Villahanons in the Land of the Midnight Sun

by Ruben Gerardo

(The author is one of the pioneers of the Coca-Cola Bottlers in Norway. He started as a Business Operations Analyst at Coca-Cola Beverages and moved on to being its Account Manager for Logistics at Coca-Cola Drikker A/S. He was later appointed Business Analyst for the Coca-Cola Nordic Beverages covering Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Baltic Countries. He now heads the Logistics Resource Corp. in Norway as its CEO.)

We would never have left our hometown had it not been for the sake of pursuing our education. The search for greener pastures led us to a far away place. We left behind our loved ones, use up all our meager savings in the hope that a new country will give us something more – better lives than what the country we came from can offer.

And so goodbyes were said, tears shed, promises made, including the promise to never, never forget our beloved hometown of Villa.

But the Promised Land was not to be. We had to deal with a different language, culture, environment and ways strange to the one we love and know by heart. We struggled hard to fit into a new culture,  understand its nuances, and grow accustomed to the norms of its people.

We searched for new friends and tried to win their respect. We struggled to establish ourselves and build new lives. As we adapted to the norms of our new country, we found ourselves in situations where we have to put our Filipino values aside. We charted our lives’ new directions. We got married and raised our children. The family responsibilities became our priority, and soon after, the promises we kept to ourselves are but a memory away.

For us who ended up in the land of the Vikings, in the land of the midnight sun, life has been more comfortable, treated as we were to the Social Democratic way of life that offers an equal distribution of wealth among its constituents. Migrants have equal rights to education and health care. Working condition is in accordance with the existing labour law. And hunger caused by poverty is unheard of.

Scandinavia, particularly Norway, is a beautiful country. It boasts of spectacular fauna and flora, especially during summertime when trees are green and flowers are in full bloom. This is also where you could experience the midnight sun and the northern light (aurora borealis). Travelling up to the north of Norway is amazing with its splendid mountains and landscapes. The Norwegian coast with its famous pink salmon also offers memorable summertime adventures. Autumn reflects the beauty of gold (autumn leaves), and winter makes this country a perfect area for skiing.

It is not simple to acquire a management position in a Norwegian company. First, you must be fluent in the Norwegian language, both written and spoken. Secondly, a University degree acquired in Asia is not recognized in Norway. One needs one or two years at the Norwegian University to validate the acceptance of one’s education. It requires a lot of will and perseverance to attend night classes to learn the Norwegian language amidst holding a daytime job.

In the early 1970s, there were only a handful of Filipinos in Norway. They were Pampaguenos, Ilocanos, Tagalogs and the Visayans, represented mostly by the Villahanons. Most of the Filipinos worked as seafarers and nurses. The population, however, increased in the later years when the families of early immigrants decided to move to Norway. By then, a Filipino association called Filipino Community in Norway was organised, funded by the Norwegian government to protect the rights and look after the welfare of Filipinos in Norway.

Within a few years of existence of the Filipino Community in Norway, I was convinced to run for president of the organization. In spite of being considered a dark horse from the line-up, I won by a landslide. I was blessed to have been President for three consecutive terms while also serving as the Chairman of the Labor Union at Simrad Optronics in Oslo where I was the only foreign employee. I later become a Board Member of the Commission On Filipino Migrant Workers in Europe based in the Netherlands. When I was first elected at the Filipino Community, it was the time where the issues of racial discrimination and mail-order-brides landed on the pages of Norwegian newspapers. In response to these issues, we ratified the Constitution of the Filipino Community in Norway, authored by the late Romulo Gerardo. At present, I am actively engaged in defending human rights through the Filipino Resource Center in Oslo, Norway.

A fellow Villahanon in Scandinavia who made his mark in Denmark is Jorge Abainza who became the President of the Filipino Association in Denmark. His sisters Luz and Amelia were active in PUGAD, (People Uniting and Generating Aid for Development); a Danish (NGO) nongovernmental organization focused on helping third world countries.

Filipinos in Scandinavia hold a good reputation as managers, entrepreneurs and workers. Some are employed managers and department heads of Norwegian firms while others were elected leaders of local labour union.

  • Mr. Tobias Varela Sr., a Villahanon, served as the Treasurer of The Filipino Community in Norway.
  • The late Romulo Gerardo, a Villahanon, was the founder of the first Filipino radio in Europe, the Radio Pinoy in Norway, partly funded by the local labour union.
  • Mrs. Juliana Uy Pedersen, a Villahanon, served a term as the President of the Filipino Adopted Sons and Daughters of Norway. She established the first Filipino Youth ClubHouse in Oslo, financed by the Norwegian local government.
  • Mr. Gerardo Ma. ‘Kin’ Gerardo (son of the late Romulo Gerardo) manages the Cosmopolite Jazz Club in Norway.
  • Mr. Roseller Gerardo and Mr. Ramses Gerardo are managing their own Automotive Tire business with Filipino employees
  • Mr. Paul Romano is assigned to Africa at the Norwegian Consular Office.
  • Mrs. Consuelo A. Gerardo is a Department Head at Rødtvet Sykehjem (Hospital for the Aged) in Oslo.
  • Mrs. Ellie P. Gerardo is a Corporate Accountant at the Scandinavian Airlines Systems, Accounting Services Norway.

Among the second generation with Villahanon roots, Ms. Meena Gerardo Vij (daughter of Rosalia Gerardo Vij) is serving as a Senior Project Manager at British Telecom in England.

  • Ms. Meera Gerardo Vij (also a daughter of Rosalia) is a British Barrister (Lawyer), worked at the main office of the European Union in Brussels and is now back in London working in a British Law Office.
  • Mr. John Lester Gerardo recently acquired his Masters Degree in Information Technology at the University in Oslo and was offered an employment at a Norwegian IT company as Project Supervisor.
  • Miss Miriam Catherine Gerardo earned her Bachelors Degree in Business Administration at the Oslo School of Management last year and decided to travel to South America (including Peru, Lima) before seeking employment.

We have also senior citizens in Norway and among the Villahanons, Mr. & Mrs. Tobias Varela were the first to enjoy these rights.

The Villahanon population in Norway is increasing with one hundred and fifty individuals with roots from Villareal. Most of them are the grand children and the great grand children of the late Regulo Gerardo and Mrs. Rosario Gerardo. Other families adding up to the increasing population of Villahanons in Norway are the Varela’s, Pedersen’s, Abrigo’s, Geli’s and Aringay’s. In Denmark, the Abainza’s, Gerardo’s, Abrigo-Toustrup, and Gutierrez are the growing population among the Villahanons while Sweden has the Amistoso’s, Sacendoncillo’s , Abainza’s and Dasmarinas.

Far from our hometown, we also celebrate our Fiesta Villahanon in Norway every last Saturday of August. Our venue is usually the beautiful Norwegian Woods, which reminds us of Manggarit or Losong where we would prepare our local lechon and dance the Curaccha throughout the day. This celebration is a testament of the love of Villahanons in Norway for our hometown and for our patron Saint St. Rosa of Lima.

But behind these celebrations lurk our sadness, our longing and our dream to be in Villa once again and be a part of the struggle of the Villahanons’ for a better society. There is an ache in our hearts to give back and be of value to a community we will always belong to, in spite the distance. Our heart bleeds when lives of innocent people in Villa are put to waste, when their rights are thwarted, and when there seems to be no hope for a better future for the generation.

We feel sad to hear the agony of the farmers, fisher folks and school teachers in their difficulty to send their children to school. We are angered when the governmental infrastructure projects, which can contribute to the economic stability of our town and people, are purposely neglected.

Yet we are hopeful. And as we, Villahanons from the Land of the Midnight Sun, return one day, we shall know and say that indeed we have come home and there is no other place better.

Even if we fear that our great grandchildren, the new generation of Villahanon Vikings, might not have a connection with Villareal, we will always keep Villa in our hearts. We shall keep the promise we made.