By Malou Soto-Reininger*
The festive gathering of Filipino and Austrian guests at the park for the tree planting ceremony was treated to a bit of history in the making. The excitement was running high, as this was the first time that Philippine migrants to Austria were honored as a group by the highest city official of Vienna, Mayor Michael Häupl. Even the gods seemed to smile upon the colorful group of Filipinos, the men dressed in their native Barong Tagalog, and the ladies in their elegant Baro’t Saya amid their Austrian counterparts in conservative coat and tie. The weather was balmy, reminiscent of the breezy, but humid summers in the Philippines.
A Blasmusik festival in front of the Rathaus featuring competing bands from all over Austria served as coincidental backdrop for the tree-planting ceremony. Even as the speeches by the officiating guests started, strains of Beethoven’s filled the air – a symbol of the friendship between the two nations.
Symbolic was the choice of the young tree, with its white trumpet-shaped blossoms. It heralds 100 Jahre Philippinen, and the story of those Filipinos who, despite differences in culture and language, succeeded in planting their roots in foreign soil. The young Catalpa will eventually grow into a sturdy tree, slowly but surely planting its roots firmly into the earth, just like the successful integration of Filipino migrants in Austria.
Mayor Häupl lauded the contribution of Filipinos to Austrian society, particularly to its health care system, and graciously acknowledged that Vienna needed them. About 80 per cent of all Philippine migrants are women and many intercultural marriages have taken place. Philippine Ambassador Jose Zaide, Jr., in his reply, mentioned the excellent cooperation and intercultural exchange between the two countries.
Philippine migrants are unsung heroes. This tree will remain a symbol of their industry, persistence, flexibility and dedication. The tree-plaque is now a landmark to show off with pride to Filipinos visiting Vienna, and to coming generations of Filipinos growing up in Austria. May the tree live for a hundred years, and more!
Celebration!, Philippine Centennial Book Committee, 1999, eds. Eumelia RB Bautista, Cesar Banaag, Patricia-Nepomuceno-Sutter
*Malou Soto-Reininger-, was chairperson of Babaylan Austria, which organized the event.