Filipinos account for the fifth largest ethnic group here in Australia. So it’s inevitable to bump into a kababayan anywhere you go. During my weekly trip to my local shops during the hard lockdown in Victoria, I would cross paths with people who were unmistakably Pinoy, despite a mask hiding half our faces. The mannerisms confirm our shared identities – a nod upward, a wriggling of the eyebrows or the inevitable Kamusta, and you’d know you’ve met a fellow Pinoy.
I had my weekly Filipino suki, who provided a friendly banter during the imposed isolation. Our weekly encounters paved the way for an easy familiarity. She took interest in my story, as I did in hers. We became part of each other’s weekly narrative.
This led to a thought: In a year where relationships took to the virtual platform, there really is no excuse to prevent an exchange of our individual stories. When we’ve eliminated the need for physical presence in order to communicate, we’ve discovered all that is required is time and a strong bandwidth.
#PinoysDownUnder is a series of stories of Filipinos here in Australia. It aims to feature the lives of ordinary Pinoys like you and me, to get to know our unique story, our heartaches and triumphs, and how we’ve made a home for our families here in Australia.
I hope you would love to read about your kababayans – and that you’d be inspired to share your own story, too.
#PinoysDownUnder talks to Antonio Bustamante
“I first set foot on Australian soil in 1994 as a tourist, accompanied by my mother Sofia. Lured by the relaxed pace of life here, I came back two years later as a migrant. My sister Daphnie and my bro-in-law Glenn Raymond Smith helped me find a new lease on life. With their help, I tried to find a way to be on my own. But like many other migrants it took me a few years before I became independent.
“I was still single when I came to Australia and with so much freedom and time, I took the opportunity to equip myself with education and training that might help me get a job/career that I want. Having worked as an editor in the publishing industry in the Philippines, I tried to get a qualification in graphic design. But by that time, the world was approaching the millennium, and Internet and digital technology were slowly killing the print publications market and the industry was already starting to downsize. Every publication I applied at would tell me that they needed someone with local experience. No door was kind enough to let me in.
“So I was forced to find other career paths as I was also growing desperate to start any honest job. Then out of the blue, opportunity knocked on my door. Manoy Joven Esmilla, my kababayan from Naga, who was then a chef at Crown Casino, saw me at our Filipino shop at Werribee Plaza. He said that they urgently needed some front of house staff in a restaurant at Crown Casino and that we will be paid while being trained. So I jumped at the opportunity and I never looked back since.
“This is Australia, any job has dignity. Your hard work will be rewarded well,” Manoy Joven assured me. From then on, he became my best friend and a ninong at my wedding in 2006.
“Four years later, a French chef and colleague at Crown told me that he’s leaving to work in a quiet and less busy nursing home as he was in his late 40s then. He told me to consider such a career shift as a 24-hr restaurant is too big, busy and tough for the long haul. I heeded his wisdom.
“Now, more than 20 years into hospitality, I’m enjoying my career as a cook in childcare. I really believe God called me into this vocation to work with children and families to be a part in nurturing their well-being.
“I’ve been married now with my wife Jeanie for 15 years. She is a Protestant while I am a devout Catholic, almost becoming a priest if my mom had her way. I go with Jeanie when she goes to her Church, and she gladly comes with me when I go to Sunday masses. While we weren’t blessed with children of our own, my wife’s business operating a daycare centre has meant that our home is filled with the voices of children almost every day.
“The joy that I see in every child’s face every time I bring the food trolley to their rooms is priceless. The hugs and the letters they give me and Jeanie make us feel that we weren’t deprived of children at all.
“The sweet noises, the giggles and fun in our day care during their birthdays and playtime in our backyard are more than enough joy and consolation that fill the void for not having our own children. We have also built a community here with our children’s families, and before COVID-19, we would have a basketball tournament at Christmastime that they all enjoyed. I look forward to continuing that again next year.
“On weekends I teach young children guitar and ukulele. I also decided lately to go back to my first love: the Arts. I want to paint and have a solo exhibit when I turn 60. I finished one painting so far and so 99 more paintings to go!
“At 55, I cannot imagine doing any other thing. I just want to pay off our house then help Jeanie at our family day care and continue to play the guitar, sing and paint when I retire.
“I am grateful to my wife for sharing my advocacy to love, nurture, and help young families and their precious children in our community – so they can grow up to become loving, responsible and happy individuals.
“I am also grateful to my sister Daphnie and bro-in-law Glenn for giving me an opportunity to find a greener pasture here in Australia.
“As Peter Allen said, ‘And no matter how far, or how wide I roam, I now call Australia home’.”
(Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story to #pinoysdownunder)