One of the organizers of an upcoming workshop on Lanai on "smart strategies for working with Filipinos" says she finds comedian Frank De Lima's references to "buk, buk" offensive.
Cornelia Soberano, a social worker and former lawyer in Toronto, says the term means "termites." The use of this racial expression, which also seems to mimic speech of native speakers, reinforces stereotypes and has "the larger mainstream . . . laughing about it" in a condescending manner.
"We all hurt as people," said Soberano on Monday in a conversation about the upcoming workshop on "Improving Cultural Competency: Smart Strategies for Working With Filipinos."
"Cultural competency means you are knowledgeable about people's historical background: what their cultural values are, what motivates them, what their hopes and dreams are, and what their belief and value systems (are)," she said.
The workshop Saturday at the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i Manele Bay, organized by the Filipino Working Group, is aimed at smoothing ethnic slights, often due to ignorance; to help those attending acquire tools for effective communication and working with relationships with Filipinos; to gain a better understanding of Filipino historical background and cultural value systems; and to improve understanding of the strengths and stress factors that affect the health and well-being of Filipinos.
This is the second conference organized by the Filipino Working Group, which was organized in 2006 by Soberano; Virginia Cantorna, a psychologist with the state Department of Education; Kim Compoc, former executive director of Mediation Services of Maui and currently a theater director; and Jeny Bissell, a registered nurse and public health administrator.
Lanai seemed an appropriate place to hold this conference with about 60 percent of Lanai's population of Filipino descent.
"The workshop truly is a collaboration among neighbors, grass-roots organizations, community leaders, working together for a healthier Lanai," said activist Butch Gima in a news release about the conference.
"From my point of view, this is groundbreaking," said Soberano. "The community is initiating this. . . . It's the village; we are all part of the solution."
Those making presentations at the workshop include Helena Manzano, project director of Honolulu's Domestic Violence Action Center's Philipina Rural Project; Jessie F. Myers, entrepreneur; Mary Santa Maria, public health educator; Cantorna, Soberano and Bissell.
"It is important that Lanai not be excluded, that not everything happens only in Honolulu or Maui," said Bissell in the news release.
She believes that the conference will improve communication and relationships among Lanai residents, families, businesses, health and human service agencies and schools.
In keeping with that spirit, the Four Seasons is sending 30 managers to the workshop "to learn about the strengths of their workers of Filipino ancestry, as well as the challenges they face," said Gima.
Simple cultural differences can lead to large misunderstandings. For example, Filipinos look to the ground to show respect for their bosses, who may interpret this as a sign of disrespect, Soberano explained.
"Where there is misunderstanding and miscommunication, it's time wasted, missed learning opportunities, teaching opportunities," said Soberano. "Productivity is reduced."
If employers become culturally competent, relationships with their workers will improve, and everyone benefits.
"We all have a basic need to be respected, valued," said Soberano. "When that happens, employees become more motivated."
Likewise, Filipinos need competency in the ways of America and other cultures. New arrivals need to be given an orientation.
"They do not really know what prevails in a particular community," said Soberano.
They need to be indoctrinated in the culture and laws of this country; to learn, for example, that physical discipline is illegal and that counseling is available for problems such as those relating to mental health.
"We have an obligation to educate ourselves," she said. "It's a two-way street."
Filipinos could have a much higher standing in Hawaii and not be the butt of jokes, said Soberano, who brings a Canadian perspective. She said Filipinos in Hawaii have had a longer and more difficult journey than Filipinos in Canada, who first immigrated there in the 1960s. Many were health care professionals.
In Canada in the 1970s, "people always said you have to open your eyes really wide to see a Filipino walking though the criminal justice system," said Soberano, who moved to Maui about 4 years ago.
There were children of other ethnic groups who wanted to be Filipino, she recalled.
"We are held in very high regard unlike here on Maui," she said. "There are very negative stereotypes. . . . We can't eliminate them, but we can minimize them.
"Filipinos need not be treated this way."
There are still some spaces available for the conference, which is free due to the sponsorship of the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i; Hawaii People's Fund; state Department of Education Maui District; Lanai High and Elementary School; state Department of Health Maui District; Lanai Filipino Community Council; and Domestic Violence Action Center's Philipina Rural Project. The conference runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the hotel's Hale Halawai Ballroom. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. with light refreshments.
To register or for more information, call Jessie Myers on Lanai at (808) 565-7900, ext. 243, or (808) 559-0157; or Bissell at (808) 984-2136 or e-mail mauifwg@earthlink. net.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.