Who are locals? The confusion faced by the 2nd generation of migrant workers in Macao

How do you define a “Macao local”? Someone who was born and raised in Macao, who receives his education in Macao, speaks fluent Cantonese and understands the local culture? In February, we interviewed Carl and to our surprise that, even with all the above-mentioned traits, he is not considered as a “local”.


Carl is the second generation of migrant workers from the Philippines. Growing up in Macao with multicultural backgrounds, Carl’s identity has left him in a state of confusion from time to time. How does he find the balance between preserving his roots and integrating into Macao’s society?


The 2nd generation of migrant workers that are born and raised in Macao

Carl’s parents met in the 90s when they came to Macao for work, and gave birth to Carl in Macao in 2002. Due to the language barrier, Carl recalled how there weren't many options of schools available to him. Since his parents wanted him to learn the local language and integrate in society better, he was enrolled in a Portuguese-Chinese school, where the main teaching language is Chinese, plus language classes in English and Portuguese.


According to Carl, nearly 70% of the students at his school were 2nd generation of migrant workers from the Philippines, just like himself. Carl learnt how to speak Chinese, English & Portuguese at school, while speaking Tagalog with his family at home. He usually mixes language when he talks to peers sharing similar cultural background. Once, when Carl was arguing with his younger sister in Chinese, his mother said she could not understand and they switched to argue with each other in Tagalog instead.


The Question of Identity Children like Carl often experience identity issues due to the clash of different cultures. Before pandemic, Carl regularly traveled to the Philippines for visiting his relatives. Although he speaks Tagalog fluently, he felt like a stranger to the country. Another time, during a cultural festival held in his university, he was asked to introduce a typical festival of the Philippines. He hesitated and replied, “I don't really know about it.” Carl feels more familiar with the local culture and society of Macao, because of the fact that he grew up and has lived here for the past 20 years. “I think I'm from Macao”, he reiterates. He grew up watching Hong Kong movies and listening to Cantonese songs, just like most locals of Macao. Being born and raised in Macao, plus actively integrating into the mainstream society, Carl said he still could not confidently call himself a local - because he does not have and could not obtain a Macao Resident Identity Card (BIR). In accordance with Article 4 of Law No. 8/2002, which establishes the BIR Regime, parents may apply for a BIR after the birth of their children, only if they hold a valid “residence” permit or a BIR. Carl's parents, since working as Non-Resident Workers (TNR), are considered only as “living” in the city and not “residing”, regardless of how long they have been working in Macao.

Carl's right to residency completely depends on his parents' "blue card". This means that if they had lost their jobs before he was accepted to a university (where he now obtains a student visa), he would have been forced to leave the city that he has lived for 20 years and return to a “home” he is not familiar with. Taking advantage of multicultural qualities Without a legally recognized “resident” status, Carl has to fight harder in order to live, study and work in Macao. Probably because of the pressure he feels from the uncertainty of his future, Carl is more mature than other young people at his age. He expressed his wish to find some part-time jobs to support his family, but he couldn’t because it is illegal to work in Macao on a student visa. After finishing his studies, he intended to stay in Macao and work, contributing to society and putting into practice the things he has learned over the years. However, with priority in hiring Macao residents, he would need to do his best and become a qualified professional in order to live and work in Macao as a TNR. Because of this, Carl works hard and was recently awarded a scholarship that could fully cover his tuition fees. There seems to be no room for Carl in Macao, a potential talent who knows four languages, has the advantage of multicultural backgrounds, with academic performance good enough to obtain full scholarship. How can we make the most of their multicultural qualities? Join us for more in-depth discussions in the future! Author: Un Wa Lok, President of Language Exchange & Culture Promotion Association (LECPA)

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