Weak Passports and Passive Racism

I’ve been gone a whole year and before I go on to the main point of this post, I first owe you guys an update. It’s not because my year had been painfully boring that I haven’t shown up here. It’s quite the opposite. 2015 has been pretty amazing. In the early part of the year I went back to Sagada and Coron, two of my favorite places on Earth, and visited Bohol for the first time. Bohol is famous for the Chocolate Hills, a site I’ve been reading about since I was child. It was pretty surreal after twenty-seven years that I finally got to see it with my own eyes. I did a lot of SCUBA diving this year too. I saw sunken WWII Japanese wrecks, octopuses (/octopi), mantis shrimps, barnacle-laden frog fish, a crocodile fish – which looked like a baby crocodile, a moray eel half buried in a sea snake’s mouth who eventually broke free, and a bazillion other sea creatures. Exactly a month ago I got back from a six-week trip to Canada, and two weeks from now I’m heading off to South Korea. All in all, 2015 has been the richest in travel, adventure, and learning for me.

But it didn’t come without a cost, which leads me to the reason I make this post. Traveling to Canada was the biggest trip I’ve made ever, not only for the distance and the hurdles, but also for the implications. My boyfriend is from there, and this year, we had the simple desire for me to meet his family and friends. It’s pretty standard for any relationship that’s starting to deepen. He had been based in Asia for the past 5 years and we have been dating seriously for more than a year at that point. He has met practically every one of my people.  It was time that I met his, saw his world, experienced his life back home. Over the course of the summer, we made plans to travel to Vancouver. By May I submitted a visa application aiming for a June departure.

For most of you, visiting Canada is probably as simple as buying a ticket and going. Some may need visas, but all it takes is to fill out an application form, and that’s it. I’ve heard some stories of citizens from other rich, dominantly white countries having trouble when they arrive and getting interrogated at immigration. Each time though it ends with them allowed through anyway.

But it’s not the same for the likes of me. As a Filipino, you are made to go through the eye of a needle before getting approved. If you’re lucky and you’ve previously traveled to other rich, dominantly white countries, it’s much, much easier. For instance, someone who has been granted a US visa or a Schengen visa would almost certainly be approved. Unfortunately, all I had was a Japanese visa. And despite it being a 5-year multiple entry, which I thought should count for something, it wasn’t enough.

I was required to submit a letter of invitation, a certificate of employment, a bank statement, other financial assets I had, and land titles or any other property I owned. It was tricky enough for me as a freelancer, because I was contracted by more than one company and was paid per project. I had no property to my name. And the money I had was only a good amount by Filipino standards. It didn’t matter that I submitted all the requirements, it didn’t show that I was “good enough”, and my application was rejected. The reason they gave? “Poor employment prospects in applicant’s home country”. -_-

To be honest, this wasn’t such a big shock to me, growing up knowing that Filipinos getting visas to such countries was as subjective as a Jackson Pollock painting. It was an eye-opener to my boyfriend though, who grew up with the privilege of rocking up to wherever he pleased whenever he felt like it and not having any trouble at all. For him, to have to prepare weeks in advance and give everything and still not get approved was unheard of.

Much as it sucks to admit, it’s because he’s white and I’m brown. And not only brown, but Filipino. Unfortunately we are one of the highest suppliers of illegal immigrants to Canada in the last five years. Thus we get a blanket assumption from Canadian immigration that if you’re Filipino staying illegally is probably all you want to do.

This was racist on so many levels. Not only did it imply that all Filipinos were the same, desperate breed who were willing to break laws just to get “a better life”, it also rejected the possibility that some of us were actually honest, well-meaning people who had no malicious intent. I always thought that the prejudice we were subjected to just to be allowed entry into such countries was insulting, but to experience it firsthand was so infuriating. I felt like I was wrongly accused of a crime I never had the intention of committing, simply because of my nationality. I felt like I was bundled into the same pool as the people who found their lives in the Philippines worth swapping for a life of crime in the hopes that they’d make better money. I felt racially profiled and thus handcuffed to one image of my country.

More than that, I was denied a glimpse at the life of the person I loved. We were denied the chance to move forward in our relationship by getting to know each other deeper, by planting roots in each other’s worlds. My visit was also a chance for me to see if I liked Canada, and if we could consider it a place where we could settle down eventually.

Thanks to the visa refusal however, all that was put on a standstill.

Finally, after the heartbreak and disappointment, we decided to give the application a second shot. After all, we were both convinced that there was a way to show our sincerity. We hired the counsel of a Canadian immigration lawyer, who charged 250 CAD per hour. We wrote to my boyfriend’s MP, Elizabeth May, to ask for assistance. Together with their endorsement letters, we supplemented my application with my boyfriend’s financial statements and his assets. We even included his parents’. The idea was to make the Canadians seem as responsible for me as possible, to have trustworthy “guards” watching my every move. On top of that were letters from him, his parents, and me stating how important this visit was for each of us and how much we each pledge not to break the law. I also illustrated in my letter how great my life was in the Philippines and how I would never turn my back on it for the sake of becoming an illegal immigrant.

After innumerable prayers, more than a thousand dollars spent, back-up plans made, and more prayers, I was finally granted a single entry tourist visa. All that hell for a six-week visit. I couldn’t complain though. At that point, all I wanted was to go.

I know that this was only just the beginning of visa wars for me. All I could hope for is to gain more and more trust as I go, and thus have less and less difficulty. But sadly, as a Filipino, the fear and doubt would probably never go.

Me and Sandy at Bow Summit, Jasper
Me and Sandy at Bow Summit, Jasper