Intercountry Cultural Contact
and Exchange: The Philippine-Lao Nexus
Penélope V. Flores
San Francisco State University
In 2004, The Mekong Circle International initiated a book project where Filipinos who served in Laos told their stories for publication. There was a huge response for the call for personal stories. The first work of Filipinos in Laos existed in the field of humanitarian and socioeconomic fields represented by Operation Brotherhood, a private Jaycee (Junior Chamber of Commerce) organization. By the 1960s the population of the Filipino community in Laos increased and many Filipinos served under USAID and many affiliated corporations.
This paper is a content analysis of the personal stories told by Filipinos who served in Laos from 1956 to 1973. Using the ethnographic strategies of Emic and Etic strategies the analysis of this paper derives the contextual and negotiated meanings and interpretations among the Filipinos’ work experience in Laos. This conceptualization brings out the interconnections of cultural experiences between separate, discrete, yet similar groups of people.
The analysis of fifty narratives told by personnel from Operation Brotherhood (OB), Eastern Construction Company Operations in Laos (ECCOIL), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Air Continental reveal regional differences among Filipinos and cultural differences between Filipinos and Laotians, yet an underlying richness of common life experience strengthened the complicated nexus.
Very few people realize that the Filipinos’ intercultural contact and exchange with the Laotian people brought about a particularity among the Lao villagers who they served. The Laotians defined the Filipinos as “thanmos” or doctors who treated patients on their Mobile Clinic boat that plied the Mekong River. In other words, all Filipinos were seen as medical doctors. Storytellers indicated how the Lao experience changed them.
This transformative power of the Philippine-Lao nexus is fully developed in this paper using the personal untold stories. The stories are anthologized under the title Goodbye Vientiane: The Untold Stories of Filipinos in Laos, published by the Philippine AmericanWriters and Artists and will be available at the conference.