Proxemics and Mapping of Filipinos in Los Angeles

This anthropological research report was created in 2008 in the Los Angeles areas of Eagle Rock, Cerritos, and Long Beach. Some names have been changed for the privacy of informants.

        Proxemics and Mapping of Filipinos in Los Angeles

        Purpose: The purpose of this research was to find out how Filipinos use space when communicating to one another. I wanted to see how Filipinos acted in different situations and interacted with each other. I aimed to get a general idea of how Filipinos interact with each other in public settings as well as personal settings. The results of this research are important for anyone who is planning on interacting with Filipinos on a regular basis. I also made a map of one area to show how Filipino businesses congregate together in an area.


Me with some of my L.A. Pinoy friends.


         I went out to Eagle Rock Plaza in Eagle Rock and observed Filipinos in a Filipino area of the plaza. There was a Filipino grocery store and fast food restaurant in the bottom floor where hundreds of Filipinos were shopping and hanging out. Later I went to Cerritos, to a strip mall area with a lot of Filipino businesses and observed Filipinos as well. This is where I made a sketch of a map of the area. The next day I went to a Filipino Baptist church in Long Beach and was able to observe more Filipinos.

        During my study I was able to meet a few subjects who gave me some answers to questions about my research. I was able to observe the way they interacted with me when they talked as well. The first informants were friends of mine who were able to be guides for me in my research and helped me get to the destinations with high Filipino concentrations. They are two Filipina girls named Angela who is 22 and Angeline who is 21. These girls were born in the USA and are American Filipinas. The second informant who supplied me with a lot of information I will call “Emilio” and was about 50. He was born and raised in the Philippines, but around the age of 30 he moved to Los Angeles where he had lived for about 40 years in Historic Filipinotown and was heavily involved with the Filipino “Cultura” organization in Los Angeles. His wife was also the secretary of the organization at one point. I randomly met him at the Filipino fast food place called The Jollibee in the Eagle Rock Plaza.

        The next day I went to the Filipino Church in Long Beach, and was able to speak with a woman who I will call “Michelle” who gave me some information. She was in her 40’s and had 3 kids. She was born in the Philippines and came in her 20’s to the United States and went to college to be a nurse.

        The data I collected for this study is important because it can be used for missionaries who plan to go to the Philippines to be able to relate to Filipinos better and understand the way they communicate. This could make it easier for missionaries to befriend Filipinos and feel comfortable speaking with them to share the gospel. Also, Filipinos have dispersed throughout the entire world and in every major city in every country there are Filipinos. No matter what country a missionary goes to, the missionary could end up meeting Filipinos and knowing this information can help them communicate properly with them. Another important fact is that if we convert a lot of Filipinos, they are so connected that many more Filipinos will come to Christ as a result. If this happens, Filipinos are so spread out that many Christian Filipinos would be all over the world being witnesses of the Lord to the lost in every major city on the planet!

         Methodology: The methodology I used was to sit around in and also walk through areas of high Filipino concentration. I would hang out in one area and take frequent walks though other areas. I sat at a Filipino brand fast food place called the Jollibee in the Eagle Rock Plaza. I sat for about 2 and a half hours. I was able to see how Filipinos sat around others and ate together. Later, I took random walks through a popular Filipino grocery store called Sea Food City and was able to observe Filipinos walking around and moving about and having conversations. Later at the strip mall area in Cerritos I was able to walk into businesses and talk to employees as I bought drinks and observe them talking to others. After that I went to another Filipino grocery store across the street from the Cerritos Mall which was called Pacific Island Market. I was able to spend about 45 minutes in there. The next day in the Long Beach church, I was able to experience a Sunday school setting, a worship service and hang out afterwards with Filipinos and converse with them.


Taco Bell hang out

        Results and discussion: I got some pretty good results that helped me understand Filipino proxemics and was able to create a map of where Filipino businesses are.

        When I arrived at Eagle Rock Plaza I went downstairs where all of the Filipinos were at. I went to a Filipino fast food place called the Jollibee and bought some food and sat down in the dining area. The area was almost all Filipinos in this section of the mall and the eating place in the restaurant was very small and close quarters. At first I thought that this was a sociopetal eating area, but later I would find out I was wrong. The reality was just that the space the mall allowed was a small area so people had to eat near each other, but at different tables. People who did not know each other did not sit close on purpose or talk. I sat at a larger table in the center with some empty chairs around me and my 2 friends who had walked off into the mall to look around. So, I was alone, but awhile later my two Filipina friends came back and sat in front of me, but there were two more seats next to me that were empty. A man named Emilio sat down one space away from me. He asked if he could sit here and we said yes. A few minutes later I talked to him and told him I was doing research and asked about culturally significant areas in Eagle Rock for Filipinos and he told us there was none. He told us that over the years Filipinos spread out. He said that Filipinos do not live in one concentrated neighborhood anymore. He said that 20 years ago they did, but have since moved in all different areas of Los Angeles. Filipinos only congregate together when they go to areas for shopping for food at Filipino stores. This is why I could not find an actual Filipino town with cultural references. I could only find businesses like the Jollibee and the grocery stores I went to. Emilio told me that Cerritos had more Filipinos and I should go there. So later we did.

         I was able to observe interesting uses of proxemics while I was at Eagle Rock Plaza. When Emilio talked with me, he leaned toward me and made eye contact as he spoke. We both happened to be unconsciously using the chair between us as an arm rest. I did not pay attention to this until he touched my arm as he was making a point in the conversation. It was a touch for less than a second and was used to put emphasis on a point. This is much like American behavior, but since he was a stranger it was awkward for me. In my culture from what I know, a stranger who just met someone would not touch another person. When Armando touched me it showed that I established trust.

         Later I observed all kinds of Filipinos from young to old. Mostly everyone was keeping their distance from one another even if they were friends. They kept about a 3 foot distance away much like Americans do. They did not seem comfortable being too close to others. When people were family or a couple then they were close. Parents held the hands of their children and kept them close and did not let them walk off. I have noticed in other Asian cultures that parents allow their children to run up ahead. In this case the parents kept them close like American parents do. This could possibly be because the mall was busy. Couples held hands and stayed close. I saw a Filipino couple talking with another Filipino couple at a table outside of this Asian food place. The setting of the table was sociopetal, much like a French café that is outside. They kept their normal distance, but when the first couple had to leave the female leaned over and kissed the other female on the cheek and waved goodbye. This reminded me of Hispanic culture. This is possibly because the Philippines were ruled by the Spanish for hundreds of years so some of that culture must have rubbed off. Females are more “touchy feely” with each other much like American culture. Later I could find out more about that issue at the Filipino church.

        What I thought was interesting is that Hispanic countries learned cultural practices from Spain as well, but many Hispanic cultures communicate very close to one another and emphasize touch more often. Filipinos do not. Filipinos seem to act very American in this sense.

        As I walked through the grocery store called Sea Food City, Filipinos minded their own business with one another and stayed apart from people they did not know. In one case though, an elderly woman walked up to an employee and gently touched his back to get his attention. I did not see this happen again with anyone else, so I cannot be sure if it is normal behavior. But from my cultural perspective it is unusual to touch a stranger on the back when you can just say “Excuse me” to get the persons attention and make them turn around. You only touch the person as a last result if you can’t get their attention. In this case the first result was to touch the employee.

        As I walked through the store near the fish and sea food area where most of the Filipinos in the store seemed to congregate, they made orderly lines and took turns making orders for fish. This is just like American culture in how we make lines. At the Jollibee the Filipinos made lines too. At the checkout in the grocery store there was orderly lines and at every place I went the clerks were very polite and official and not acting lazy. They counted back change to me and were smiling and polite. As I was at the checkout a man and woman had put a lot of groceries on the counter and there was no space left for me to put my drinks I was holding. He then, without me noticing, moved his groceries a few inches up so I could put my drinks on the counter as well and he put a divider up. He stood there facing me staring and smiling until I noticed him. Then he showed me he made a space for me by waving is hands over the area and I said “thanks” and he nodded and said “yep” and immediately turned around. This showed some friendliness and service minded attitude. I do not think an American would have done this in the same fashion. If an American wanted to be nice he would have just moved it and said “Here ya go” or something simple and not cared if I had noticed or not. The American would not have made sure if I noticed they made room or not. The American would have just said “Here” with a smile or something. I thought it was interesting the way the Filipino faced me and stood there until I acknowledged him.

        Later, after I got out of the checkout line I had to walk by an elderly Filipina woman and walk past her, but there was no space. So, I said “excuse me” and she said “Ya?” as a question and moved for me and I said “Sorry” and she said “Its ok.” She moved out of the way much like any American would. There are so many similarities of how Filipinos use space and not too many differences from my own culture. After the time I spent in Eagle Rock I left with my friends to Cerritos. They seemed to agree with Emilio that Filipinos don’t live in one area and we drove to Cerritos to the business area. This is where I saw another Jollibee. This one was bigger and the tables were spread away from each other farther and not so tight. This was just the same kind of setting one would see at a local McDonalds. People acted the same and sat in their own areas minding their own business. In this area in Cerritos I made a map. I could not find the exact address of the area and the strip mall area did not have a name. It was just a bunch of businesses near each other. This area was on the corner of Norwalk and Artesia streets at an intersection.

        In this area I was able to walk into a lot of the businesses and look around. I went into a video rental store and saw people talking to each other. An employee was helping a guy find a movie and they stood at least 3 feet apart as they talked about movies. Later I went into a bakery and my friend Angela asked her questions about where another grocery store was and the woman was behind a counter and acted very friendly and helpful.

        We left this area and went to the other grocery store called Pacific Island Market right across from the Cerritos Mall. In this market there were a lot of Filipinos. It was very busy. People were everywhere buying stuff. There was another sea food section where Filipinos lined up to get fish. I bought some more drinks and the checkout line was virtually identical to the way an American checkout line would be. A woman in the store walked up behind me and started to speak to me in Tagalog and I turned around then she stopped, and started speaking English to ask me if the drinks were on sale. I said “yes.” I then asked her about one drink and what was in it and she was very friendly and told me what it tasted like. She stood about 2 feet away from me this time and then turned back to look at the other drinks. The reason she was closer to me was probably because the aisle was very narrow, and because she wanted to see the can I was holding. After this visit to this grocery store me and my friends left.

        The next morning I went to a Filipino church in Long Beach. I was able to attend Sunday school and a worship service. The way the pews were setup was identical to the way an American church would be and people sat in their own areas. The kids sat with kids, adults sat with adults. People sat in their own spaces and did not try to sit directly next to other people, but a space away from them. But then as more people came people had to sit closer. During Sunday school people sat at tables in the same fashion as any American church would have a bible study. Later after church people hung out and talked and most of the Filipinos stood a reasonable 3 feet or so as they talked with each other. This is just the same as I would do as an American. During this time I was able to talk to Michelle who was about in her 40’s and had 3 kids. She told me that Filipinos do like to keep their distance from one another and are not overly close. She said that in the Philippines though, it is okay for girls to hold hands if they are friends and guys will put their arms on their buddies shoulder as they walk, and this is not to be confused with being homosexual. This is a very different way to act between males then how American males would act. Michelle also told me that the reason some Filipina women kiss the cheeks of their friends is because it makes them look prestigious. In the Philippines the more Spanish blooded, lighter skinned Filipinos have a very Spanish oriented culture and are usually the rich ones. They are the people who seem to have the most wealth in their country. These people are called Meztisos. The female Meztisas kiss each other on the cheek as well as with other guys when greeting them. Other non Meztiso Filipinos copy this behavior in order to look prestigious like the Meztisos.

        After attending this church service I left and this was the end of my research.

Scavenger Hunters 029

Apparently, Filipinos love to bowl (bowling alley)

        Conclusion: During my research I observed Filipinos in various places interacting with one another in order to find out how Filipinos use space. I spent time in restaurants, grocery stores, and a church for hours in each area. The results I got were that Filipinos use space much like Americans do. There is not much of a real difference, but Filipinos act like what Americans would call “overly polite” in certain contexts. An example would be how the guy moved the groceries to make a space for me. Filipinos are not too shy and are willing to talk to people. They make eye contact very well and stand at about 3 feet on average distance from people they talk with. They mind their own business with strangers and sit in their own groups and do not go out of their way to sit close to people. They emphasize touch when making points in a conversation and females seem to be closer to other females and some will kiss each other on the cheek. Males sometimes will put their arm setting upon their buddies shoulder when hanging out, but usually keep their distance from other men. Most often the Filipinos keep about a 3 foot distance and have the same values of space use as Americans do.

        With this knowledge of how Filipinos use space, American missionaries would not have to adjust very much to fit the way Filipinos use space because it is very much the same. Non-American missionaries who come from more close talking cultures will have to adjust and work harder to feel comfortable and use space properly for Filipinos. Knowing this, missionaries can now communicate better with the gospel when meeting Filipinos. We know that Filipinos are friendly and willing to talk and are not too shy. So striking up a conversation would not be very difficult in order to bring up the gospel.

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