Did Amazon just stereotype Pinoys?

Published September 17, 2020, 8:02 AM

by Noel Pabalate

They’ve filed nurses’ and maids’ uniforms as ‘traditional’ Filipino attire.

True, we’re all guilty of stereotyping other races, and we Filipinos are not exempted of racism.  But we have been victims too ever since Spanish era, when we were labelled as lazy and alcoholics. In the1920s and ’30s, Filipino immigrants were described as “savages,” “stupid,” and “morally inferior” by some Americans. In 2014, we were depicted as domestic helpers in a textbook in Hong Kong. 

Even in the 2020s, it’s still happening. 

Geana Esparza, or vinylmom on Tiktok, posted a video of her experience in searching “Traditional Filipino costume” on the Amazon app. 

While showing a video of another Tiktok user named Gabriella in her Filipiñana, Geana said she wanted to try the trend of dressing up in traditional Filipino clothes. She didn’t know where to buy them, so she decided to search Amazon. To her surprise, scrub top uniforms of nurses popped up. On her video, she says with a disappointed tone, “What is this? What in the name of typical Filipino stereotype is this? If you don’t know, [it’s like they’re saying] all Filipinos are nurses, that’s why.” 

Some netizens bashed her and others corrected her for using the word costume because they find it disrespectful too. She sincerely apologized, however, for not using the right word. According to those who tried searching using the word dress, apart from the scrub tops, statement shirts about our country appeared.

Here in the Philippines, if you try to look at amazon.com, without signing up, you’ll find different results. There are V-neck pleated jumpers, books about national dress and textile of Indonesia—and surprisingly—the first product on the list is a maid’s costume with this description: Costume Black and White Maid Adult Traditional Philippine Maid Plays Clothing. 

If you make an account and sign in, the nurse’s uniform and the maid’s attire are still there, among other products that are obviously not traditional Filipino clothes. The stereotype image also shows up even if you use the word clothing instead of dress.

Some online shops give an automated result relating to the keywords. If they don’t have the specific traditional dress, they will show optional products like casual attire and highlighting the word dress on its label.

Other marketplace apps are honest. For instance, Shopee and Lazada will inform you that there are “no products found” on their search result.

So is Amazon really stereotyping Filipino? Or is there something wrong with the search engine of Amazon? To get its side of the story, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle reached out to the tech company by e-mail. In response, Amazon’s senior media relations manager, Alexander Kwiatkowski, explained they were still investigating the matter.