Monday, October 29, 2007

Filipino Day

In May 2006, to protest proposed immigration laws, thousands of members of America's Hispanic community participated in "A Day Without Immigrants," walking out of their jobs for one day to demonstrate the economic importance of the immigrant community. They took over the streets, offering a striking, lasting image of the Hispanic community to Americans everywhere. Hong Kong has something similar, but rather than happening once a year, it occurs every Sunday. It's called Filipino Day.

The Filipino community in Hong Kong occupies much the same social niche as the Hispanic community in the United States (particularly in California). Immigrating from the Philippines, they work long hours, largely in cleaning and domestic services. Although they occupy something of an underclass in Hong Kong, the economic disparity between HK and the Philippines means that, at going rates of about HKD $60 per hour (about US $7.50), they can still send enough money home to support several family members. They generally work 6 days a week, and on Sundays, they so visibly take over the Central part of town that Sundays in Hong Kong are known as Filipino Day.

In every overpass, underpass, and major walking area in the business area of town, groups of Filipino laborers lay out picnic blankets and unfolded cardboard boxes, eating picnic lunches and playing cards. It's such a phenomenon that the city takes affirmative steps to accommodate the crowds, setting guard rails along certain pathways to block off lanes for their picnic set-ups and shutting certain streets off from traffic altogether, yielding them to the weekending workers for the day. The workers themselves don't seem to do much of anything...they just congregate, socialize, and talk.

But they're out there by the thousands, and it's a very unusual phenomenon to behold. Filipino Day seems so massive that it must be organized in a top-down way, but as far as I can tell it's a pretty organic thing. It's not that there aren't plenty of poor people of other races, including native Hong Kongites, that only get one day off from work. But the Filipino community seems to have made a collective decision to take their leisure together, and in so doing, to constantly remind every businessman and luxury shopper in Central Hong Kong just how important they are.

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