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Opinion

The yaya-raised Hong Kong protest generation


Last Saturday afternoon along a bustling street in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, I was apparently looking lost when a smiling young Hong Kong couple approached me. 
 
"Excuse me, is there a way we can help you?" asked the woman who had gleaming white teeth. I said no thank you, I was just waiting for a cab, but had they by any chance just come from one of the city's protest areas?

They had indeed, with both wearing the black shirts that the pro-democracy activists wear to convey their seriousness ("This is not a party, it's a protest," says one big hand-painted sign hanging from an overpass). 

 
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Many of the Hong Kong protesters are young women, prepared for teargas and pepper spray attacks.

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In all my years of going to Hong Kong from the time I was a teenager, this visit has been the very first time that anyone has volunteered to help me on the street. It has happened many times in the last several days. 
 
What has astonished me nearly as much as the courage of students challenging the Chinese government is how polite they have been. 
 
For all the attractions that Hong Kong offers to millions of tourists a year, friendliness, politeness, and helpfulness are not among them. But I have seen these virtues in copious amounts among the crowds of young people who are engaged in one of the most quixotic protest movements of our time.

Could this sea change in character also be part of the future that Hong Kong youth are aching to build? 
 
As soon as it starts raining, students who have been sleeping in the streets suddenly show up offering anyone unprotected an umbrella. Helpful volunteers hold you so you can safely climb improvised ladders on the concrete barriers all along the barricaded main street, Connaught Road. 
 
I approached one young protester in a busy alley who was holding a sign offering free translation services to foreign media. Once I indicated my interest, two of her colleagues soon showed up to assist me, both recent graduates of Cambridge law school in the UK who spoke impeccable Queen's English. They accompanied me throughout my first afternoon in Central, translating but also explaining the roots of the crisis. 
 
It could be that these youths are just practicing good PR as part of their strategy for overcoming the brute advantages of government forces. Their thorough preparations, the teach-ins by college professors and student leaders, and even their manual for civil disobedience are now well-known to those who have observed their disciplined, well-organized campaign of non-violent dissent. 

 
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Public walls in HK are full of heartfelt political sentiments written on post-its. Some are simply, "Because I love Hong Kong."

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But Filipino residents of Hong Kong who have watched the events there unfold also credit how the present generation was raised – many by Filipina yayas. 
 
"We have a culture of kapwa and tender loving care," says Azon Cañete, a former NGO worker in Hong Kong who now covers the city for GMA News. "It's hard to generalize because there are no studies, but I think OFWs have shown those values to their wards."
 
"Hindi sila racist, mababait sila sa ibang lahi," says one long-time domestic helper in Hong Kong who, like many others here, didn't want to be named. "Mga Pilipina kasing nagpalaki." 
 
They are a stark contrast to many of their elders, especially the prejudiced market vendors who have been known to shout at and shoo away Filipino maids. 
 
About 150,000 Filipina domestics live with families in Hong Kong; many of these Pinays spend more time with their employers' children than their parents. 
 
Many of these kids have grown up. Quick to smile, well-mannered, and respectful to people darker than they, the generation who are manning the barricades in Central District could very well be channeling the foreign nannies who took care of them, even while applying techniques pioneered by the likes of Martin Luther King. 
 
They are different not just from older Hong Kong generations, but from China itself. Authoritarian and dismissive of both public opinion and the interests of other nations, the Chinese government has been uncompromising in its attitude to Hong Kong's pro-democracy youth. 
 
China's leaders have sent word that this form of disruptive dissent cannot be tolerated any longer, with Hong Kong's police preparing to end the protest by force in the next several days. 
 
Well-raised and deeply committed, these youths have shown that it will be harder to snuff out the spirit that has captured the world's imagination. They have time on their side, and if they persist, the #OccupyCentral generation could still wind up leading Hong Kong, and perhaps changing China itself.

If so, I have seen the future, and I like it.
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