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Philippines looks to draw Gen Z Filipino Americans who have never visited their ancestral homeland

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As the head of her own marketing agency in Los Angeles, Shaina Renee Manlangit has made it her mission to elevate Filipino American talent and culture. But, it occurred to her last year, she had never been to the Philippines.

Knowing there were other young Filipino Americans who felt that gap, the 28-year-old “cold emailed” the Philippine Department of Tourism. That led to her visiting the country in March 2023 for the first time.

“It was a very big cultural shock,” Manlangit said. “Once I got a taste of it, I just wanted to learn more.”

She tasted regional dishes, saw cities and beaches. She learned that the Philippines is a top diving destination, and now she is trying to learn to speak Tagalog, the national language.

Until this year, like many young Filipino Americans, Shaina Renee Manlangit, who owns a marketing agency in Los Angeles, had never been to the Philippines. Photo: Facebook / @Kollective Hustle

Manlangit has since parlayed her journey of discovery into a collaboration with the government to launch trips especially geared towards young Filipino Americans.

The Philippines has long been interested in attracting Filipino Americans to come and add to the economy, but its incentives have mostly drawn retirees or immigrants catching up with relatives. Today, they are aimed at a younger generation of Filipino American professionals, who live on TikTok and Instagram.

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Two Filipino American influencers were recruited to join a group VIP tour in July. Manlangit also has a state-endorsed, eight-day tour slotted for 2024 through the capital city, Manila, and the islands of Cebu and Coron, that is being marketed as a vibrant introduction for any Filipino American willing to join.

The Department of Tourism said in a statement that officials are excited to collaborate with Manlangit on a trip that will strengthen cultural bonds and create “reasons to love the Philippines”, referencing the country’s current tourism campaign.

For some young Filipino Americans, or Fil Ams, unfamiliarity with their parents’ home country and language makes the idea of planning a trip there overwhelming. But they have also grown up encouraged to show cultural pride. So as adults, some are searching for a connection to the Philippines.

October is Filipino American History Month, and Manlangit is hoping her peers might focus on exploring their family roots through travel.

Shaina Renee Manlangit enters the historic resort Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, in Bagac, Bataan, in the Philippines, during her trip. Photo: AP

Alexander Martin Jnr, 31, has already committed to one of the 10 places on the 2024 trip. Born and raised in San Leandro, California, the entrepreneur only knows the Philippines from family photos and stories. School, sports and then work always seemed to make it impossible to squeeze in a visit.

Also, the thought of planning a trip to the Philippines was intimidating. It feels reassuring to be going with other young Filipino Americans, says Martin. “I’m just hoping to get familiar with my culture, and be familiar with it so one day I can bring my son to all these places I got to experience.”

Nobody was more elated than his mother.

“If I were to go with family,” Martin says, “it’s gonna be like a lot of visiting cousins or visiting family out there. But this trip, she’s excited that I get to experience the Philippines in its entirety.”

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral in Cebu, one of the destinations on a planned 2024 of the country for Filipino Americans. Photo: Shutterstock

The Philippines’ efforts to integrate Filipinos in America go back more than a century. After the Philippine-American war and the ensuing US occupation, both countries passed the Pensionado Act in 1903. Exchange students from the Philippines were chosen to travel to the US. The goal was for them to further their education and advocate for the American way of governing upon their return.

“Those were like the first sort of American or Americanised Filipinos,” said Evelyn Ibatan Rodriguez, a sociology professor and part of the University of San Francisco’s Philippine Studies Programme.

In 1973, Philippine president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose son and namesake is the current president, enacted the Balikbayan Programme to draw Filipinos living in the US to come to work part-time in the Philippines. Incentives included an extended visa for a year and lower taxes.

Roughly 30 years later, then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration granted dual citizenship to Filipino Americans born in the US after 1973.

Coron island, Palawan, will be one of the destinations on Manlangit’s 2024 state-endorsed tour for Filipino Americans. Photo: Shutterstock

“That becomes the game changer because then you’ve got US ‘foreign’ Filipinos like myself … who can become dual citizens and then benefit under this Balikbayan legislation,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez hadn’t heard of tourism efforts targeting young Filipino American adults. But she knows a lot of college students and college-educated Filipino Americans who have expressed an interest in visiting the Philippines. And they want something that isn’t just visiting relatives or playing tourist.

“Coming to university … where Asian Americans are such a significant presence, it’s sort of given them permission to be like, ‘Wait a second, there’s actually something I can learn from the Philippines’,” Rodriguez said. “Not just the Philippines is sort of a ‘charity case’.”

Even Gen-Z visitors may “want more than an Instagram-friendly visit to their parents’ or grandparents’ homelands”, she said.

A typical Manila street scene. Young Filipino Americans may “want more than an Instagram-friendly visit to their parents’ or grandparents’ homelands”, says a sociology professor. Photo: Shutterstock

“They want to visit sites that may not be glamorous or photogenic, but that have historical or contemporary significance to Filipino people and society,” Rodriguez says. “They want the chance to learn from and exchange ideas with Philippines-born peers, artists and leaders.”

Among the activities on Manlangit’s planned tour next year are snorkelling, hiking and viewing sites such as Fort Santiago in Manila. She said she took into account the sites tourism officials would like to promote but also what her peers are seeking.

“There’s a lot of room to grow with this,” she said. Someday, she hopes “it’s eventually not just targeting Filipino Americans”.

Article was originally published from here

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