The pictures of the day come to you in the memory, like a flasback, swift and urgent and furious: the Los Angeles Times that had come into your hands rather randomly.
Or the newsflash on TV.
One is the container bearing the dead Chinese smuggled into the United States through the freight cargo way. They, whoever are the masterminds in this human smuggling activity, put the Chinese in those containers and load them like the way they load the other containers, craned and packed.
They were dead when they got here.
Another picture of the day is the trunk of a car cramped with Hispanics which the border patrols sometimes catch.
And then another: deaths of border crossers in the deserts, deserted by coyotes, those human smugglers using the desert border to guide people to cross--and for a fee in thousands of dollars but with no guarantee of coming out alive. You dehydrate, you lose your bearing, you become weak, they leave you behind. No qualms, no ambulances, no rescue. The birds of prey are aplenty in this big swath of a desert in Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico.
At whatever cost, people are sold to that grand idea of coming to the United States.
The U.S. is an idea, a possibility, and people spend so much money just to come here. And put at stake life and limb to pursue that idea of a better life.
I remember other stories from Filipinos, this last one one I gathered on Memorial Day.
A couple with their three-year old daughter went to an acquiantance to visit. But this is not the point of the visit, I tell you.
The couple were proposing a deal with the matriarch of that house, about 64 years old, but a newly-minted citizen, just a few weeks ago. The deal was: could the matriarch, in her advanced age, get married to the man, in his 30's, so they could have legal status? I can imagine the subtext: Could you be kind, my wife is pregnant, there is no way we can ever have a legal status here except through marriage?
I am telling these stories to provide a context to the idea that those people who are here in the United States, however difficult the process they are going through, ought to count their blessings.
I know a friend who can hit rock bottom sometimes with despair and frustration. He has been here for six years, and in all these six years, he had worked so damn hard and loyally to one and only one employer, a Filipino American company, that petitioned him for the job for which he was granted a working visa from the immigration services.
But six years and counting and here he is, with the working visa that cannot even guarantee him a short visit to the Philippines. His father died and he had not even gone through a closure: he could not go home. It is easy to get out of the U.S. but it is not easy to come back. A re-entry is never, never, automatic. The immigration services does not owe you anything.
And so when immigrant life at its lowest strikes us to the core and makes us wonder what we are doing here in this strange land, we think of these stories.
We think of the misery of others so we can compare with our own and see from there the lesson that we need to count our blessings.
I tell myself that to steel me of the days ahead, of the coming fall and of the coming seasons that I will be drawn into celebrating by celebrating by myself: the Thanksgiving Day that I have to shy away from by just sleeping it off because the following day the fireworks are gone and it is no longer Thanksgiving Day; the Christmas that makes you wonder why family is at the core of this day and you have your family miles and miles away, on the other side of the ocean that greets you so merrily when you go for a leisurely walk or where you throw all your pains and anguish; and that New Year that the Christians have invented and that have enslaved us all anywhere we are.
Oh yes, I just sleep them off, these days that remind me of my exilic life.
I count my blessings and they are too many I have no reason to complain.
Like the children who understand the meaning and worth of a father who is always away.
Like a wife who mans the fort even if the ammunitions for everyday survival are meager and sometimes not enough.
Like brothers and sisters who keep praying for your safety.
Like a mother who prays on her own to ask grace and more grace so you can pull it off--and pull it through.
Or the monastic sisters of St Clare in Sariaya whose prayers strenghtened me so and who I will always be grateful.
Or this darling of a daughter, one year old when I left her, who promised to me she would not take it against me when she gets to be older, this absence for long periods.
A. S. Agcaoil
May 31, 2006