Think Globally, Act Locally

My next interviewee was Amerigo Tatel, who was born in the Philippines and has lived in Russia for more than 20 years now. Amerigo and his family talked about their lives and their attitudes towards Russia, and also how they develop and strengthen friendships and understanding between Russians and Filipinos.

The story of Amerigo's connection with Russia starts in the 1980s. That was when Amerigo's future wife Vilma decided to sit for the entrance exam for higher education in the USSR. Back then, the Communist Party of the Philippines allocated quite a lot of money for educational purposes; hence Filipino students in Russia were fully sponsored. "Now everything is different," says Amerigo. "There is practically no state support for people who want to study in Russia. That's why you can count the number of Filipino students currently studying in Russia on your fingers."

Vilma passed the examination and went to Lviv, Ukraine in 1984, where she studied at the Medical Institute. Some time later, Amerigo himself had the opportunity to go to Ukraine, and he enrolled in the Kiev Civil Aviation Institute. However, the future husband and wife did not know each other at first. They met in Moscow, at the Philippine Youth Festival, which was held every year with the support of the Philippine Embassy.

After they completed their education, Amerigo and Vilma decided without hesitation to stay on in Russia, even though most of their compatriots had opted to leave for the US or the UK after graduating in the USSR. "We practically did not consider leaving," says Vilma, "because we loved Russia. It was great to see the real Russia, to see how people work and study here. Our impressions of Russia were really different from what we were told by our friends in the Philippines. That was understandable: there was, after all, much anti-USSR propaganda there." Amerigo decided not to stay in Ukraine, but to move to Moscow, where he would be closer to the embassy. Moreover, there were more opportunities for study and work in Moscow. Soon, the young couple had their first son, Mikhail, and that further strengthened their desire to stay on in Russia.

Now, there are three children in the Tatel family. I was lucky enough to meet two of them, as Mikhail is currently working in China. Amerigo and Vilma's younger daughter is called Angelica. She plays basketball at a competitive level for her Olympic Reserve School. According to Angelica, she is a true-blue Russian.

"Not long ago I went to the Philippines for the first time," she recalls, "and of course it was lovely to see my grandmother and grandfather, but everything there was strange and new to me. I really missed Russia."

The second daughter, Katya, is already 17 years old, and studying at the Moscow State University of Design and Technology. "I love Russia and Russian culture," Katya tells me. "For instance, I love Russian classics – Gorky, Tolstoy... and I love the people here: they are always ready to help. I have many Russian friends here. My teachers in school are very supportive. They help me with the Russian language, and that's great."

With regard to language, the whole Tatel family is fluent in Russian and English. "This is how it works in general: we try to speak to each other in Russian most of the time, but we speak English in the kitchen, and Filipino when we are angry", laughs Amerigo.

Amerigo says that he is happy that he chose to spend his life in Russia. Here, he claims, the children become more independent and responsible, and every person has his own opinion on all matters. This, according to Amerigo, is attributable to large differences not only between the cultures of our countries, but also the mentalities of Russians and Filipinos. Amerigo says that in the Philippines, people are happy with the status quo. Most people are rather wealthy, so few are truly striving for something.

"This is not the case in Russia," he says. "Here, people are more independent and decisive. They are keen to get as much as possible as quickly as possible. They are very efficient and creative."

At the same time, Amerigo says that his children are faced with a significant challenge: what should they consider to be their national identity?

"I always say that you are Russian not on paper, but in terms of your worldview and mentality", says Amerigo. "At the end of the day, citizenship does not play a defining role. Moreover, I think that before receiving citizenship, one must ask himself if he is really worthy of it. That's really important."

According to Amerigo and his family, they are happy in Russia because they feel that they are doing something useful. They are trying their best to establish a dialogue between our cultures. The family often invites Russian friends over to introduce them to Philippine traditions, cuisine and culture, and even offers advice on travelling to the Philippines to those interested. One of Amerigo's friends even decided to make the Philippines his home. Conversely, when they go to the Philippines, Vilma and Amerigo introduce the locals to Russian culture. "Many people have negative attitudes towards Russia", says Amerigo. "And I tell them that they can't draw any conclusions if they haven't been to this country. And I invite them to come visit us."

Indeed, the good relations between our two distant countries can only be built upon mutual understanding, when people can communicate directly with each other instead of forming their opinions of each other on the basis of propaganda, which is often far-removed from reality. Thus, the feeling that you can, in ways however small, contribute something that turns out to be important for everyone – the promotion of peace and understanding between countries – is perhaps one of the best feelings one can experience.

Text: Tatiana ANDREYEVA
Photo: Alisa BASYROVA



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