expected to learn Tagalog or a regional dialect. This, they believe, could also be a source of frustration for Filipino women.
Although inter-racial relationships make it easier for Filipinos to interact with the wider community and to be aware of services available, cross-cultural conflict can also arise. There are many sources of conflict, such as the lack of extended family in Australia and the need for Filipinos to provide financial support to family back home. In the Philippines, the overwhelming majority are Catholics, compared to the 25% in Australia and therefore Filipinos believe in the sanctity of marriage and divorce, separation, re-marriage and de facto relationships are difficult to accept. These points of view are instilled in young people and so, for those living / growing up in Australia, this can lead to further conflict when they are confronted with more liberal Australian views.
Inaccurate expectations about life in Australia
When coming to Australia, the Filipinos (mostly women) often have a romanticised view of life in Australia. There is a large adjustment to be made with regards to climate, status and culture etc. The Australian lifestyle seems to be more laidback than the Filipino way of life to which it can be hard to adjust. It has been suggested that information be made available at the embassies in the Philippines and in Australia on the difference in lifestyles.
Domestic violence has been raised as a major issue facing Filipino women living in the Cairns and the surrounding region. This is partly due to the fact that Filipinos are brought up to believe that once you get married, you must stay with your spouse under all circumstances. Also, due to cultural teachings, it is hard for Filipinos to seek out assistance or to speak to a non-Filipino about certain issues such as domestic violence.
There has been comment that some husbands believe that since they sponsored their wife to come to Australia, they have some sort of right to perpetrate abuse on the woman. The threat of getting sent back has been reported by many Filipino women and, not knowing the immigration laws etc, this threat can seem quite real and silences the victim.
The Migrant Settlement Services Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS) worker, who is Filipino, has been noted as being a great source of information and support. She has been in the Cairns community for over 16 years working with Filipino women experiencing domestic violence and educating the Filipino community about the effects of abuse and what options are available.
Non-recognition of overseas skills and lack of employment
The non-recognition of skills or degrees from overseas has been another source of frustration for those in the Filipino community. There are many living in this area who have degrees (sometimes more than one) but, as the education took place in the Philippines, people are required to take 'bridging courses' to attempt to have their skills recognised. Also, due to skills and education not being recognised in Australia, highly qualified people come to Australia to end up with no work, underemployment or in a job where their previous training has no relevance (eg a qualified engineer pumping petrol at the service station). This can be very demoralising and lead to further problems.
There are many Filipinos who are physically isolated, as they come to Australia to live in rural areas. Often women cannot drive cars, which adds to their seclusion. This isolation can lead to many problems, such as the loss of English skills due to only speaking to family members. Often the women are married to older men and if widowed, the women find they have no social support system and are unaware of procedures for funerals, wills etc. The Filipinos also cite lack of family support as a major source of anguish for them.
Accessing information, services and resources
Members of the Filipino community were aware of basic service available, such as Centrelink, Medicare, health services, sexual health, mental health and housing services etc. However, they did not have in-depth knowledge of what different organisations provided and where to go to for certain types of assistance. The Filipinos also seemed unaware of legal systems and correct procedures eg. how to take out a domestic violence order, how to make a will. Many local Filipinos rely on the CSSS worker for information and use her as a resource.
Keeping Filipino culture alive
This is the main objective of the Philippines Cultural Society of Cairns (PCSC). The PCSC was established to provide a place for Filipino people to meet, provide or seek support and organise events celebrating Filipino culture. The PCSC also acts as a central point for service providers to access information on Filipino community needs. The members are proud to be in Australia and that their children are Australian, but are also proud of their Filipino heritage and culture and want to teach their children about their cultural background.
To help the Filipino migrant settle into Australian life, the following strategies have been identified:
· Cross cultural awareness training for service providers and the general community
· Ensure that potential migrants understand about non-recognition of overseas skills BEFORE
· Work towards having potential migrants complete relevant training and education to ensure
skills are to Australian standards BEFORE they migrate
· Information on services in Tagalog
· Bilingual, Filipino workers at key services (such as domestic violence shelters, health /sexual
health / mental health services)
Community education on racism and prejudice would also be beneficial for the Filipino community. As mentioned, to be a Filipino living in Australia often comes with an identity as a "mail order bride" and to have people educated on the immigration laws (which now make serial sponsorship almost impossible) could go a long way to addressing this stereotype. The need for cross-cultural sensitivity and awareness has been a consistent theme throughout interviews with Filipino community members. Not just for service providers, but for the general community as well.
Having bridging education courses in the Philippines to ensure equivalency with Australian standards is another way to assist settlement. Currently, the Philippines does have educational institutions that have been assessed as equivalent to Australian standards. To have an increased number of these assessed courses/institutions, would mean that when migrants who have been educated at these places arrive in Australia, their qualifications, experience and skills would be recognised. As this would take major policy changes, then information on bridging courses, eligibility, requirements for employment etc. should be readily available at the Australian embassy in the Philippines. The community has also raised the issue of having information on non-recognition of overseas skills emphasised to potential Filipino migrants and their potential spouses.
The need for information translated into Tagalog has been demonstrated through the community's experience of information on essential services being unavailable to them upon arrival. It must also be remembered that in times of crisis (such as illness, stress, abuse etc.) people often revert to their first language. To have information on issues available in Tagalog will enable those going through hard times to more fully understand the information given to them.
Information compiled by Migrant Settlement Services Cairns