MANILA, Philippines — In 2000, Bernadette Flores Galcha moved to the United States from the Philippines with her father, mother and sister. Last week, she returned from her first trip back home in fourteen years, “I don’t really remember a lot from living in the Philippines especially since we moved when I was so young, but I do remember some random things.”
She added, laughing, “ like the six-story mall and pumping water to take a bath, and the Jeepneys that are everywhere over there.”
Berna was able to travel quite a bit during her stay, visiting cities like Mamila, Tarlac, Angeles and Laguna. “The Philippines are often represented in movies, TV and travel magazines like Borcay, the really touristy beach areas, but in reality only less than 4 percent of the Philippines even looks like that.” She described the white sandy beaches, European tourists and elegant beauty of what she describes as the “billboard” Philippines, “but if you travel to the inner cities, it is definitely a different world. When I first got there it was hard to adjust to seeing the poverty: the houses that looked like they were about to be blown over, really, really young kids out on the street selling food, flower, jewelry or whatever they had to pedestrians, just the amount of homeless people is really shocking, and the way that people drive…. its just felt so different at first.”
One needs only to search Google images of “The Philippines” to get a sense of the disjunction that she described. While representation of the the diverse environments and people in the Philippines exist, they are few and far between. Especially in comparison to the overwhelming, repetitive snapshots of lackadaisical palm trees extended over miles of white sandy beaches, disappearing on the horizon.
“My mom, two sisters and my brother currently live in a province that is more city-like, but its still considered rural,” she continued, describing the parts of the area and the people that she enjoyed the most.
“The feeling of familiarity is very strong, there is a real connection between the people who live there. We didn’t just know our neighbors, we knew people all over and they were just so friendly,” Berna recollected.
The tourist-driven focus on the Philippines’ most recreational attractions and areas, is not an uncommon phenomenon for much of the developing world. While this can serve as a major contribution to the area’s economy, it also poses some significant problems for the cultures’ representation world wide.
According to Charlotte M. Echtner of the University of Calgary and Pushkala Prasad of Skidmore College in, “The Context of Third World Tourism Marketing” this stems from a colonialist attitude towards the developing world. These representations manifest what Echtner and Prasad refer to in their abstract as a “distinct patterns of marketing images occurring across these destinations,” that reflect historical, colonialist, images that are highlighting differences between the first and third world.
Apart from supporting a colonialist “us vs them” notion, the narrow focus on the tourist attractions of the developing world minimizes the focus on more authentic aspects of the culture, the people and their challenges and successes.
Berna shared that her favorite part of the trip was being immersed in the culture, “you tend to forget that things change, or forget details about the place. It was just exciting to be home. To see more than pictures of beaches and to actually be there, with my people and my family. I felt so happy there because I got to be who I really am.”