How a Filipino woman joined a fight against racial prejudice

December 18, 2015 18:44
Jan Yumul is the co-founder of Section Juan, a support group for Filipino youth in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Jan Yumul, a Filipino who has lived in Hong Kong for most of her life, has strong views about issues related to race relations and the treatment of ethnic minorities.

She talks agitatedly about the controversial remarks made by lawmaker Regina Ip earlier this year on Filipino domestic helpers "turning into sexual resources" for expat bosses in the city.

"How will children growing up in transnational marriages feel" if there is such discourse in public life, Yumul says.

"[Ip] was discriminating against not only the Filipinos, but also other migrants from overseas."

Born in the Philippines but spending most of her growing-up years in Hong Kong, Yumul has many first-hand experiences of what it is to be seen as an outsider.

She was still a toddler when she moved to Hong Kong along with her mother at the age of one in 1988, to reunite with her musician father who had based himself in the city some years earlier.

The realization of not being in the mainstream hit Yumul when she began attending school at an institution designated for non-Chinese speaking students.

Chinese language, which is widely seen as a tough subject, is not made compulsory. However, secondary students who do not take the subject have few choices, if not none, when it comes to pursuing post-secondary education, Yumul notes.

"Most of us didn't have a clue as to what we could possibly do after the public exam, so a lot of Filipino students went to Philippines to continue their studies," she says.

Yumul initially wanted to go to the United States for higher studies, but her family -- like many of her fellow nationals -- couldn't afford it.

So, she found herself taking up a journalism course at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, the oldest existing university in Asia.

Yumul recalls the culture shock and difficulties she faced in her supposed homeland.

Everything gets done quickly in Hong Kong, but I had to take things slow in the Philippines, she says.

Yumul says she kept reminding herself that she shouldn't get angry as she needs to face up to the reality of life in another part of the world.

Since she used to speak English rather than Filipino in Hong Kong, a language barrier also made her feel somewhat alien in Philippines.

Given the situation, she never missed an opportunity to fly back to Hong Kong whenever she had long vacations.

After graduation, she also -- not surprisingly -- chose to work in Hong Kong, rather than seek a job opportunity in Manila.

However, the job hunt was not easy as Hong Kong people tend to look upon all Filipino women as "domestic helpers".

"If you say you graduated from a university in Australia, nobody bothers to question. However, when you say Philippines, it is a completely different story," complains Yumul, who encountered much difficulty in landing a media job in Hong Kong.

In the long months before she found work as a journalist, Yumul did many odd jobs, including part-time gigs as restaurant waitress, cleaner at a pub, or working as private English tutor to children.

Not being able to see a bright future, she talked to her peers. It was then that she learnt that she was not the only one facing such problems. 

After frantic efforts over five to six months, and with help from a friend, Yumul finally secured a journalist position in The SUN, a local Filipino publication.

She is currently a program presenter and producer at DBC 5 radio.

Given her experience, Yumul realized that Filipino-Hong Kong youth should unite and give assistance and counseling to one another.

So, she and some like-minded friends came together and established in 2013 an organization called Section Juan to support Filipino teens living in Hong Kong.

The group hopes to grow the organization over the long term and promote the cultural identity of Filipino-Hong Kong population.

According to Yumul, many second-generation Filipino-Hongkongers start working when they are still in their teens.

Due to high pressure at work and possible bad influences from friends, many get into drug addiction.

The drugs problem has been on the rise with people born in the 80s, Yumul says, adding that teenage pregnancy has also been an issue in the community in recent years.

To help the youngsters find their way in life, Yumul's group plans to offer career counseling, personal finance advice workshops, etc.

Yumul says she wants to propagate Filipinos' general spirit of positivism, especially after what she saw during a trip to her birthplace, Tacloban, in 2013 after it was hit by tropical Typhoon Haiyan.

"Filipinos share a very strong bond and support each other. Even though the place [Tacloban] was severely destroyed, with houses all gone, people still wore a smile."

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 18.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

Regina Ip apologises after protest by Filipino maids (April 24, 2015)

-- Contact us at [email protected]


Yumul and her friends organize activities and provide guidance for peers from the Filipino-Hong Kong community. Photo: HKEJ
As a journalist, Yumul secures many chances to meet people from all walks of life. Here's a photo of Yumul with two jazz artists, Cherry Jennifer Palor and Ginger Kwan. Photo: HKEJ
Section Juan aims to offer activities and events that are rich in traditional Filipino culture, says Yumul. Photo: HKEJ
While in school, Yumul (extreme right, first row) had people from different ethnic backgrounds as classmates. Photo: HKEJ
Young Yumul is seen reading the alphabet with her father, who has been a musician working in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal