lifestyle - people

Kicks and Playground

10' to read

A journey into the game of life.

The Philippine community is one of the biggest foreign communities in Italy and they’ve settled their “Italian Capital” in Milan. There are around 50,000 Filipinos in the Lombard capital, representing 10% of the foreign inhabitants of the city. Probably, you’ve never heard of them because they’re not in the newspapers, and they’re not “a piece of news”, but they do contribute – with a constant hardworking dedication – to this country, embracing its traditions and ways of living. On the other side, the Filipinos have a really strong sense of their own community, they are used to staying together, and live their public life very much together. In this way of life, there are two main centres that act like ancient agoras: the church and the playground.

This is how we built our sense of community, playing basketball.

The look on Giovanni’s face, when he said this to me, was clear and firm. He knows what he’s talking about; he knows where he came from and where he wants to go. Giovanni was born in Italy but his family is from the Philippines; since he was 18 (he’s now 26) he has been working in a cleaning company from where he’s now ready to make a big step in his career. He’s got an older brother and a father who, like Giovanni, used to gravitate around a basketball court near his home. Looking at that playground, Giovanni is able to draw the lines of generational change and community change that continue to evolve and integrate him, despite him sticking to its own traditions. Looking at that playground, he’s able to look ahead.

Jonathan lives his life trying to mix them both the best he can, adding something more: his university studies in economy and management. He lives right near the edge of a park that has a playground in its center, which is common in Milan; he’s even able to see it from his home. «I was born in Italy, but then I moved to the Philippines to be with some relatives, to allow both my parents to find work here». He accepted that decision because he knew what his parents were doing: giving him a future. Thanks to that sacrifice he’s now enrolled at Bicocca University, which is where he’s focusing on his studying, even if this costs him something. Like a lot of young men from his generation and community, Jonathan was heavily into music, in particular into the hardcore scene. With a little sadness he admits to having had to put music aside, to focus on his University studies. However, he didn’t completely stop playing music. Every Sunday, like every other young Filipino man, Jonathan takes a bus to ride to church. Under the sermon of his uncle, who is the pastor, Jonathan plays his guitar, in a blaze of harmony and colors that is their celebration, finding a way to contribute to the life of his Filipino evangelical community. His girlfriend is a part of that community as well, generously following him, to support him in every decision.

The church is a crucial point for every Filipino. Their country is, in fact, the third most Christian country in the world, with a percentage of believers that exceeds 80%. It is impossible to understand Filipino culture without taking into account their religion, including the conception of the youth, who sometimes, would rather play basketball than going to church. Basketball is the other pivotal point of their lives. Jonathan remembers the time his father with some of his friends used to play at the same playground he’s now playing on, just uglier, rawer and more dangerous. This confirms for us what Giovanni spoke: «basketball is generational, for us. Previous, there where our parents, now there are us, maybe tomorrow there will be our children».

It common knowledge that Filipinos love to play basketball. According to Giovanni, the phenomenon is strictly cultural: «every child since when they’re able to walk, can play ball. It’s like here in Italy, everyone learns football. In the Philippines, there is no other sport. There is basketball, and that’s it». And they also watch a lot of basketball on television, «my friends and I, we just follow the NBA. We’ve found other tournaments not as spectacular. But I know the younger ones are also interested in Filipino tournaments, which are getting larger and larger».

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The church is a crucial point for every Filipino. Their country is, in fact, the third most Christian country in the world, with a percentage of believers that exceeds 80%. It is impossible to understand Filipino culture without taking into account their religion, including the conception of the youth, who sometimes, would rather play basketball than going to church. Basketball is the other pivotal point of their lives. Jonathan remembers the time his father with some of his friends used to play at the same playground he’s now playing on, just uglier, rawer and more dangerous. This confirms for us what Giovanni spoke: «basketball is generational, for us. Previous, there where our parents, now there are us, maybe tomorrow there will be our children».

It common knowledge that Filipinos love to play basketball. According to Giovanni, the phenomenon is strictly cultural: «every child since when they’re able to walk, can play ball. It’s like here in Italy, everyone learns football. In the Philippines, there is no other sport. There is basketball, and that’s it». And they also watch a lot of basketball on television, «my friends and I, we just follow the NBA. We’ve found other tournaments not as spectacular. But I know the younger ones are also interested in Filipino tournaments, which are getting larger and larger».

James and Paul are a good example. They are, respectively, 19 and 17 years old. Looking at them play, you can see their vitality in the explosion of their movements. They are young, pretty and they’ve got the skills, nevertheless, the two are really different.

Paul, the younger brother, was born in Italy, and he’s got the stronger Milan accent. He’s elusive, a little arrogant, but with a spontaneity that every teenager resembles. He’s skinny and he seems to count a lot on his instincts when playing ball. He left school, «I just didn’t enjoy going there», he said, soon after he found a job. But not in Milan. «Just a few weeks ago I started to work as a waiter in Bergamo, even if my dream is to become a photographer. It’s tough, mostly because I’m not finding any time to play basketball. And church? «Oh yes, I always find time for that. Maybe not like my mother who’s incredibly pious, but I also enjoy it».

When we met James, they were in a Sunday Filipino basketball tournament. James was trying to improve his game, trying to be someone with a basketball, while he also studies for a career in Hotel School. He approaches us with a piece of cake, «I don’t know what it is», he laughs (it was a kind of dulce de leche). All around the building, in fact, there was an entire community that, after church, decided to spend Sunday’s together, watching their boys’ matches, cheering (very loudly) for them, and relaxing after their long work week. It is a perfect representation of what a community is all about, of what the Filipino community is. Young people that talk to, and respect the elders, and elders who support them. A friendly atmosphere, even if on the court it is not always so friendly.

«Yeah, our game is really physical, it is a kind of rugby-basket», Giovanni told us. He was really impressed by the high rhythm during the games of the tournament. Watching them playing, it’s hard not to imagine their love for many aspects of the sport, from the most technical one to the fashion part of their game. Their shoes are the best in the market, LeBron and Kyrie seem to be the most beloved players, and Nike shoes are spread across every foot. I wonder how basketball had such a huge impact upon their lives. As a first thought I was sure that this was mostly about infrastructure, and the great availability of playgrounds in their country.

But both Giovanni and Mike denied these as the reasons, «It is really part of us, it’s hard to explain: give something that looks like a basket to a Filipino, and he will shoot a ball at it».

Mike is a great connoisseur of his country’s culture. He’s been living in Italy since 1999, and in the first years of his Italian period, he used to travel back to the Philippines, where he was studying Western Philosophy. He has formalized his thoughts and has a clear opinion of what his community is about, and what that community does. «I simply choose to be a part of it, I don’t like certain aspects, and also I’m always touring with my band». Yes, his band. Mike is part of a hardcore punk band, The Seeker, and they’ve been quite a success. He explained to me how the punk music scene spread in the Philippines thanks to American soldiers that used to sell punk vinyl and cassettes to make some extra money. America was (and still is) present in the life of Chris. She’s a very sporty girl, she’s practised every sport from football to swimming, and, obviously, basketball too. Chris lived for a while in Sacramento, California, where her dad met her mom, a former model, before moving in Milan some years ago. In Milan she’s now building her future in the world of bartending, working in some of the best clubs in the city, something she really likes and helps her to feel independent «I live alone now, and I’m happy. Maybe I’d like to have another experience in some other European country».

Looking at their life, talking with them, I understand that the younger generation is different from the older one for one big reason: they don’t dream about going back to the Philippines.  They are focused on the present, on their careers and their passions. Tomorrow will come, and they will face it with the same enthusiasm and calm. Smiling, always.  

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It is really part of us, it’s hard to explain: give something that looks like a basket to a Filipino, and he will shoot a ball at it.

This is a history about basket, sport and integration. This is the story of Giovanni, James, Jonathan ,Chris and Paul.

This stories is featured on C41 ISSUE 5 Tomorrow.