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Ali Nasser Alkaabi (right) and Alia Habib (inset) are of Emirati and Filipino descent while Omar Sami Perdido Elkatouri is Palestinian-Filipino. Image Credit: Supplied

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Dubai: Wearing his neatly-pressed kandura (Arab attire), Ali Nasser Alkaabi took a photo in front of the monument of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. He also rode a horse-drawn calesa and strolled around Luneta, where he posed between two Filipino honour guards.

For Alkaabi, a popular content creator in the UAE with combined 1 million followers on Facebook and TikTok, he was not pulling a stunt to update his social media. It was his way of showcasing his Filipino heritage.

Alkaabi’s mother (Ilyn Carpentiro Enoc) is a Filipina, from Davao del Sur in southern Philippines, and his father (Nasser Mohammed Alkaabi), who passed away three years ago, was an Emirati from Al Ain.

“I wore a kandura in Luneta because I wanted to proudly showcase my lineage – I’m a half Filipino-half Emirati,” Alkaabi, who is in mid-20s, told Gulf News, adding: “The shoot happened two years ago and it’s good to recall that moment as the Philippines is celebrating its 124th Independence Day on Sunday.”

Luneta, officially known as Rizal Park, is a historic urban park in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Rizal was executed in the same area and that sparked the 1896 Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonisers – that resulted in Filipinos declaring independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, and the country becoming the first republic nation in Asia.

For Filipinos, Luneta is a symbolic focal point to exhibit one’s patriotism, and for Alkaabi – him wearing a kandura – was his way of showcasing how his persona was cultivated by two cultures.

He said: “In the UAE, there are many residents and nationals whose parents are of different races. And since we are celebrating the Philippine Independence Day, it’s good to share how we preserve our Filipino heritage.”

Born in the UAE

Alkaabi was born in Tawam Hospital in Al Ain but spent his childhood and teenage years split between the Philippines and UAE. He started grade school in Al Ain but finished it in Davao, where he also spent his first few years in high school before returning to the UAE to continue his studies until college.

Alkaabi said it was tough constantly moving around. “I was already accustomed to one place then I had to move and make adjustments again,” he said.

But on the bright side, he always had an adventure. “I learned to play and enjoy traditional games both in the UAE and the Philippines, like taguan, tumbang preso, siyato, etc. I also experienced taking bath in the rain,” Al Kaabi said.

“I also enjoyed both Filipino food – ginisang monggo with fried fish – and Emirati dishes. I was really exposed to both cultures and I could speak four languages, including Arabic, Tagalog, Bisaya and English,” he added.

Alkaabi’s rich cultural background led him to become a content creator. He forged friendship with Carl Quion and Bengs Hyu, vloggers and founders of Filipino UAE Content Creator (FUCC), and used social media to bring entertainment as well as familiarise people on Emirati and Filipino cultures.

He explained: “I sort of acted like a bridge between Emiratis and Filipinos. I used social media to show to my Emirati friends the Filipino culture, especially their passion for music; and I explain to my Filipino friends in a light way Emirati traits and traditions.”

Alkaabi from the photo op two years ago in the Philippines Image Credit: Supplied

“I bring comic relief to everyday life but I also highlight and educate people how fun it is to become a Filipino-Emirati,” added Alkaabi, who posted a video of him and his friends in kandura doing carpool karaoke singing ‘Imahe’ by Filipino alternative rock and pop band Magnus Haven that earned thousands of likes, comments and shares.

‘Po at opo’

Another proud Filipino-Emirati is Alia Habib, 23, whose way of showcasing her being Filipino is by using ‘po at opo’ when talking to her elders. ‘Po at opo’ are words that mean yes in English. Filipinos use them to show their respect when talking to elders or to someone that they respect.

Alia Habib
Alia Habib Image Credit: Supplied

Alia said this trait has been imbibed in her by the family on her mother’s side who raised her up since childhood. “Although I was born and raised in Dubai, I grew up in a Tagalog-speaking environment,” she said.

“I was also taught how to be respectful to elders and I learned from my mother side to be economical and budget-conscious,” added Alia, whose Filipina mother is originally from Cavite, a province in the Philippines.

Alia, who lives with her family in Al Barsha, Dubai, is currently studying Forensic Sciences at Amity University. She said: “I’m always proud of being a Filipino and I always show off to my Emirati friends Filipino dishes like chicken adobo, beef bulalo and sinigang na hipon [shrimp] – which is my own comfort food.”

She also loves music and arts – and a key giveaway of her being a Filipina is her passion and familiarity singing with karaoke.

‘We always smile’

Omar Sami Perdido Elkatouri, 25, whose mother is a Filipino and father a Palestinian, said one thing that would make Filipinos stand out is that “we always smile”.

Omar Sami Perdido Elkatouri
Omar Sami Perdido Elkatouri Image Credit: Supplied

However, it was not his mother that taught Elkatouri how to become a Filipino, but his Palestinian father.

He said: “It was my father who instilled the Filipino heritage in me. My mother [Imelda, a pharmacist from Ilocos Norte] passed away when I was around two years old. My father [Sami, a school teacher from Palestine] made sure that I stayed connected to my mother’s family and culture.”

“My father enrolled me at Far Eastern Private School, a Filipino school in Sharjah. And he kept encouraging me to learn Tagalog and told me all the stories about our family back home in the Philippines. My dad always made karaoke parties at home and made sure we did not miss out on the community atmosphere we have as Filipinos,” he added.

Elkatouri is the youngest of three siblings. He was born and raised in the UAE and occasionally visits the Philippines. His father also passed away a few years ago but he said he is always grateful that his father inculcated in him the Filipino spirit – and one of them is being always optimistic, with an ever-ready smile in his face.

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“My love for food and sharing food as well as being family-oriented are also the other traits that I preserve being a Filipino,” added Elkatouri, who aside from being a freelance photographer and videographer, has a talent in music. He plays the drums and his favourite bands are Guns N’ Roses and Filipino rock band Kamikazee, as well as pop band Orange and Lemons.

In time for the Philippine Independence Day, Elkatouri said he is proud of the Philippine history. He knows about Filipino heroes who fought with compassion, courage, and patriotism. He also remembers how his father used to proudly display both the Philippine and Palestinian flags on their family car. Nowadays, it always bring him a smile whenever he says that he’s a Filipino.