[Pinoy voices] Saving Korea's 'Little Manila’

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[Pinoy voices] Saving Korea's 'Little Manila’

Hyehwa-dong is a famous place not only to Filipinos but also to other foreigners and Koreans who have gone to the Philippines.

This place is known for its festive atmosphere, created by the presence of a church and market where 1,200 to 2,000 Filipinos gather every Sunday for about six hours after the Holy Mass at Hyehwa-dong Catholic Church. As Filipinos in Korea say, “Only in Hyehwa-dong!”

The Filipino Market, also called “Little Manila,” started at Hyehwa-dong Rotary in 1997. It's a place where Filipinos in Korea can buy their native foods, like pansit (stir-fried noodles), balut (duck egg), kakanin (rice cakes), itlog na maalat (salted eggs), dry goods and other personal products.

It is also a place where they meet their friends on Sundays and share things about their weeks, as well as relieve their stress and homesickness.

It has become symbolic of a home, a community, a family and of Filipino culture. It is “home away from home” for a lot of Filipinos in Korea.

In one of his interviews, the Philippine Ambassador to Korea Luis Cruz said, “It’s a place where Filipinos gather to meet other Filipinos. It’s like social networking. It’s also about Philippine culture. If people go to the Philippines, they’ll see that outside the churches, there are markets and a lively fiesta atmosphere.”

The news about the relocation of the marketplace by the Jongno District Office caused anxiety among Filipinos living in Korea.

This popular place, which has become a center of the Filipinos’ religious, social, economic and cultural activities on Sundays, is now in danger of disintegration.

The district officers are pushing through with this plan, saying that they have received complaints regarding the Filipino market.

They want to maintain order and cleanliness on the sidewalk where the Filipino market is located, they want to improve the traffic in Hyehwa-dong Rotary, they want to enhance the small artificial stream they built along the sidewalk and add to infrastructure development, and they want to transfer the Filipino market to Nakwon-dong in Jongno, where a multicultural street market is being constructed.

The Philippine Embassy, Vendors’ Association, church-based groups and other concerned people and organizations met to propose “win-win” alternative solutions.

Meanwhile, the Hyehwa-dong Filipino Catholic Community headed by Father Alvin Parantar, launched a signature campaign to save “Little Manila.” Around 1,500 signatures were gathered from people not only in Seoul but also in other areas of Korea through Filipino communities and organizations.

The petition letter appealed to Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon to retain and improve the market. It states, “We are not in favor of the relocation of the Filipino Market. We therefore appeal to your good office that the present Filipino Market in Hyehwa-dong be retained with policies regarding order, cleanliness, pedestrians and traffic, and that the development plan of the area should integrate the promotion of multiculturalism.”

Representatives from the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, the Vendors’ Association and the community met with Jongno District officials to discuss market rules and policies that would bring order and safety to the whole area while welcoming people from many cultures.

The campaign to save the Filipino Market is being led by Ambassador Cruz, who sent a letter of appeal to the leaders of Seoul and Jongno, together with the signed petition, vendor’s proposal and a sample of the Philippine-designed carts prepared by the Department of Tourism in Seoul.

As I write this, the Filipino community is waiting for the Seoul mayor’s official statement on the matter.

The Korean government’s policy of building multicultural villages, accepting foreign students in the universities, creating multicultural schools and welcoming foreigners is extremely commendable.

However, the plan to separate “Little Manila” from Hyehwa-dong Church is definitely not a step in the right direction. The Filipino market, after all, is the Philippines’ contribution to the promotion of multiculturalism in Korea.

*The writer is a professor in the Catholic University of Korea’s Teacher Education Program.

By Emely Dicolen-Abagat
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