An Im/migant Makes Memories

There is something curious in the way one book review on Henry Shukman's "Mortimer of the Maghreb: Stories" details the distinction between an expatriate and an exile.

I know I am not an expatriate in the United States, with my vivid imagination of how expats in the Philippines live, with the International School as a model to boot: their dollars come a-flowing like water. They live like royalty, with the unifomed katulongs to complete the props of princely life.

I know what I am in this country of my exile: one of the many who are ekeing out a life here. The key here, I think, is the manner of ekeing out a life.

And so for Tim Rutten in "Tales of the Expat Life, made fresh," his review of Shukman, he says: "Exile is a bitter experience; the expatriate has a bitersweet choice. Nowadays, our globalized economy has lent it a kind of class distinction--an expatriate decides to go abroad in pursuit of fortune, freedom, or fulfillment; an exile is forced by politics or want to become an immigrant."

The quote is from the LA Times of June 14, 2006, E1.

And I have problems with the issues Rutten raises.

I wish to undescore one idea here on what he says about the exile: The exile is forced by politics or want to become an immigrant.

I am forced by want.

Have I been forced by politics? I do not know. I took part in EDSA Dos and the gratitude I got from the beneficiary of the revolution is inflation and a hand-to-mouth existence like no other.

So maybe, just maybe, I have been forced by politics.

I am forced by the idea of freedom, of art, of getting out of the dumps, from this want, from this deprivation, from the shackles of everyday that hinder you from not writing that great Filipino novel.

I am forced by the idea of fulfillment, by the idea of self-realization, or self-actualization, if you wish.

I am forced by the idea of a good fortune to be found here, in these parts, that idea that is yet elusive, is yet to come.

I am forced by the idea of buying time so I can sit down and relax and think thoughts about loosening up a bit, no all the time tensed, but relaxed in the thought that you can think thought about art and freedom and democracy and all the abstractions of Malacanang and the Senate and the Congress and the Academe and the Church--institutions that are all immune from the brutal mercies of everyday life, from the everydayness of living the same life of want.

So where do these locate me in the grander scheme of things?

I am all of the above but I am never an expatriate.

Never mind, I write my thoughs today, in this summer sunshine that warmly reaches out to my cold heart even as I think about exiles, exiling, and exiling some more.

I need to write about these things to make the memories that will lighten my load when the dark day comes.

In this mid-morning sunshine though, that dark thought has no place. I shoo it away, no, not in my thought. I want my coffee, hot and steaming.

I sit to write these thoughts, commit them on this blog, and sip my Colombia brew in 'Starbucks-silly' way as I could, the same way a daughter imagines her life centered on the cold brew from Marquinton and her other hang-outs with her artista circle of friends.

I look at the folding clock, on top of a shelf on my right and serving as my bed's headboard, with the photo of the children on the right fold. The photo, it seems, is four years old.

The smiles and hopes of the children are current--and these shall become the currency in my navigating life today and for always.

I take all these as moments--these sacred moments of our history as a family of exiles.

A. S. Agcaoili
June 16, 2006
Torrance, CA

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