Whilst anyone from the Philippines will tell you that Filipinos are everywhere, so too, it seems, are the Italians!
After a morning of snorkelling at the sunken cemetery in Camiguin and a long walk on the beach I was hungry and ready to eat when I stumbled across an Italian restaurant called ‘Luna’ (‘moon’) close to my hotel. The waitress told me that restaurant was established by an Italian from Napoli who had married a Filipino woman from the island. It was subsequently taken over by another Italian, this time from Venice. The menu reflected this history and the connections between the two countries…homemade pasta, gnocchi, eggplant parmigiana, pizza baked in a brick oven, even grappa and limoncello, all on a tiny island the other side of the world from Italy!
And it turns out that the corridor between Italy and the Philippines, so vividly represented by the sign at the Luna restaurant, is far from new. Like all migration, once you start to look you see that there has been a long history of movement – not just of people but also of knowledge, ideas, language, arts, music and of course food – between the two countries.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), around 115,000 Filiponos were living in Italy in 2010. A more recent report produced by the Filipino community living in Italy puts the figure at around 170,000 in 2016. The Filipino community was one of the first to settle in Italy, chiefly because of the connections between Italy and the Philippines created by a shared religion, Catholicism. Women were the first to move to Italy, travelling to meet the rising demand for family and domestic labour as the Italian labour market started to change when Italians migrated elsewhere. They were later joined by their families.
Whilst Filipinos can be found across the whole of Italy, more than half live in the major cities of Rome and Milan. In fact Milan has quite a reputation in the Philippines not least because of a very sucessful Filipino movie entitled ‘Milan’ which came out in 2004 and stars two of the country’s biggest film stars – Claudine Barretto and Piolo Pascual – who play the roles of migrant workers. The film is mainly set in Milan but also features scenes from Rome, Venice, Verona and Como Lake. A new film on the same theme and with the same actors is even planned, this time set in Florence.
The economic benefits to both the Philippines and Italy of this relationship is beyond doubt. The total amount sent by Filipinos living in Italy to their families back home amounted to an estimated USD 3.647 billion in the period 2000 to 2008. Filipinos also take other items such as food, clothes, accessories, appliances, decorative items, mobile phones and other electronic items home with them when they visit or if they decide to return. As a result of the money sent from Italy, families are able to send their children to schools and to Universities. Some open small businesses or buy a vehicle such as a Jeepney, a taxi or a tricycle to generate further income. Those returning to the Philippines often take with them the aestetic preferences and tastes of Italy, creating areas known locally as ‘Little Italy’ much as the Italians did when they migrated to New York and other American cities at the turn of the twentieth century.
There is rather less information available on the role and experiences of Italians in the Phillipines but its clear from the story told by the waitress at the Luna restaurant in Camaguin that this migration also contributes to the local economy and generates new business opportunities.
And so to to my order…
Well, I needed to check out the pizza of course, choosing a vegetarian one with mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and olives. It came very quickly as a pizza bianca (white pizza without tomato sauce) and a completely delicious base…light, crisp and extremely flavoursome, especially with the addition of bottled olio piccante (chilli oil) typical of pizzerias in Italy. The caprese salad was bursting with delicious ripe tomatoes with a splash of oil and sprinkling of dried Italian herbs over the top. Whilst the mozzarella did not really resemble the Italian version, it still tasted good!
And like all food which is familiar, it brought a comforting glow as I headed back to the hotel to pack my bags for the journey home…