Domingo, my maternal grandfather who all of us his grandchildren didn’t get to meet because he died way ahead of seeing any of his children get married, fought as a guerrilla in World War II. Quite fortunately, he was listed in the roll of guerrillas of the US Armed Forces in the Far East and it opened doors to many US veteran benefits.
After Lolo Domeng died in the late 1960s, my grandmother Mama Des made sure she and her children would obtain the benefits entitled to them as a family of a US veteran. She received a monthly pension until she died a couple of years ago.
Education benefits made sure my mother finished college on scholarship. All her siblings, my titos and titas, managed to obtain college degrees from private universities, thanks to that same scholarship which my Lolo earned for them for fighting the Japanese imperial army.
Compared to our workingclass neighbors in Sampaloc, we lived a relatively well-off middle-class life. The education that some of my titos and titas obtained and turned them into pros gave us a chance in the 1980s to watch movies regularly, attend matinee shows at the CCP, and also see art exhibits.
But perhaps the most delectable benefit is the eligibility to file a so-called petition. My grandmother sure did, and while it took so long to be approved, she and all my eligible single titos and titas left as soon as possible in the 1990s. Mama and her her siblings who were already married stayed behind.
I could remember one of them saying, “Hindi na kami babalik” as he prepared his things for that long-haul flight to Los Angeles.
In fairness to my titos and titas who were about to leave for the States then, they were at the time quite middle class, having attained certain levels of success in their professions: A tito signed up for the US Navy, and on his own merits migrated to the States, ahead of the petition’s approval. A tita has worked as a nurse in Riyadh. Another tita was the principal art director of the nation’s largest showbiz magazine. A tito was a watercolor artist and college instructor, while another one was a professional radio operator at a government office. The youngest, who we adore so much, was one of the country’s premiere mime artists who obtained further training abroad.
Today, my titos and titas in the US have moved on as naturalized American citizens, built their families, resumed or started new professions, and have mostly stayed out of the homeland where they grew up. There’s apparently no looking back for all of them.
Stories of immigration are intimately connected with migrant work, but they’re not always the same. We have many friends and family who go to work abroad, but not to migrate, most probably because of the places of their migrant work are not considered retirement places or that permanent residency and especially naturalization are not possible there. I’m referring of course to overseas Filipino workers who are mostly blue collar workers, who work hard for months or even years, so that they can save enough to buy a house, build college funds for children, and try to start a business back home. Almost always, OFWs go back home, even though they never leave home mentally and spiritually. They may not know or admit it, but they are patriots, keeping both their families and the decrepit national economy through each remittance and through each second or third job they take in order to earn as much as they earned years before.
While the OFW and the Filipino immigrant are different, and surely have different individual stories nobody could possibly try to invalidate, what unites them is the homeland they come from and their common belief of “seeking greener pastures” as a means of getting by and getting ahead.
In between the lines of the stories they the OFWs and the Filipinos would always tell is a backdrop of social, political, and economic realities back at home, and which their families have to contend with. Those stark realities are neither less valid nor less true. The corrupt, brutal and incompetent government. The widening income and wealth inequality, the low wages, the high prices, and the vise grip-like monopoly of some on opportunities for professional growth.
How I wish all our nurses, art directors, radio operators, college professors, blue collar and white collar workers could be back here at home, reunite with us their families, and help build a better country. What kind of incentive are we willing to give or what collective achievement could we together attain by reversing the brain drain and calling for a national homecoming? What roles are Filipino immigrants able and willing to take?
[To be continued.]