Note from blog owner - this is not a sex story but I hope you find time to read and appreciate this article.
I am part of the “sandwich class.” I don’t consider myself poor, even if my mom and others in the sandwich label themselves such. Why should I, anyway?
My family eats three times a day. In other measures, however, while I definitely have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and a chance to study in the best university in the land, I will pale in comparison to the rich kids and the “middle class” that governments want to spawn. Being in the sandwich means living a life of irony: new clothes (from “the UK”), a smartphone but not a postpaid plan, coffee and doughnuts but not a rice cooker in the kitchen, a LED TV but not a land title, beauty products but not health insurance, a job but not a college diploma.
We are the sandwich class, newly liberated from poverty, our journey about to start. In fact, one mishap such as a typhoon, a family member in the hospital, or even a demolition, and we are bound to return to Misery Road. This vulnerability makes us anxious, constantly worrying about whether we can still enjoy this newfound freedom when we wake up the next day.
Often we are misunderstood, especially by the middle class. One cannot actually lump the middle class in a box. There’s the upper middle: managers, professionals, politicians who have cemented their place in life through multiple degrees, some help from a compadre, if not making a jackpot under the table. Then the nouveau riche: wealth made by a relative abroad, or sheer luck in cold, nocturnal BPO offices. They’re not afraid to flaunt their newfound wealth and dominance.
While we in the sandwich are not poor, we’re not rich or middle-class enough either. Mostly we are working-class people, surviving on a minimum wage with which we deem ourselves lucky given that many Filipinos cannot even earn that much.
The upper and the middle of the pyramid often choose to disassociate themselves from us in the sandwich. They tend to see us as jejemon, devoid of manners and etiquette, a disturbance to their enclaves of pomp and glitz. The sight of the sandwich surely irks them: They will view us as thieves stealing their MRT seats and their hard-earned taxes; they will try to limit our presence at all costs, else we will invade their malls during our idols’ shows and they will not be able to sip their coffee in peace.
Such is the life of the people in the sandwich. We are limited in terms of not only perceived notions about us being lazy and jolog but also our access to public spaces and social services, which in turn limits our chance to be in the in crowd. Land developers design districts that cater to those only with deep pockets: There are wide avenues full of cars, but not a single form of public transport. There are high-rise homes but not socialized housing, for the middle-class people are afraid that we will dispose of our trash outside their units. While they welcome us working in their cities, they cannot stand us living alongside them, sharing their spaces. They prefer us living in suburbs they have developed a mountain away, without electricity or potable water.
And not just in housing but also in health. Why have charity wards at St. Luke’s? We are not worthy to step into those marbled structures; we cannot even pay for the operation, anyway, lacking health insurance, or even PhilHealth, or social security.
They will be enraged at the idea of free tuition in state universities, or even us riding in the MRT trains, for they say we are “not paying taxes”—income taxes, to be specific. But what about the VAT? Isn’t that a tax?
This discrimination will even extend to the elections, our state of governance, and even the latest soap opera: Blame the sandwich people for electing incompetent officials; they siphon the middle class’ taxes through the pork barrel; they’re only for the patronage. Let us not allow them to vote for they will only vote for someone like Manny Pacquiao. Only the middle class can think rationally to save this country from the curse of the jejemon.
I will admit that I once sided with them, until I realized that I am a target of their prejudice. Learning more about our society, I realized that we are not to blame for being stuck in the sandwich. No, we are not lazy, as they accuse us, for why do we bother to work for 5-month contracts without social protection if not to put food on our tables? Why do we bother to fall in line at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office or our local politician’s office if not for our aim of lessening our burden? When, in fact, the situation we are subject to is actually the product of their being cunning?
On a personal level, it hurts to hear such words even from your friends. It’s awkward trying to belong when you seem to be unwanted, when the basis of companionship is the clothes you wear, the latest gadget you bought, the last doughnut you ate, or the extent of your agreement with the idea that P-Noy sucks. You try to hide your contempt at hearing them being disgusted with the “poor,” when in fact you are one, but then you cannot tell them or you will lose that circle in an instant.
I wish that the middle class will stop discriminating against those in the sandwich. We have enough harsh words from our bosses, from Internet trolls, and the right-wingers who accuse us of being criminals. Admit it or not, those in the middle were once poor and part of the sandwich, with parents or even themselves forced to sell their carabao, run away to Manila, or work in some shady bar in order to move up the social ladder.
Another wish is for us to be supported, not seen as a threat but as fellow humans wanting a good life just like everyone else. We wonder why the poor exist, but then we assert our views of social stratification, wanting to limit them (and those wanting not to be poor) to enclaves of misery. Let’s talk more of inclusive growth, let’s think of ways to integrate the poor in our economic and social structures, let’s build safety nets that can assure them of a chance to move up the social ladder as long as they work hard enough.
I cannot wait for the time when, whenever I hear the term “sandwich,” I will think of Subway. And yes, I’m willing to work for it. No need for doles. Just buy yourself some overpriced coffee with that money.
Paul Eugenio, 20, is in his final year at the public administration program of the University of the Philippines Diliman. He says he was inspired to write this piece by an argument at an online forum in which he was involved.