I have stayed off credit cards for most of my adult life, just because I don’t trust myself to be disciplined with my spending, yet I opened 2019 running paper errands because I need to open a credit account.
Why? The Italian Embassy “suggested” I should submit credit card statements if I want to reapply for a Schengen Visa.
Last November, the embassy denied my application for a Schengen Visa due to reasons such as that I have not sufficiently proven I have the financial means to fund my travel, and that I have not proven I will not overstay in their country.
That rejection was an immense frustration because only months before, the United States denied me a tourist visa over the vague reason that I do not satisfy requirements “provided for in our Immigration Law.”
Granting visas are arbitrary decisions. No matter how you think you know the process, much of it is speculation and depends on personal circumstances. Two people can apply for the same visa but would tell you different set of requirements.
My personal circumstance is a pain in the ass. I am young, single, a woman, and a Filipino.
On top of that, my entire family is abroad, all of them European citizens. My mom, who is a British citizen, is actually a holder of the Italian Fiscal Code card. Many people told me these are assets to applying for a visa.
But they’re not. I have multiple ties abroad. Belonging to a clan of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), I have relatives all over the world. That raises the suspicion of what the United States call as the “immigrant intent.”
So I have to overcome doubts the other way: prove that I am rich enough to not want to migrate.
I am 28 and have been a journalist all my life, I don’t earn that much, but I earn just fine.
I earn enough to send myself to Europe, but evidently, someone from a developing world like me has to have so much more money to prove herself worthy of travel whereas citizens of the West can come and go without trouble.
When I was applying to study in London in 2016, I had to take an English test worth P10,000 or roughly £140/$180.
Why do I, a citizen of a former American colony where children are taught English from day 1, have to spend so much to prove I can speak the so-called universal language?
I had more English subjects than Filipino subjects. Our laws and documents, our street signs, our broadsheets, our legislative sessions are in English, yet Western Institutions want to certify I can speak it.
Like visas, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has become such a cottage industry that English test results are only valid for two years. So if I want to apply for European institutions this year, I would have to shell out another P10,000 to prove I had not forgotten my English in the last two years.
IELTS come in two kinds, the first is general the second is academic, the latter being more difficult than the former.
General IELTS are usually taken by blue-collared workers.
It was an infuriating experience for me lining up for my test at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati listening to the general IELTS takers talk about their horror stories. Some have failed the test twice, some thrice. These are manual laborers who have to pay that exorbitant amount over and over and over again even though their communication skills are perfectly fine.
That year, our IELTS speaking test was held on a different date than the reading, writing and comprehension tests. At least for my batch, we didn’t find out our speaking test date in advance, so if you were coming from the province, you wouldn’t know how long to stay in Manila for.
What’s even more infuriating is that these workers, as well as other Filipinos, do not see it as an abusive system. Instead they see it as something aspirational, a standard they should pass to be part of an exclusive group.
Post-colonial wounds have not healed enough that we still see ourselves as the little brown brothers who have to ask Uncle Sam’s permission to come and play.
What’s in a name?
When I was living in England in 2016, I sent dozens of resumes but did not get a single interview.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and have six years experience in Broadcast News, yet it seemed I wasn’t qualified even for clerk jobs.
My friend suggested I do an experiment where I “whiten” my name, change it to Lian Smith, remove my photo, and relegate all Philippine-related details lower in the resume.
We were basing off multiple studies which suggest a foreign name has a lower chance of getting a job interview.
On the topic of names, why do we allow the West to pronounce our names the way they want to when we have to learn how to say their names perfectly. I remember a trip to Mount Pulag where a Chinese guy and a Vietnamese guy had to offer “English” names, a habit they picked up from traveling where people they meet couldn’t (or wouldn’t) learn their names.
When I was Year 7 living in Stevenage, our schools put my sister and I to their equivalent of lowest sections. They did this without an interview. So I had to sit through a year of learning basically what I have already learned two years before in my small school in the Philippines.
So I realized really young that my skin color defined me. I went home and worked hard in an effort to come back and prove I’m more than just my foreign name.
But here I am at 28, applying for a credit card, preparing for an English test, whitening my story because in many ways, the world for minorities like me has not really changed.
About the Author:
Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of Subselfie.com. She is a multimedia reporter too for Rappler, covering the Justice Beat. For SubSelfie.com, Lian leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments. She was a news producer for GMA News for six years before she moved to England to take up her Masters in Digital Journalism at the Goldsmiths University of London. Her areas of journalistic interests include human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.