Filipinos retain their Oriental and collectivist worldview, despite the 500 years of Western influence. They value close family ties, social acceptance, smooth interpersonal relationships, and deference for older persons. The Filipino indigenous values like utang na loob (inner debt), pagmamalasakit (sacrifice), pakikisama  (getting along with others), pamilya muna (family first), and filial piety have anthropological and philosophical beginnings. Filipinos use these traits to understand and describe persons and their behaviour.  Utang na loob  (inner-debt) is a Filipino cultural trait related to the Chinese filial piety and the Japanese Giri and Gimu (duty and obligation).   It is reciprocity, in essence, contrasting the Western notion of individualism.

Filipino adults expect children to care for and support their parents, owing to utang na loob, value-based expectation.  Parents provide lifetime support to their children; in return, they provide respect and care for parents or seniors in the family. The normative trait of utang na loob blends well with filial piety or the dutiful act of care and respect for parents and the elderly. Filial piety is also a form of giving back, expressing gratitude, and an obligation to return kindness to parents who have gone through pagmamalasakit (sacrifice) for children’s well-being. It is more than just giving material things as it denotes a lifetime obligation. It morally compels a person to pay back ‘the favour received in many different ways’ – a cultural trait entrenched in Filipino families and communities.

The obligation to care for parents is an essential concept of filial piety. Filipinos share this same value and tradition with the Chinese and the Japanese. Many Filipinos may not know the philosopher Confucius, yet adhere to the Confucian moral compass of caring for parents and the elderly. 

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, Filipinos value caring for their parents because God commands it so. Honouring and caring for one’s parents is a commandment inscribed in Exodus 20: 12 to ― honour the father and your mother so that you have a long life in the land that Yahweh your God has given to you (Jones, 1966, p.102). 

At an early age, parents and grandparents teach their children respect for elders and those in authority. In return, children must obey and be polite to parents and grandparents, or bear the brunt of gaba or curse for life. Those who deprive their obligation or maltreat their parents raise the ire of their clan, neighbourhood, barrio (village), or friends. 

Providing support to one’s family is a social expectation. Apart from the parents, everyone must help. Traditionally, the eldest children bear the task of helping the family. They get educated first so they can help their parents in providing support for their siblings. If they fail to perform their tasks, their younger sisters or brothers assume the obligation of care. The hierarchy moves on to the youngest, should none among the elder siblings assumed the responsibility. 

Without reference to family, filial piety is incomprehensible. Family is the seedbed of the values of honouring and caring for parents and the elderly in the family. It is the locus of faith where children learn to revere God and respect those in authority in the family, including older brothers and sisters. Giving precedence to the value of family centrism assures one of support, care, and protection. 

Filipinos are agile in embracing the local culture and quickly adapting to new social milieu or norms overseas.  Yet, they maintain a Filipino friends network or engage in Filipino groups to re-live their traditions and values. In a typical first-generation Filipino home abroad, the family-based traditions and values like familia muna, utang na loob, pagmamalasakit, and filial piety thrive. They also maintain their sense of connection back home through Padala boxes  (gift boxes for kin), remittances, and frequent social media contacts.   One can think of it as a proverbial umbilical cord that connects overseas Filipino to their kin back home.

Conversely, family centrism and filial piety are among the Filipino values challenged in a society where individualism persists. Many are facing ambivalence of identity and values.  When children insist on living independently, Filipino parents would wish them to stay.  Others are torn apart between letting go of their children and keeping them at home.  For some who now reside in seniors home, the seeming disbelief in their children who have kept them in institutionalized care remains baffled with the thought.

Will family centrism and family expectations persist among second-generation Filipinos overseas? 

A study in transnational struggles among children of Filipino immigrants in North America reaffirmed the issues of family centrism and expectations. While the family is key to their identity, it is also their main struggle as second-generation Filipinos. 

Integration and acculturation resulted in a hybrid identity for second-generation children in the USA and Canada. First-generation immigrant parents brushed aside cultural hybridity and insisted on their children to live like Filipinos even if they were in America (Wolf, 1997). In Canada, studies have shown that second-generation youth face cultural conflicts negotiating the expectations of their ethnic heritage and broader Canadian norms (Lalonde & Ciguére, 2008). This conflict raised the issues around acceptance and respect from peers and community (Hébert & Alama, 2008).  Second-generation Filipinos live in two conflicting worlds:  the world of their parents and that of their peers. But whether second-generation Filipinos or the grandchildren of sponsored Filipino seniors will persist in adhering to the values of family centrism and filial piety is a question of interest. With the integration of the second-generation Filipinos with the mainstream culture, the unfolding of a hybrid identity and values is inevitable, which could challenge or transform the Filipino tenets of family centrism and filial piety.

Family expectations still matter, especially for first-generation Filipinos living overseas.  The centrality of family in Filipino life reinforces the obligation to provide care and support for the family member, especially the parents. Family-centrism is where identity and future life revolve around the family needs — pamilya muna  (family first). Likewise, filial piety and the value of supporting one’s family does not have a definite end. It lingers on for as long as parents and kin need help.

Dr. Ernie Alama completed his Doctorate of Philosophy in the Graduate Division of Educational Research, University of Calgary. He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at St. Mary’s University – Calgary.  Dr. Alama is an educator, a researcher, a businessman, a community development worker, and a Filipino immigrant who is passionate about engaging in mental health and development work for Filipinos and Filipino-Canadians.