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Just early this year, the Filipino community in Queens had a reason to be jubilant. Last Valentine’s Day, the first Jollibee fast-food restaurant opened in the East Coast, after few years of restaurant operations in large Filipino communities California and Nevada. Up until this moment, the lines at the Jollibee restaurant remain long and seemed like an arduous journey just for Filipino-style spaghetti Bolognese and Fried Chicken. But the Filipinos who troop from as far back as Baltimore are not complaining at all.

For migrant Filipinos and even Filipino-Americans born and bred in the United States, Jollibee is more than an average fast-food restaurant. It is part of the Filipino dining tradition, in which countless migrant Filipinos only have the best memories of their lunches and dinners in Jollibee, in the company of their nuclear and extended families when they were still living in the Philippines. In the Philippines, Jollibee has carved out its own unique place in the Filipino dining tradition.

It provides essential American fare, such as fried chicken, hotdogs, spaghetti, burgers, but tweaked for the Filipino taste buds, making it eclipse even McDonalds as the top fast-food chain in the former US colony. Moreover, Jollibee has packaged itself as more than a mere restaurant, but a meeting place of families, loved ones, friends, and even lovers, alluding to the very filial nature of Filipino families, in which eating by one’s lonesome is considered a last option when dining in restaurants.

Jollibee in Queens is located in the Woodside area, where hundreds of Filipino families reside, notwithstanding the fact that many neighborhoods of Queens have migrant Filipino families of diverse backgrounds, from top medical and legal professionals to lowly domestic workers and baby-sitters.

The phenomenon of Jollibee for Filipinos is of much interest in view of the very long lines that happened in its first few weeks of operations, rivaling the tourist lines of New York staple fast-food joints like Papaya Dog and Shake Shack. It is interesting that Filipinos of all ages and backgrounds troop to Jollibee to have their share of its most favored staples – Jollibee Chickenjoy and Jollibee Burger.

At present, its role in the community seems to be a re-enactment of the role of Jollibee in the Philippines – as an area for long Filipino lunches and dinners, where kids and adults alike savor the taste of its food fare, and the migrants recall stories about Jollibee restaurants in the Philippines and how the establishment of restaurants like these of purely Filipino origin provide the Filipino community in the East Coast a taste of the country they have left for the American Dream.

Moreover, it seems that the subsidiary function of the restaurant is different depending on the age group, and social background of Filipinos that troop to the restaurant. Young Filipino-American high school students went to the restaurant to determine for themselves what the taste of the Jollibee Chickejoy was like, seemingly irritated that all their other relatives have been raving about it even prior to the establishment of the restaurant in Queens.

The older Filipino working population simply savored the similarity of its taste to the Chickenjoy back in the Philippines, that while the fried chicken in Queens had yet to be perfected in terms of consistency of taste and crispness, it was very much close to the one they had many years back. On the other hand, many older Filipinos kept on discussing why Jollibee opened in the East Coast just now, and how Jollibee was able to consistently defeat McDonalds in the Philippines for an undisclosed number of years now. Specific Observations:

The first group observed was a group of seven young Filipino activists based in Queens, most of whom were migrant Filipinos with parents coming from humble lower-middle class backgrounds. Like many of the Filipinos who just arrived at the restaurant, they were at the back of the very long queue, waiting for almost an hour before their order was taken. When asked why they were going through the entire trouble of waiting for almost hours on end, one young migrant Filipino activist replied, “Jollibee is part of my childhood. Actually, it is part of every Filipino’s childhood.

When we were little, everyone wanted to be in Jollibee every single day. We wanted to be with Jollibee himself,” referring to the bumblebee mascot of the restaurant. Another even said, “Hell, Filipino kids even wanted their birthdays celebrated in any Jollibee restaurant in the Philippines, year after year. ” (Gandiongco, 2009) One young Filipino activist girl who is in currently enrolled in nursing school in Jersey City said, “I remember back then, my parents would always bring the family on a Sunday afternoon to Jollibee for lunch, after church.

It was not only about the food, the crispness of the chicken or the extra saltiness of the spaghetti. Jollibee was about good childhood memories of life back in the Philippines. It’s a good thing we can relive those memories here again. ” (Sabino, 2009) On the other hand, another female Filipino activist who graduated from Cornell University and who was born and raised in the United States stated that even her parents who migrated to the United States for more than two decades now have had fond stories of Jollibee.

She said, “My father told me he and my mother had dates in Jollibee in Manila, and that there was really something different and great with their chicken. I’m here today because I’m utterly curious whether my parents and all my relatives and friends are merely perpetuating a myth about how good its chicken tastes. As I recall, my cousins went to the Philippines a few years back for a vacation and when they returned to the US, they were all raving about Jollibee chickenjoy! So now, I had to see for myself. ” (Hilo, 2009)

The other group which I interviewed was a migrant married Filipino couple, both of whom are practicing nurses in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Because they had no hospital duty that they, the couple decided to take the three-hour Amtrak ride from Baltimore in order to taste the food in Jollibee once again. The said that they moved to the United States in 2003 and has not gone back to the Philippines since then. Ian, the husband said, “Jollibee is very important to both of us because it was the default restaurant of choice when we had a few spare cash in pockets.

It was very affordable and it sufficed as an acceptable comfort food for couples who would not want to spend much on dining on particular days. Moreover, we’re here today, like many of our fellow migrant Filipinos to compare the difference between the chicken in Jollibee Queens and the Jollibee in Manila. ” (Feranil, 2009) Meanwhile, Heidi, the wife said, “There’s a weird feeling here today, seeing all the Filipinos patiently waiting in line for their share of Jollibee. It’s like being transported back to Manila, with our fellow Filipinos talking about their lives back home, why they migrated here, among many others things.

It’s great that it’s spoken even in our native language. ” Ian also added, “Having Jollibee here is like transplanting a Filipino icon into the heart of the United States. It lessens the longing we have for the Philippines, and creates a sense of community in the area. ” (Feranil, 2009) Jollibee Queens also hired many Filipinos among its employees, perhaps sensing that because majority of its clientele will comprise of Filipino migrants, it would be best if majority of its employees were from the same ethnic background.

Conclusions Without a doubt, the Jollibee in Queens is more than a mere restaurant for the Filipino community in the East Coast. To them, it represents everything good and great about the country they left in pursuit of the American Dream. They wait for hours on end to have a taste of their Jollibee Chickenjoy because the taste of what they eat brings back memories of their childhood prior to becoming migrants in this country.

On the other hand, Filipino-Americans born and bred in the United States consider Jollibee as a symbol of their determination to connect with their own ethnic origins, in a very popular manner – through a fast-food restaurant instead of skimming through books and articles on Philippine culture and history. Aside from being a mere place for dining, Jollibee has become a quasi-Filipino community center, where different Filipino groups meet to eat and discuss different issues, some pertaining to Philippine-based issues, some profession-specific, some locality-specific as in the juvenile gang problems in Queens, among many others.

Jollibee is unique from all the other Filipino restaurants in the Queens area because it is a Philippine-based dining institution that was transplanted in an area in the United States where many Filipinos reside. It provides a sense of home and national identity to have the restaurant in the area, especially when the migrant Filipino community in the US continues to search for its rightful place in American society, politics and economy.

Furthermore, precisely because Jollibee as a restaurant is deeply entrenched in the national culture and identity of the Filipino migrant community in the East Coast, it draws a diverse set of people from different backgrounds, because every socio-economic class of this migrant community has been successfully penetrated by Jollibee as major dining institution in their home country. This scene in Jollibee Queens has been the exact same reception of Filipino communities based in the West Coast, and it serves to show how great the impact of the restaurant is in the consciousness of the migrant Filipino community in the United States in general.

However, it must be stated that Jollibee, despite offering American-style food items, continues to cater mostly to a purely Filipino clientele. While racial undertones may not be conclusively stated due to the limits of the study, a big factor for the purely Filipino clientele may be the recipes of the food items themselves, because these have been specifically configured to cater to the typical Filipino taste buds with a general penchant for salty dishes.

It may also be said that the patronization of Jollibee by the migrant Filipino community in the East Coast is their way of asserting nativist Filipino patriotism in a city and a borough that is essentially multi-ethnic and multi-cultured. By fiercely patronizing a Philippine-based institution that finally set foot in the area, it is the Filipinos’ way of asserting their place in the balance of power among races in the East Coast, in view of the clear lack of representation and political empowerment of the migrant Filipino community in political and economic affairs in Queens, and in the City, in general.

It must be stated, nonetheless, that this assertion through patronization is all but meaningless unless the migrant Filipino community actually unites and forms formal interest groups and organizations that would ensure such representation in important affairs in this foreign land they also now call their home.

References: 1. Feranil, I. (2009). Personal Interview. Jollibee Woodside, NY. April 5, 2009. 2. Gandiongco, Y. (2009). Personal Interview. Jollibee Woodside, NY. April 5, 2009. 3. Hilo, C. (2009). Personal Interview. Jollibee Woodside, NY. April 5, 2009. 4. Sabino, B. (2009). Personal Interview. Jollibee Woodside, NY. April 5, 2009.

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