Families and cultural diversity in Australia

Archived publication – December 1995

5. Filipino families in Australia

by Grace Soriano

The presence of Filipinos in Australia can be traced back to the early 1900s, when some 700 were known to be working in the pearling industry and on trading ships (Coughlan 1992). Most Filipinos, however, have arrived since the beginning of the 1980s. In 1987-88 the Philippines was the third largest source of immigrants after the two traditional sources-the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Since then Filipinos have been one of the fastest growing ethnic minority populations in Australia, with an increase of 118 per cent between the 1986 and 1991 censuses (Shu et al. 1994).

Filipino migration to Australia

Migration has been a traditional response to the many social and economic pressures existing in the Philippines. For Filipinos the 'push' factors of migration-for example, unemployment and underemployment, graft and corruption, high population density, pollution and a perceived unpromising future for children-seem to be stronger motivating factors than the 'pull' factors of economic advancement and opportunity to join relatives.

Three recent waves of Filipino emigration to Australia can be identified. The first, in the late 1960s, included Filipinos of Spanish descent, who came with the cautious opening of Australia's doors to immigrants who did not differ markedly from the white population. The formal lifting of the White Australia policy in 1973 encouraged the emigration of a wider group of Filipinos, most of whom were wealthy and/or highly qualified, including a number of nurses and teachers who were responding to the shortage in these professions (Balaba and Roca 1992).

The phenomenon of Filipino-Australian marriages began in the 1960s but emigration of Filipino women for marriage ballooned in the late 1970s, marking the second major immigration wave (Jackson and Flores 1989). The dramatic increase in the Filipino population in Australia has been attributed largely to intercultural marriages. From an estimated 700 Filipino women with non-Filipino husbands in 1976, the figure increased threefold to 2200 in just ten years (Balaba and Roca 1992). Between 1982 and 1989, 41.4 per cent of all female Filipino settlers entering under the family migration category came as spouses of non~Filipinos and another 31.8 per cent as fiancees. In comparison, only 18.4 per cent of males came as spouses or fiances, yet even this figure is 4 percentage points higher than for any other immigrant group (Hugo 1992). By 1989 the Philippines was the largest single source of spouse/fiance(e) sponsorships (Birrell 1990).

The rapid increase in intercultural marriages satisfied reciprocal needs in both countries. Women of marriageable age outnumbered men in the Philippines while the opposite was true in Australia, particularly in the 1970s. Intermarriage opened up what was previously a very tight marriage market for men living in remote mining areas like those in the Northern Territory (Cahill 1990). In addition, the tendency of divorced men to remarry younger women created a relative shortage of marriageable Australian women in their twenties (Chuah et al. 1987). On the other hand, in the Philippines, women who delay marriage in order to fulfil family obligations, pursue further studies or follow a career encounter difficulties in finding a marriage partner. In a statusconscious society such as the Philippines, men are reluctant to marry women who are older, better educated or who have a better paying job, or who are widowed or separated. Because of the high expectation in the Philippines for women to marry (and marry 'well') and to have children, one possible way out of the dilemma is to marry a foreigner (Channell 1986).

The third wave of migration has flowed from the second, and includes children, siblings and parents who have been sponsored by kin already in Australia. Analysis of sponsorship patterns shows that most of the incoming siblings have been sponsored by Filipino women married to Australian men (Birrell 1990). The increasing proportion of Filipinos likely to enter via this scheme will contribute to a more balanced Filipino-Australian population in terms of gender and age than exists at present (Hugo and Channell 1986).

Although considerable attention has been given by the media to the special issues and problems arising out of the migrationfor- marriage phenomenon, there are many families in Australia where both partners are Philippine-born or of Filipino origin. The needs and concerns of the two types of families are often very different; both types are discussed in this chapter.

The Filipino community

The Philippine-born population in Australia has more than doubled every five years for the past 30 years. From 430 in 1961 it rose to 33 724 in 1986 and to 73 673 in 1991, and at present is roughly 0.4 per cent of the total Australian population (BIPR 1994d). There are several particular features of the Filipino immigration pattern. Most notably, females far outnumber males overall (two-thirds of the Philippine-born are females) and outnumber them in the marriageable age categories. In 1991, 66 per cent of those aged 15-34 and 71 per cent of those in the 30-54 age group were females (BIPR 1994d).

The Philippine-born in Australia are a young population; 57 per cent are under 35 years and 85 per cent are under 45 years (BIPR 1994d). The youthfulness relates not only to the migrationfor- marriage phenomenon but also to the sponsoring of siblings under the Family Reunion Scheme, which emphasises youth and suitability for employment as major selection criteria. No other ethnic group of a similar size depends on the Family Reunion Scheme as much as do Filipinos, very few of whom enter as independent migrants and even fewer as business migrants (Jackson and Flores 1989).

Another distinguishing feature of Filipino immigration is the pattern of geographic settlement. M()st Filipinos live in major urban areas (with more than half living in New South Wales), but there are pockets of Filipinos outside major urban centres, particularly in mining towns (Jackson and Flores 1989, p. 22). There are also indications that Filipinos are less likely than some other immigrants to encounter housing problems because friends and family accommodate the newly arrived until they become established (Brown 1993; Morrissey, Pickersgill and Priestley 1986).

Employment and education profile

In 1991, 63 per cent of Philippine-born males and 5.6 per cent of Philippine-born females aged 15 years and over had either an educational or occupational qualification, compared with 39 per cent of the total Australian population. About one-third of both males and females had post-secondary educational qualifications, compared with 13 per cent of the total Australian population (BIPR 1994d). However, several studies have affirmed that there is a high rate of part-recognition or non-recognition of Filipino qualifications, attributed largely to the fact that Filipino secondary schools have a ten-year rather than a twelve-year system as in Australia. Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford (1991) found that, compared with Latin American, English, Chinese and Khmer respondents, Filipinos had the highest level of formal education and also the highest rate of non-recognition of their qualifications.

Lack of recognition of qualifications contributes to 'skidding' or the downgrading of employment status from pre-migration level. There are indications that only about one-quarter of those employed as professionals in the Philippines find a similar job in Australia, while most move into clerical, service sector and labouring positions (Hugo and Channell 1986; Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991). Males display a more even distribution across the occupational groups than db females; more men than women are employed as professionals (11.5 per cent compared to 7.1 per cent) (BIPR 1994d). According to Paganoni (1986), some professionals do not mind taking on a lowlier job because the economic rewards compensate for the disappointment: 'A year of hard labour in the Philippines can be matched by two months of work in Australia' (p. 8).

At the 1991 census the unemployment rate among the Philippine- born (16.7 per cent) was considerably higher than the rate for the total Australian population (11.6 per cent) but almost the same as that for all immigrants from non-English-speaking countries (16.8 per cent) (BIPR 1994d).

In 1991 the labour force participation rate for Philippine-born women was 59 per cent (BIPR 1994d). The unemployment rate for Filipino women in the labour force was 19 per cent, less than for some other Asian communities in Australia but much higher than the rate for Australian-born women (9.5 per cent) (Moss 1993, p. 24). Apart from difficulty in finding suitable employment, reasons for the low participation of Filipino women in the workforce identified in a number of studies include family commitments (such as looking after children or an invalid husband), opposition of the husband to a working wife, and existing financial security (Balaba and Roca 1992; Hugo and Channell 1986; Jackson and Flores 1989).

Filipino values

In Filipino society the importance of relationships, and the values which reinforce them, set the framework for acceptable individual action in society. From early childhood Filipinos are taught about the importance and precedence of groups, in contrast to the emphasis given to the individual in many western countries. Filipinos are therefore defined by, and linked to, the identity of various groups. A high value is placed on human interaction and relationships.

'Fellowship", family and neighbourhood

A core concept that explains Filipinos' interpersonal behaviour is kapwa, which can be translated as 'fellowship' (D'Mello, in progress). Psychologically, kapwa can be seen as a 'shared identity' because it is the unifying thread that binds the self to others. While the level and mode of social interaction will vary depending on whether the parties involved are part of an in-group (one of us) or an out-group (outsider or others), treating the other as an equal, a fellow human being and a fellow Filipino, is integral to any relationship (Enriquez 1994). To be branded as not having any kapwa is the worst insult a Filipino can receive because it means that the person has 'reached rock bottom, he is the worst' (Enriquez 1994).

The family is the primary circle of association for the Filipino, the integral unit in the 'one of us' category. Personal interests are subordinate to family interests; family interests take precedence over community ones. Familial obligations and responsibilities, as well as loyalties and allegiances, are inculcated early in life. Industrialisation, modernisation and urbanisation have led to the predominance in the Philippines of nuclear families living in separate households from those of the extended family; however, there is general recognition that extended families continue to function strongly. Thus the nuclear core extends by affinity and consanguinity to include up to three generations on both sides (D'Mello 1988). The place of a child in relation to both nuclear and extended family members is defined by a generational and genealogical hierarchy.

Very early on, children are taught their place in the hierarchy and the accompanying status, power, responsibilities and obligations that come with their position. A powerful value is recognition of and strict adherence to the generation- and agebased hierarchy, which calls for automatic deference and obedience to older family members by younger ones. This is manifested in various ways, such as using respectful forms of address and communicating and behaving in the proper way in the presence of someone older or in authority. Inequalities based on hereditary status or special privilege are considered normal and acceptable (Andres and Ilada-Andres 1987).

The web of kinship is further expanded with the practice of ritual kinship called, as in Latin American countries, the compadrazgo system. Relationships with close friends and neighbours are formalised into a kindred-like relationship when they serve as godparents during marriage, baptism or confirmation of children. Godparents are expected to provide advice to the godchild and extend support and assistance in spiritual, moral and financial matters. Because of this, godparents are chosen from either the same socio-economic class or, if possible, the next higher class (Mendez et al. 1984).

The concept of kapit-bahay (neighbour), which is basic to the Filipino way of life, is another mechanism for expanding the individual's circle of association. Neighbours are expected to help one another in time of need: they can be depended upon to look after one's house if one is away; they can be turned to for emergency food supplies (a cupful of rice, sugar or vinegar); they help out, especially with child minding. Filipinos expect their friends to lend them money when necessary, to act as intermediaries in delicate matters, to provide social and emotional support and to assist them in decision making (Gochenour 1990).

The obligations and responsibilities which one must extend towards kin, ritual kin, neighbours and friends are reciprocal and not parasitic in nature. People are expected to. return favours in , either tangible or intangible form.

Mendez and Jocano (1991) cite rules of conduct that guide the preservation of equality and harmony in any social interaction. One of these is pakikisama (to go along with), a supportive norm which makes it possible for people to work together without much conflict. This may mean having to accede to consensual group action despite how one feels personally; this is the price one pays for acceptance by another person or the group (Gorospe 1988 in D'Mello, in progress).

The importance of feelings

Damdamin, or feelings, guides all social relations. Generally speaking, Filipinos are said to act with their feelings (D'Mello, in progress). Mendez and Jocano (1991) suggest that 95 per cent of Filipinos' decisions are governed by subjectivity. There are rules of conduct to ensure that other people's feelings, as well as one's own, are taken into consideration at all times.

Social acceptance and harmony in interpersonal relations must be carefully balanced with the need to protect and enhance one's self-esteem (both 'face' and 'pride') in day-to-day interaction. To achieve this balance Filipinos consciously work towards maintaining harmony and overt conviviality in order not to threaten their own and other people's self-esteem. There are many socially approved mechanisms to avoid slighting a person when delivering unpleasant truths, including the use of euphemisms, teasing or using a go-between or mediator.

The Filipinos' 'shame' culture (the need to maintain face) acts as a potent social control; when an individual commits a mistake 'it is the honour of the family that is conceived to be at stake rather than the erring member' (Mendez et al. 1984, p. vi). Thus the sanctions of shame, dishonour and ridicule are used to impart the message that what is detrimental to one is detrimental to others (Enriquez 1994). The implicit sanctions play an important 'policing' role in the maintenance of peace and order in society.


Religion provides the Filipino people with the inner strength to cope with life's hardships. The risk-taking behaviour of Filipinos displayed in the bahala na (come what may) attitude is a combination of fatalism, determination and courage, which stems from their deep belief that God is guiding them and that whatever happens is part of God's will. This attitude was illustrated by the comments of a Filipino woman married to an Anglo-Australian, referred to in Paganoni's (1986) case study-she did not have fears or doubts about her new life in a foreign country because her relationship, future plans and priorities were committed and entrusted to God. Filipinos display a high attendance at places of worship in Australia (Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991).

In summary, family ties and obligations, fellowship, harmonious relationships, respect for authority and religious beliefs are major themes in the Filipino culture. How are these themes reflected in Filipino family life in Australia?

Filipino families

The relatively recent arrival in Australia of significant numbers of Filipinos may account for the dearth of literature and research about the community, and particularly about its family life. For the preparation of this chapter two focus-group discussions were held in Melbourne to augment the available research and to gain indications of emerging issues for families. Overall, the groups included three Filipino couples, eleven Filipino women (six of whom were married to non-Filipinos) and five first-generation Filipino children (most of whom came to Australia before they were ten years old and who are now in their teens). The families cannot be considered representative of Filipino families in Australia; nevertheless, they came from diverse backgrounds and their comments on a range of family matters are likely to indicate the concerns of a wider group.

The overall pattern of Filipino families tends to reflect the relatively young age structure of the Filipino population in Australia. Filipino-Australians have a higher proportion of two-parent families with dependent children, and a lower proportion with non-dependent children living with them, than the Australian average. Of all families in Australia with offspring, 10.7 per cent of those with at least one Philippine-born parent were one-parent families, compared with 13.3 per cent for families with at least one parent born overseas, and 18.8 per cent for families with at least one parent Australian-born (BIPR 1994d). Of the total number of couples, only one-third had both partners born in the Philippines.

The pattern of strong family support is reflected in the relatively high proportion (6.3 per cent) of Filipino households which include more than one family; nearly one-third of these are families of brothers and sisters (BIPR 1994a). It is likely that, for many, this is only a temporary arrangement until they can move to their own accommodation.

Courtship, marriage and separation

Filipino courtship patterns have changed with the times. Traditional courtship involved a male suitor, accompanied by his closest friends, wooing the woman with a serenade on a clear night or the exchange of love letters through a common friend. Nowadays, particularly in urban areas, couples go on dates, for example to a film or to eat out. Premarital chastity for women is still considered an important virtue; men do not have the same restrictions on their sexual behaviour.

In the courtship patterns of Filipinos married to foreign nationals, correspondence plays a key role. According to Channell's (1986) study, nearly all Filipino men married to Australian women met their wives while they were temporarily in Australia on a work permit or as a crew member on a ship, in contrast to the vast majority of Filipino women married to Australian men who had not been to Australia prior to their marriage or engagement. The term 'mail-order bride' became popular because the contact by letter became a vital avenue for meeting prospective spouses. Interested parties were supplied with catalogues by agencies who made all the arrangements necessary to initiate an introduction. The practice has been drastically curtailed with the passing of Republic Act 6955 (Philippines) which makes it unlawful to match Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals on a mail-order basis.

While there is relative freedom in the choice of a mate in the Philippines, parental approval is still considered important and necessary (Medina 1991). Young men and women are consciously or subconsciously aware of the boundaries within which to seek marriage partners (Boer 1988); for example, they look for compatibility accordirig to education, occupation and socio-economic class. This is because marriage is viewed as an alliance between two families. In-laws serve as mediators when conflict occurs in the marriage, and the parents' family home provides a welcome refuge from marital problems. A family grows through marriage because one does not only marry the person but the whole family. Familial ties, and consequently the obligations, loyalties and affection of married people towards their birth families, remain as strong as before the marriage. These ties cannot be ruptured by distance or time.

Because marriage is an important family milestone Filipino weddings are lavish occasions, involving family and relatives as well as close friends and neighbours. It is for this reason that at least 45 per cent of Filipino-Australian marriages occur in the Philippines (Smith and Kaminskas 1992). Ideally, weddings are solemnised by a priest, minister or religious leader. Civil weddings are generally frowned on if they are not followed by a religious ceremony. They are usually resorted to by couples who have eloped and who do not have the blessing of parents, or when one partner is separated or divorced. Wedding expenses have traditionally been met by the parents of the bridegroom with assistance from relatives.

Intercultural marriages

Many studies attribute the growth of intercultural marriages to the prevailing economic situation in the Philippines-growing unemployment, widespread poverty and a decline in real wageswhich drives women to seek a better life elsewhere (Medina 1991; Birrell 1990). However, as mentioned earlier, customary marriage practices in the Philippines are important contributing factors as well, with women feeling the pressure to ensure they make a good marriage. According to Cooke (1986), 'the endogamous practice of marrying someone from the same or even better social and economic background, together with the colonial mentality ingrained deep in our psyche that anything foreign is better, add to this pressure'. Even if their husbands are not equipped with commensurate education or work qualifications, the move to Australia is still considered a 'step up' for Filipino women because it provides potential opportunities (Brown 1993).

In tables provided by the Commission for Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Manila, 'love' was the foremost reason mentioned by both Filipino and foreign spouses for marrying, while the second most frequently cited reasons were 'economic stability' for women and 'exemplary domestic service' for men. According to feedback forms returned to the CFO after the arrival of Filipino marriage partners in Australia, the following factors have contributed to successful relationships: 'mutual love and respect for each other's dignity; no hidden conditions in the relationship, effective communication, counselling sought when problems arose, supportive Filipino friends and Australian friends' (Vogels 1987, p. 29). Increased marital happiness is directly related to the woman finding support from her new extended family (husband's parents and siblings) and maintaining links with her own relatives in Australia and in the Philippines (Cahill 1992). Difficulties in intercultural marriages are discussed later in this chapter.

Household responsibilities

There is general agreement in the literature that the Filipino family is basically egalitarian, despite clear role differences between members. The husband is expected to fulfil more of the task of income provision while the wife and mother fulfil the emotional task of looking after the well-being of the family, as well as carrying out household responsibilities. Women's roles are seen as complementary, and not subordinate, to men's roles. Women have been considered 'the power behind the throne' because of the tremendous influence they wield within the domestic sphere.

There are limits to the type of tasks and the amount of time which men spend on household responsibilities, lest they be branded by their mates as ander di saya ('underneath the wife's long skirt'; 'henpecked'). While increasing numbers of women are taking on paying jobs, both as a career choice and to augment family income, women are ultimately judged by the community according to their success as homemaker, mother and wife.

A typical Filipino husband is expected to hand over his pay packet to his wife, who in turn manages the family funds. While it might be thought that the practice could cause friction in intercultural marriages, Jackson and Flores (1989) and Ungson (1982) did not find any evidence of this. However, there is insufficient research on the issue and it is likely that some men do not agree with the practice. A comment from a participant in the focus-group discussions revealed an interesting sidelight on the matter. A woman who was upset that her husband did not hand over his pay packet as expected requested her friends to serve as go-between and enlighten her husband about this Filipino cultural practice. Her husband was more than happy to accede to the request, but was concerned that she had not spoken directly to him about it.

Decision making on day-to-day matters, important family issues and the discipline of children is undertaken jointly by the husband and wife. The New Civil Code of the Philippines also provides the opportunity for grandparents to be consulted by all members of the family on 'important family questions'. All children are expected to seek advice from parents on matters concerned with their future (Mendez et al. 1984).

In Australia, focus-group participants were united in agreeing that household tasks increased with the absence of grandparents, relatives and household help. Rivera (1994b) found that husbands now play a more active role in caring for children. Women in the focus groups agreed that Filipino husbands are more involved in household tasks in Australia than in the Philippines where household help is available, although the tasks the men perform are predominantly the 'masculine' and/or 'dirty' ones. Male children, too, said they are lumbered with the 'masculine' tasks of vacuuming, putting out the rubbish and gardening. (Vacuuming may be seen as a 'male' task because it is 'heavier' work than sweeping, normally a female task in the Philippines.) Some women in the focus groups commented favourably on the greater degree of closeness among family members in Australia than in the Philippines, for example: 'In the Philippines my husband regularly went out with his office mates or close male neighbours for a drink. Here in Australia, he comes home straight from work because he knows he has other household responsibilities to attend to'.

Family breakdown

In the Philippines, state law (the Civil Code of the Philippines) and the Catholic Church strongly support the maintenance of marriages. Marriages in the Philippines are highly stable with 95.5 per cent of ever-married women having married only once (Medina 1991, p. 182). Filipinos argue that even the unhappiest marriage should be kept intact for the sake of the children (Watkins 1982, p. 77). Separation is allowed under the Legal Code of the Philippines but only in cases where the wife commits adultery, where the husband takes on a concubine, or where one spouse attempts to take the life of the other (Rivera 1994a). Because the stigma of marriage breakup (as well as the time and costs involved in seeking legal separation) discourages couples from formalising their separation, no accurate figures on the numbers of separated couples exist. In Australia, cultural and religious pressures contribute to the difficulty of providing a true picture of divorce and separation. For many Filipino women divorce is not an option.

Children and child rearing

The birth of a child heralds the creation of a new family and the formal binding of ties between the families of the conjugal partners. Because children are considered to be God's blessing on the marriage, childless couples are looked on with much sympathy; Filipinos are neveJ lacking in advice on how to have children, which frequently 'includes dancing and praying to Santa Clara (St Claire), known in the Philippines as the patron saint of fertility. 'Masculinity', which is highly valued in Filipino culture, is measured by the number of children sired, and 'complete womanhood' is achieved with the birth of a child (Medina 1991). The sex of a first-born child may not be particularly important, but a son is still desired to perpetuate the lineage and continue the family name. The Filipino couples in the focus groups preferred to have children of both sexes, to provide balance in the family.

Filipino children are highly valued, loved and treated with great affection. At the same time, in poor families, they are often regarded as economic investments and it is not unusual to hear parents say that they are wealthy because they have many children. Children are also the major source of social security· for old age. In the mid-1980s Philippine-born women in Australia had one of the highest fertility levels, second only to that of Lebanese-born women among the larger overseas-born populations (Hugo 1992). However, there is generally a convergence towards the Anglo-Australian fertility pattern with longer periods of residence and also in the second generation. In common with several other immigrant communities the peak fertility for mothers born in the Philippines occurs between ages 30-34, compared with 25-29 years for Australian-born mothers (ABS 1994b). Of the 110 Filipino families in Rivera's (1994b) study, the majority fitted the Australian norm of two children per couple, although 30 per cent of the families had more than two children.

Although child-rearing practices among Filipinos are nurturant, affectionate, indulgent and supportive, the strongly supportive family group means that early self-reliance and independence of children are not emphasised. There is a tendency for adults to be overprotective, which may be due to their great love and concern for the health and safety of their children (Medina 1991). Until weaning, at approximately two-and-a-half years, the infant commands and receives the family's attention, sleeps with parents or in the same room, is constantly touched and held by family members, and has every whim and desire catered to.

In the Philippines, child rearing does not present a problem even if the mother is engaged in full-time work. Apart from the availability of grandparents, relatives and neighbours, even average income earners can afford to pay for live-in household help to take care of the children. In Australia, however, a number of studies underscore the concern for child care in the Filipino community. In a study of settlement issues it was found that less than 20 per cent of newly arrived Chinese, Latin American, English and Khmer settlers mentioned child care as a major problem, compared with 57 per cent of Filipinos; and 46 per cent of Filipinos, compared with less than 20 per cent of the other immigrant groups, received regular help from relatives for child minding (Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991).

Reluctance to use child care facilities stems partly from inaccurate and inadequate information about services, according to D'Mello and Esmaquel (1990). In their study mothers had concerns about child care such as 'children are given sleeping tablets, children are left to cry all day, are often hungry and nappies [are] not changed immediately' (p. 21). The overprotectiveness of parents translates into a lack of trust in other people watching over their children. Formal child care is a last resort. One mother in the focus groups said: 'It was very difficult for me; I felt my child becoming a part of the "rat race" because she was taken to and brought home from the centre in accordance with our work schedule'.

In some instances parents have rearranged their lifestyle according to their perception of the appropriate way to bring up a child-for example, forgoing outside and/or full-time employment to stay home with the child, taking on shift work, and using older children, grandparents, relatives and friends to care for children (D'Mello and Esmaquel 1990). Bringing out parents from the Philippines on a visitors visa to help with child care was an option more likely to be used by Filipino couples than those in mixed marriages (Ungson 1982). One focus group participant said that she chose to work as a night nurse because she could take her child with her and breastfeed the baby. A 14-year-old described it as his duty to take his 5-year-old brother to before- and after-school care. He was aware that taking care of his younger brother was one of his primary household responsibilities.

The Filipino women married to non-Filipinos in D'Mello and Esmaquel's (1990) study affirmed that not being in the workforce provided them with the opportunity to raise their children in accordance with their values and traditions. On the other hand, services involving both parents and grandparents have been initiated at the local community level to address the need of culture-specific child-rearing practices (Rivera 1992).

Generational authority and respect

An individual's age and generational position determine rights and responsibilities in the family as well as the relationship to kin on both sides of the family. As indicated earlier, younger people are expected to obey and respect those older or in authority. There are recognised forms of address to be used, even if a person is totally unrelated to the family. The great majority (84 per cent) of Filipinos in the study by Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford (1991) strongly agree that children in Australia are less respectful towards adults. Filipino parents still consider it the height of rudeness and disrespect for children to call them or anyone older (even neighbours!) by their first names. If there is one Filipino core value that is strictly adhered to and ingrained in children, despite the egalitarian culture that exists in Australia, it is the practice of generational respect. All the parents in the focus groups, including those married to non-Filipinos, encourage their children to use the various forms of respectful address. Comments included: 'My youngest son thinks his older brother's name is kuya' (the term for older brother). Another participant said: 'Unless my neighbours say that they would prefer to be called by their first names, I encourage my children to address older neighbours as uncle and auntie'. And one teenager said: 'My mum always reminds me not to scream at my brother but to talk to him in a more respectful way because he is older than' me'.

Even as a person grows older and marries, this relationship will not change, as Gochenour (1990) succinctly describes: 'The father may be the final arbiter and authority in a household, but may still be on the receiving end of advice and direction from an older sibling down the block. Authority is always presumed to be present and individuals seldom claim for themselves full authority on any matter' (p. 21).


'For as long as my children live under my roof they will have to follow what I say.'

This summarises the view of some parents in the focus groups. Filipino parents have been described as authoritarian in their upbringing of children in the sense that they expect unquestioned obedience and respect. Parents' expectations are firmly grounded in both religious precepts (both Christian and Muslim) and legal precepts embodied in the Civil Code of the Philippines, which require children to obey their parents as long as they are under parental power (Mendez et al. 1984).

The child becomes liable for punishment soon after weaning. Corporal punishment, such as spanking, is usually carried out by the father but used only after a child has ignored repeated requests or warnings. Other disciplinary measures include scolding, shouting (like an Armalite rifle, is how one child described her mother's barrage of words), pinching, ear-pulling, withdrawal of privileges or being grounded. Older siblings' responsibility for younger brothers and sisters also includes the authority to impose discipline and mild punishment.

A woman in the focus group married to a non-Filipino spoke for others when she said that 'my children think I am too strict so they run to their father for guidance'. Women in the group married to non-Filipinos generally admitted that their husbands are kinder to and more understanding of their children than they themselves are, and grant them more freedom. Filipino parents in Australia are beginning to realise that their authority over their children, which they very much take for granted, is slowly being eroded. Parents feel that they constantly have to reason with their children before their requests are obeyed: 'Children do not just follow, you have to justify what you are asking them to do'.

Parents in the focus groups expressed concern that the concept of disCipline which they grew up with is separated only by a very thin line from actions which are considered as child abuse in Australian society: 'You can be sued for pinching your child's ear or smacking them on the bottom if they misbehave!'. Parents are coming to terms wi~h the fact that other forms of discipline have to be used despite their own beliefs. As one father said, 'If you do not let your children cry when they are young, they will make you cry in your old age'.

Some Filipino parents in Australia say they tend to be overprotective, particularly of daughters and younger children; for example, a mother in one of the focus groups observed: 'I think I have been overprotective and this has made my daughter shy, she is very much into herself'. In turn, children agree that their parents are too protective, with one young man in a focus group saying that he felt 'overloved' because 'parents follow you wherever you go'.

A major issue in the households of the focus-group participants was the 'sleep-over'. Women with either Filipino or non-Filipino husbands did not agree with their children 'sleeping over' at someone else's house. Parents were concerned that they would not be able to keep an eye on their children, that often they did not know their children's friends or their parents, and that children would be left on their own to watch 'undesirable' videos. While some mothers have never allowed their children to sleep over ('not until my son turns 18') others have opted for a compromise. For example, one father allows his daughter to attend the activities but comes to take her home at midnight; one mother has the sleep-overs at her home, saying: 'The price of a pizza and a video is a small price to pay for the peace of mind I get'.

Adolescence and young adulthood

The 1991 census showed that the total number of second-generation Filipinos who have one or both parents born in the Philippines was 22587 (Caruana 1993). Ninety-three per cent of the second generation were under 15 years and 63 per cent were under five years. The concentration of second-generation Filipinos in the younger age groups is due to the low levels of Philippineborn immigrants arriving before 1971.

Significant issues emerging from a youth camp conducted for Filipino-Australian youth in Brisbane in 1993 included 'identity crisis', delinquency, racism, intergenerational conflict, peer pressure and the problem of handling two cultures (Pe-Pua ·1993, pp. 4-18). Other problems highlighted by young people included dealing with the authoritative attitude of parents, particularly in relation to their going out with friends, curfews, career decisions and high expectations of academic performance. The concerns do not seem to differ from those raised by young people from other ethnic communities (Cahill and Ewen 1987), except perhaps in the greater emphasis placed by Filipino youth on the importance of family matters and work/career considerations.

Belonging to a peer group is an essential part of a Filipino adolescent's life (Roces and Roces 1992). Filipino young people have identified problems with fitting in and feeling accepted by peers, and a tendency to succumb to negative peer pressure. Such activities as drinking, smoking, taking drugs and cutting classes become a source of conflict with parents (Pe-Pua 1993; FILCCA· 1990).

Education is a major key to a better life and tertiary education is desired by parents for males and females equally because it is seen as an insurance for the family's future. Parents are expected to sacrifice a great deal for their children's education. In the Philippines, it is not unusual to mortgage land, which may be a major source of livelihood, in order to send a son or daughter to university. The tertiary-educated child is expected to support other siblings after having found gainful employment.

In Australia, Filipino parents continue to hold high educational aspirations for both sons and daughters. Truanting is considered disgraceful and, according to the parents in Caruana's (1993) study, can become a major family issue. Previous figures from .the 1986 census show that in Sydney no other ethnic group had such a high retention rate at Year 12 as Filipinos had (Caruana 1993). However, a major concern highlighted during a leadership seminar organised by the Filipino Coordinating Council of Victoria (the umbrella organisation of all Filipino organisations in the State) was young people's waning interest in going to university and the very high expectation of parents that they would.

It is not expected that young people will leave home before marriage. As Licuanan notes, 'You are always a parent's child and you can always be protected. There is no symbolic value in breaking away' (Licuanan, undated, quoted in Cruz 1990). A Filipino couple in the focus group said that they constantly reassure their children that they can stay at home for as long as they like.

The acquisition of new sets of roles and the development of new components of identity are part of the process of migration. Pe-Pua (1993) suggests the possibility of cultural coexistence where Filipino-Australian adolescents choose from a number of cultural options (particularly those which instil affirmative attitudes). This could enable them to construct a dual system of values.

Growing old

Traditionally, in Filipino society, it is the filial obligation of children to care for parents in their old age by taking them into their custody. Cultural prescriptions on care of the aged are more potent than the law but, unlike some other Asian countries where this responsibility falls heavily on one child, in the Philippines it is spread more broadly among siblings. Parents in the Philippines expect that they will live with their children when they are older. As in most Asian countries, institutionalisation of the aged is uncommon in the Philippines. To institutionalise a parent would be to commit possibly the greatest sin in the eyes of Philippine society, and the person doing so would certainly be labelled an ingrate (Roces and Roces 1992).

However, the Filipino couples in the focus groups did not expect their children to follow the customary practice. This may be because of an expressed desire to return to the Philippines when their children are grown up and married. One participant said: 'After my husband and I finish with our obligation towards our children, I would like to go home to the Philippines'. This sentiment is shared by respondents in Channell's (1986) study who were eager to return to the Philippines when they were older. Filipino women in intercultural marriages expressed fears of growing old in Australia because they felt that respect for the aged was missing (Ungson 1982). Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford (1991) found that a greater number of Filipinos than Khmer, English, Chinese and Latin American settlers agreed that old people are lonelier in Australia than in the home country.

Elderly Filipinos have particular problems associated with being in younger families in a new environment (Morrissey, Pickersgill and Priestley 1986). Isolation, which was mentioned as the main problem of the Filipino elderly, goes hand in hand with language difficulties. Elderly parents feel isolated, especially when their adult children are at work, because they cannot leave the house on their own. Interaction with the general community is hampered by limited English language skills. A seminar sponsored by the Filipino Coordinating Council of Victoria identified the following problems among the elderly: loss of authority, concerns about accommodation if they became senile, lack of social activities and financial problems.


Unlike westerners, who traditionally treat death with silence and repressed feelings, the Catholic orientation of many Filipinos enables them to view death not as a tragic event but rather as a part of everyday life (Andres and Ilada-Andres 1987). Wakes in the Philippines are not sorrowful occasions but rather opportunities for family reunions. Food and drinks are offered to visiting sympathisers and people play card games during the vigil to keep them awake all night. Because death is seen as the end of physical existence only, the relationship between the living and the dead is not considered broken. Visits to the grave and/or a commemorative mass take place on the birthdays of the dead, and a national holiday of obligation, is observed on All Souls' Day (1 November) to commemorate the dead. On this day family and relatives pay their respects to loved ones who have passed away, take the opportunity to clean the grave sites and hold a family picnic in the cemetery to demonstrate the strong ties of affection between the living and the dead. In Australia the focus-group participants maintain this respect for tradition by lighting candles in their family religious altars and by going to mass to remember those who have passed away.

Overseas family responsibilities and obligations

There is a common belief in the Philippines that, for good luck to continue, good fortune must be shared (Castillo 1979, quoted by Medina 1991). This stems from the 'reflexive quality' of the core value of kapwa, which implies that 'what is good for one is shared and is good for the other' (Enriquez 1994). This is why it can be emotionally distressing for some Filipino women in intercultural marriages to be denied the opportunity to send money home (Caruana 1993). Likewise, in D'Mello and Esmaquel's (1990) study, women who stayed at home to care for their children expressed regret that they did not have an independent disposable income to provide financial assistance to parents and younger siblings in the Philippines.

While some non-Filipino husbands in Australia do not understand this cultural obligation and may consider it a form of 'bludging', others recognise and support their wife's obligations. For example, the husband of a focus-group participant reminded her it was time to send money to her parents. Jackson and Flores (1989) found that remittances to the Philippines ranged from an average of $511 per year for Filipino households to $610 per year for mixed households. Based on 1986 census figures, these remittances amount to approximately $10 million per year. This is a strong and concrete sign of the continuing sense of obligation felt by Filipino-Australians towards their families in the Philippines.

Sponsorship is another way of fulfilling strong expectations of mutual support among family members. From being a minor contributor in 1983-84 the Philippines became the largest single source of sponsorship of siblings (and accompanying dependants) in 1987-88, surpassing family intakes from the United Kingdom and Ireland (Birrell 1990). Expansion of the primary circle of association in Australia through family re-formation, and provision of a better future for other family members, are overriding concerns for Filipinos sponsoring relatives (Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991). Filipino women in intercultural marriages show a greater propensity to sponsor relatives than do Filipino families (Jackson and Flores 1989). In fact, Cooke (1986, p. 20) remarked that 'one definite plan the Filipino woman harbours has to do with helping her family situation by sending money or by sponsoring the migration of family members'. Non-Filipino husbands generally support the sponsorship applications of their wives because their parents-in-law can help with child rearing, work and alleviating their wives' isolation (Birrell 1990).

Fifteen per cent of respondents in Channell's (1986) study signified intent to bring nephews and nieces to Australia, an action which may entail adoption. This w.as seen as a way of providing a brighter future for children than if they were to stay with parents in the Philippines.

Social networks

Filipino families do not readily seek outside assistance for family problems, perhaps because Filipinos believe it is their birthright to receive as well as to extend assistance and support within one's family group. This strong reliance on family members and relatives (including those external to the household) continues in Australia.

Various studies show that Filipino people rely on their immediate family for help with financial, emotional and marital problems (Jackson and Flores 1989; Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991; Meemeduma and Moraes-Gorecki 1990; Meemeduma in press). Compared with English, Khmer, Latin American and Chinese families, Filipinos depend much more on relatives (both in Australia and overseas) for advice regarding difficulties in relationships, credit and hire-purchase matters, behavioural difficulties with children and care for the sick (Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford 1991). The same study found that 67 per cent of Filipinos met with relatives at least once a week compared with 18 per cent of English settlers, 30 per cent of Khmer settlers and 42 per cent of Latin American settlers. Filipinos are more likely than other birthplace groups to turn to friends and their local religious leader for both financial and emotional help, and least likely to use social and community workers.

An Adelaide study found that close to half the respondents found their present employment through informal networks of employed friends and family, while only one-quarter found their jobs through the Commonwealth Employment Service or newspaper advertisements (Channell 1986).

The practice of providing accommodation to distressed friends (instead of referring them to the appropriate service) has been cited as one of the major impediments to our forming an accurate picture of Filipino. women in situations of domestic violence (Ramilo and Droescher 1992). Studies in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia point to the need of women for information about services-particularly women who live in isolated and rural areas, who are most disadvantaged in terms of access and availability. For such women, marriage shapes their support experiences. Filipino women in intercultural marriages express heavy reliance on their husbands for all types of support (Meemeduma, in press; Meemeduma and Moraes-Gorecki 1990; Jackson and Flores 1989).

The Filipinos' strong need for affiliation is evident in the number of Filipino organisations in Australia. Most organisations provide social support; some also provide cultural, welfare, political and religious support. Focus-group participants agreed that the particular association to which most belonged provided them with the opportunity to socialise, served as a break from family routine, and was a source of advice and support.

Intercultural marriage pressures

Many intermarriages are no doubt successful; however, a number of sources of conflict in marriage between Filipinos and non-Filipinos have been identified. They include differing expectations of marriage, particularly with regard to the role of the family and the extended family, value and role conflicts over child rearing, disputes over financial assistance provided to family overseas, geographical isolation in the outback, displaying of affection, religious practice, food, money management and employment (Boer 1988; Wall, undated; Jackson and Flores 1989; Cahill 1990). Other factors which can contribute to marriage breakdown include the Filipino spouse not being accepted by the non-Filipino family, an unequal relationship between husband and wife, physical violence on the part of the husband, the husband's relationship with an ex-wife, financial problems and cultural differences (Vogels 1987).

Divorce rates are not an accurate indicator of problems in mixed marriages (Boer 1988). There are considerable pressures for Filipino women to remain married to non-Filipino husbands. Since some have gone against the courtship tradition by marrying someone the family has never (closely) known, they have to ensure that the marriage will work or they will be shamed (Boer 1988). An additional problem in presenting an accurate picture of divorce is that available statistics relate only to marriages celebrated in Australia whereas the majority of Filipino-Australian marriages occur in the Philippines. However, it has been reported that separation for Filipino women is 60 per cent higher than the national rate (Jackson and Flores 1989).

Confronting the issue of domestic violence

Filipino women in intercultural marriages appear to be especially vulnerable to domestic violence because of the way their marriages have been contracted. Vulnerability may also result from preconceived ideas about Filipino women's submissiveness, compliance and infinite tolerance which continue to exist among some sections of the Australian community (South Australia Department for Community Welfare 1988). To date, eleven Filipino women are reported to have. died from domestic violence. and in most cases the Australian husband has been convicted of murder (Ramilo and Droescher 1992). In 1987 refuge workers in Adelaide estimated that the number of Filipino women approaching the refuge for assistance was 5.5 per cent of the State's Filipino women, compared with 1-2 per cent of all women in the State (Watson 1987). An analysis made in 1989-90 of calls about domestic violence to the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (DILGEA) Telephone Interpreter Service revealed that 1.8 per cent were in Tagalog (the Filipino language), which is well above the national mean of 1.2 per cent (Smith and Kaminskas 1992). In Melbourne domestic violence was given as the third most frequent reason why Filipino women approached their community's social worker (Mahle 1990).

Women tolerate violence because they are economically dependent on their husbands; isolation and strong traditional values about marriage and family life also contribute to Filipino women's reluctance to leave a violent relationship (Mahle 1990; Dela Cerna· 1992). Moreover, women hesitate to approach relevant government services for assistance because of their lack of knowledge of available resources and their lack of adequate English language skills (Brown and Pak 1991). Some women are reluctant to use refuges which they see as 'linguistically and culturally inappropriate' (Smith and Kaminskas 1992).

Filipino cultural norms such as hiya (loss of face) may deter women from seeking the support of friends and family, while fear of being the object of gossip (an important social control mechanism) deters them from opening up the family boundaries to external assistance.

The literature identifies community education about legal rights, information dissemination (on community and legal services) and outreach activities to women living in isolated communities as necessary initiatives to empower Filipino women to overcome their vulnerability (Dela Cerna 1992; Ramilo and Droescher 1992).

Emerging issues for families

With the entry of siblings and their accompanying dependants in the most recent wave of immigrants, the number of Filipino families in Australia will increase. However, for a time there will continue to be two major immigrant groups-Filipino households and households based on Filipino women married to non-Filipinos. Research cannot ignore the differences between the two groups and the special needs of each.

Intermarriages will continue to be a major source of immigrants from the Philippines. In contrast to the 'mail-order bride' phenomenon of the 1970s and early 1980s, personal introductions by friends and relatives already in Australia will be the main avenue for meeting future marriage partners. Women in intermarriages have unique needs, particularly when they are isolated, lonely and have limited access to familiar support networks, services and employment opportunities. Strong reliance on their non-Filipino husbands for all types of support greatly limits their options.

Meemeduma (in press) coined the term 'double dislocation' to describe the situation of women emigrating to another country and then moving to rural and isolated areas. Policies need to be developed which provide sustenance to women living in far-flung areas who are socially impoverished, who are isolated from extended kin and who lack informal networks. Community education could focus on how to handle relationship issues, domestic violence and parent-child interaction.

In the years to come there will be a burgeoning number of young Filipino-Australians. A wide disparity exists between Filipino parents' perceptions of child rearing and discipline and prevailing Australian mores. Children and young people are grappling with conflicting views and values and are trying to maintain a balance between the two cultures. Substantive research has still to be undertaken to provide a more accurate picture of the adaptation and effects on self-identity of the emerging first generation of young people and second-generation children. Some specific concerns are intergenerational conflict, dealing with racism and handling peer pressure.

Existing studies and the focus-group discussions show that while parents are keen to inculcate an appreciation of the Filipino culture in their children, children also realise the advantages of living within two cultures (Swords 1992). Services to maintain an appreciation of Filipino culture could be extended by Filipino organisations and local community services with assistance from government. The cultural enrichment would help to expand the worldview of young people, who are vital assets for the future.

Filipino families in Australia have created an apparent extensive safety net. When they emigrate Filipinos take with them strong beliefs about reliance on informal networks for information and advice and for emotional and social support. Studies undertaken in Australia indicate that they retain this reliance and that their knowledge of local government and community services is limited. There are numerous existing community resources and facilities which could assist Filipino families in their daily lives. Access to support. services may not be as immediate a problem as educating the community-by reaching out through local organisations, ethnic workers and the ethnic media to encourage Filipinos to use formal and institutional support systems and services beyond a 'one-off, specific need-orientated' approach.

It is highly likely that the Filipino population in Australia will continue to increase rapidly in the future. Services to assist the settlement process of the continuing inflow of immigrants need to be strengthened, so that integration is facilitated and immigrants' skills and talents quickly tapped. A post-arrival orientation program being conducted by a Filipino social worker in Melbourne in conjunction with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas is a positive step in that direction.


The aim of this chapter has been to provide a general picture of the Filipino family in Australia and its structure, relationships and values. Because of their recent arrival and the nature of their migration pattern, first-generation Filipino settlers carry with them strong values and beliefs which determine to a large extent the way they think and behave in their new environment. The Filipinos are known to be flexible, resilient and adaptable. It is evident that Filipino parents are trying as best they can to inculcate in their children the more important family values they themselves grew up with-the importance of the family as a support unit, harmonious relationships, respect for authority, discipline and the importance of education. Parents are making an effort to forge compromises between their values and the prevailing Australian mores.

There are several questions to be answered in the future. How will the attitudes and values of Filipino parents change over time? To what extent will Filipino parents allow compromises in the way they bring up their children? As children from Filipino households and those from intercultural marriages will be differently affected, to what extent will the children adapt, assimilate and integrate both oriental and occidental values into their lives? These questions bring to the fore the need for further research if we are to increase our understanding of a unique, and expanding, community in Australia.