I have plans to move to Manila on a more permanent basis but I am still being pulled back the comforts of living in Sydney. Reading this article just confirms despite all the reasons for staying where I am, there is only one significant reason why I choose to go back home.
April 03, 2012
By Greg Makabenta
On returning home
It may not be the best of times to live in America. But I am told that it’s even worse going home to the Philippines. I’m told that the TNT has a better chance of living unmolested in the US these days because the Obama administration has been relatively lenient on overstaying or undocumented aliens.
With federal and state budgets so strained and the war on terror being fought, immigration authorities have been concentrating on potential terrorists and those with criminal records, giving the law-abiding and tax-paying undocumented immigrants some breathing space.
There is also talk about fixing the broken immigration system and the possibility of amnesty, although it may be called by another time, so as not to raise the hackles of the anti-immigrant sector. There are also aggressive lobbying efforts for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would open a pathway to legalization for the undocumented who were brought to the US at a young age, have done well in school and are assets to the community. The most high-profile of them is Jose Antonio Vargas who arrived in America at age 12 and, despite lacking legal status, built an impressive journalistic career that culminated in a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
In June last year, Vargas wrote an essay in the New York Times Magazine in which he admitted being an “undocumented immigrant.” It took great courage on his part but his goal was in order to create greater awareness and support for the DREAM Act.
But in spite of the increasing possibilities for legalization, I know of a lot of people who have decided to go back to the Philippines after years of hoping to get a green card. The reason is that the US economy is bad, jobs are hard to come by, the cost of living is going through the roof, and fewer and fewer relatives and friends are willing to take in non-contributing boarders to further weigh down their existence.
Listening to some of them talk about the prospect of returning to the Philippines, one would think that they are leaving heaven to go back to hell.
My heart bleeds for those who must leave relatives and other loved ones in America, not to mention those who have to suffer the indignity of detention and expulsion in the course of deportation. But I, frankly, have no sympathy for those who think that returning to the Philippines is some kind of cruel, inhuman punishment.
America is a great country and I can give you a long list of reasons why it is superior to the Philippines any day of the week, including Sundays. But it takes living in America to appreciate the fact that the Philippines is a great country, too.
The Philippines isn’t Paradise, that’s for sure. We are all painfully aware of our country’s problems. But despite all the aggravations, our country isn’t the pits. And, despite our flaws, Filipinos are not the scum of the earth.
In the first place, returnees have friends and relatives to go back to. Some may also have homes and other property in the Philippines. Their US experience may give them an advantage in the job market. They could be in demand because of their work ethic and training. In many ways, working conditions may pale in comparison to America, but they could help make it better, with what they learned abroad.
The separation from their loved ones in America does not have to be permanent. Family members who are US citizens or green card holders can travel back and forth freely. They can even earn money on both sides of the Pacific and spend it on more creature comforts in the Philippines.
Adjusting to life in the Philippines will present some initial difficulties. The shower doesn’t always work and, sometimes, not even the faucet. Brownouts — a euphemism for blackouts — are commonplace. Traffic laws are observed in the breach and we have some of the most undisciplined drivers and pedestrians in the world. In government offices, it is not unusual for civil servants to openly ask for a kickback. It takes a fortune to buy a house and an even bigger fortune to buy a car. And unless you are a middle-level executive or are attached to the BIR or the Bureau of Customs, you can’t easily afford the most basic of appliances.
But whatever one might think of the Philippines, it is not the strange, foreign land that greeted the Vietnamese boat people, or the White Russians after World War II, or the refugees in the Middle East conflicts.
Most of all, the Philippines is home.
Many years ago, my own mother made that clear to us. My sister and I had tried to persuade her to live in America. She did attempt it, twice. In both instances, she couldn’t last more than a couple of months. She insisted on going home. She was miserable.
The second time, it was also because there was something wrong with the way blood was being pumped to her legs. According to my sister, a doctor, nanay was very sick. Another doctor had suggested amputation.
My mother staunchly refused. “If I’m going to die, I want all my parts intact,” she declared, almost jestingly. “But, I tell you, just send me home and I’ll get well.”
Nanay did go home and, yes, she did get well. Being able to walk around anytime she wanted, to visit relatives and friends, to go to market by herself, without waiting for someone to drive for her, breaking sweat in her own home and garden, and being more than just a couch potato staring at a TV set, pumped the blood back to her legs and brought her back to health.
But the biggest reason was that she was home.
For those who have lived in the Philippines all their lives, that is not easy to understand. It takes being a nurse in the Bronx or in Brooklyn, working with AIDS victims and assorted derelicts 16 hours a day, going home to an apartment where the only thing you can talk to is the TV set and longing for the company of people you love.
You stare at the set and wonder: If I should suddenly keel over and die, how long will it be before the neighbors and the police find out?
It takes being old and alone, left in the house because your children and their children all have to go to work or school. It takes hoping to exchange small talk with them when they arrive home, except that they are too busy with home work or too tired from the rat race.
It takes being consigned to a home for the aged, apart from your flesh and blood, there to pine over memories of the old country, back when you were surrounded by friends and relatives, maids and helpers, folks who made you feel important and who were important to you.
It takes loading your dirty clothes in the washing machine and resigning yourself to wearing your clothes straight out of the drier. Wrinkles and all. And recalling how, back in the old country, even your carsonsillo and sando were pressed.
It takes having a hotdog lunch dished out by a corner ambulant peddler in Manhattan, sitting on the steps of the New York public library, along with hundreds of others in their beautiful suits and designer clothes, wondering what you’re doing there in the first place.
It takes being a doctor or a lawyer or an important local politician in the Philippines, and being a medical assistant or a law office clerk or a fast food waiter in America, because you haven’t been able to take the board exams or impress employers with your old credentials. It takes finding out that no matter how good you are in your job and how genuine your naturalization papers may be, your thick vernacular accent, which you’ll never be able to get rid of, sets you back on the promotions ladder.
It takes all these and many more. Reasons which you can feel only in your heart and which words can never quite explain.
Most of all, it takes being away from home.