"I am large. I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


"What do we live for; if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? ~ George Eliot

The idea of writing my thoughts about the Filipino diaspora has been incubating in my brain since this weekend in Phnom Penh.

After a tiring but fulfilling day with the Soksabay kids at Goat's Hill, the rest of the team wanted to go shopping. In true Mayang fashion, I opted for the hour and a half Thai massage. So after the massage, I went to the coffee shop for some grub and there was the now-ubiquitous sight and sound of a lone guitarist from the Philippines serenading us with songs which I felt every Filipino seafarer would know by heart. Jim Croce's "I Have to Say I Love You in a Song" was one of them. I'm almost convinced that if he had a back-up band, "Hotel California" would be one of their most-performed songs.

Anyhoo, I started thinking about this man who left his homeland for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Becoming a singer in Phnom Penh is a far cry from becoming a caregiver in Canada or a nurse in London. But here he is, with that smile, singing his heart out so he can send money to his family back home.

I didn't get to talk to him, mind you, but there I was crafting a story in my head about his life and I inexplicably brought myself to a place of understanding and empathy that I haven't visited in a long, long time. I've lived away from my country for 15 years now, and when you're part of the diaspora - although you don't quite fit the stereotypes we conveniently use when we think of the Overseas Filipino Worker - you tend to stop thinking you are part of this massive movement of people who are keeping the Philippine economy afloat.

There is another reason why my thoughts went that way that Saturday night in Phnom Penh. My sister-in-law was granted a visa to look for a job here in Singapore. My brother didn't get it. So they plan to have my sister-in-law here first, with my brother to follow once she's employed. And I couldn't help but think of my nephews without their mother. And that thought still brings tears to my eyes. I couldn't help but think that eventually, my brother and his wife would understandably want their family together here, and that made me think of my parents who's lives are centered around their grandsons.

All of these emotions swirling within me gave me a renewed surge of empathy towards every Filipino who leaves our land just because it has become difficult to make ends meet. It's different when you're single and young. It had an air of excitement. When you're older with kids, I reckon that is how it feels when your heart is breaking.

Yet I know love is the reason these decisions are being made, tough as they are. Love is the moving force of all these - including the sadness. I find myself proud of my brother and his wife for looking out for their kids, for making these sacrifices. I find myself saddened that my nephews will not have their mom and soonafter, their dad in their everyday lives (for a while). They will adapt, I know. We all will. But that doesn't make it any easier.

I reflect on my own childhood and realize once again how fortunate I was that my family was always together. I had no absentee parent. Both of them were involved from the word go.

God bless my brother and his wife's plans. And grant me the willingness to help them in whatever way I can.

Pray for them with me please. For my folks too.

(Photo credit: bluman)

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