Visit to Earls Court

26 10 2009

According to a 2007 report from the Manila Times, London has over 120,000 ethnic Filipinos and Earls Court is home to the single largest community of them. And so I went to Earls Court today to take pictures and to talk to some Filipino-Londoners for the first time. Coming out of the tube station I interrupted a transaction between a caucasian fruit vendor and a Filipina customer to ask (in English) where I could find ‘Filipino-town’. Having lived in Toronto, Paris, Montreal and Tokyo each time failing to find a ‘Filipino-town’ I already knew that it was likely that none would exist in London either. The question was received with confusion from both the vendor and the Filipina. I clarified that I was looking to find the centre of the Philippine community in London, like Chinatown but for Filipinos. I’m not sure if it was my accent or the question but I was still no further ahead for an answer. Finally I asked where I could buy some good Filipino food around the area and to my surprise it was the caucasian vendor who answered first telling me what general direction to go in.  After she bought two large bags of fruit, the Filipina later elaborated on the specific roads that I should go to. I then realized right away that her level of english was such that it made sense that the vendor would answer first to my question phrased in my loud, rapid-fire Canadian delivery. I did not make eye contact and raise my head and eyebrows with a smile (typical Filipino body language equivalent of a ‘Hello, can I ask you something?’). I interrupted with the typical Canadian passive, polite, aggressive, “I’m sorry but…”

The day went on as I bumbled my way physically and culturally through several streets, shops, banks and restaurants that catered to the Philippine community. I asked the question, “Where is Filipino-town?” to several more Filipinos working in the shops and walking the streets and each time I was told that there was no such thing in London. Of course I knew this, even before I came here. This is the reality of the Philippine diaspora. There wasn’t a Filipino-town when I was growing up in Canada, and even now when Filipinos represent the third largest ethnic visual-minority group in Toronto, there is still no Filipino-town. This speaks to the displacement and assimilation of the Filipinos who leave ‘home’ and make a new home in their host countries while keeping ties with the Philippines. It is in these scant shops, restaurants and money transfer agencies that a space between their current reality in London and the life they left in the Philippines physically meet. It is from these spaces in between that I begin my image making process.