Island Souvenirs

A friend of mine who’s based in Dumaguete told me that her landlady’s daughter is about to be married to an American she met online. The entire family is very excited about the engagement. They will finally be able to pay off their debts and keep their house from being sequestered by the bank. It’s the quintessential fairytale: damsel in financial distress gets rescued by knight in shining dollars.

The daughter has a college degree but apparently isn’t very keen on building a career. Her mother doesn’t mind at all since she’s about to have a white guy for a son-in-law anyway.

I was in Dumaguete two weeks ago and in one afternoon of hanging out at Rizal Boulevard, we lost count of the Caucasian men who were walking around with local girls in tow. A majority of them are middle-aged and retirees while the girls they were with are young enough to be their daughters (or granddaughters).

The women are sometimes derisively called island souvenirs, lumped with a cheap native bracelet or a tacky figurine you can pick up in a tourist shop. The foreigners are moneyed gods who will save them and their entire clan from poverty.

It’s a combination of our classic hang-up with colonialism and the age-old tradition of women marrying for security.

We could say that we have progressed. In the 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, we ranked 9th in the list of countries that are most successful in pursuing gender equality. But it’s not much comfort when a lot of Filipino women are still viewed as nothing more than cheap souvenirs in a tourist shop.

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