Filipinos Collect Signatures to Save Little Manila
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
While most of Seoul was practically deserted Sunday because of the Lunar New Year holiday, the Hyehwa-dong Rotary in Jongno, Seoul, was bustling with activity as hundreds of Filipinos shopped for food and other Philippine products at the street market.
However, the Jongno District Office's plan to close the market, also known as "Little Manila," by March, has caused concern in the Filipino community.
"We don't understand why they want to close the market and move it. It's only every Sunday, and it's only for a few hours. I don't think there are a lot of problems like they've been saying. If there are any problems, we can always try to fix it first. But they shouldn't just close the market," said John Paul, a Filipino vendor at the market since 2005.
Filipino community leaders have even launched a signature campaign to save the "Little Manila" market, which has been described as a "home away from home" for the 46,000 Filipinos living in Korea.
Father Alvin Parantar, chaplain of the Hyehwa-dong Filipino Catholic Community, said they have written a petition urging Seoul City Mayor Oh Se-hoon to retain and improve the market.
"We are not in favor of the relocation of the Filipino market. We are appealing that the present Filipino market should be retained with policies regarding order, cleanliness, pedestrians and traffic, and that the development plan of the area should integrate the promotion of multiculturalism," the petition stated.
The petition also highlighted the Filipino market's contribution to multiculturalism in Korea. While the majority of market-goers are Filipinos, there are also a number of Koreans and foreigners who are visiting the market to sample Philippine food such as barbecued meat, stir-fried noodles, fried banana and rice cakes.
"Even Koreans, who have been to the Philippines, come here to buy pancit (stir-fried noodles) or balut (duck egg)," said another Filipino vendor, who did not want to be identified.
Several vendors interviewed by The Korea Times expressed their willingness to cooperate and make improvements, in order to prevent the market's closure or transfer.
The Jongno District Office had cited complaints from residents and storeowners regarding the cleanliness, orderliness and traffic in the area, as reasons why the market should be closed.
"We're aware that there are some complaints because there are really a lot of people in the street, especially when the mass ends around 3 p.m. But it's only a once a week market, and we're more than willing to cooperate with any changes they want us to make," said Wilbert, a Filipino vendor who lives in Bucheon.
Many Filipino workers from different parts of Korea travel to Seoul on Sundays just to go to church and shop at the market. The Filipino EPS Workers Association (FEWA) is one of the organizations trying to gather signatures for the petition to save the market.
FEWA President Marcy Serdena said the market has become an important part of Filipinos' way of life in Korea.
"We go here every Sunday, even if it is far, just to go to church, buy food and meet other Filipinos. ... I think they should first try to make sure the market is orderly and impose discipline among the vendors. This can be resolved through discussions, and not immediate closure," Serdena said.