To be able to say 'Never better!' even if your yoke is heavy while you are all alone by your lonesome in a faraway land means that you have come to terms with the demands of your going away.
You accept now: you have not prepared yourself for these demands--no exile could ever anticipate what comes in the morrow as soon as he steps into this new terrain, this new geography, this new world with its different way of living life.
You must have heard the good stories, the tall tales of triumph of others.
But your are not part of the 'others', those who have made it in this dreamed-of destination country and now are flaunting their personal success, with the material evidences to boot.
Their gleaming and flashy cars you imagined to have in the homeland, for instance.
Homes as big and as costly as those in the Forbes Park, the monthly amortization, of course, is perhaps equivalent to the annual salary of a junior executive of a big firm headquartered in Ayala Avenue.
You cannot think of how each home is going to be paid unless by a stroke of luck, the owner hits it right with the numbers and wins the lottery to pay the house in cold cash.
Otherwise, you will come to learn the truth: the homeowner will take on another loan, will wait for the best time to sell, and earn something from selling.
We are assuming here that California's real estate will always come out the winner and the prices of homes will always be based on irrational speculation.
Away from the familiar, with the particulars of alienation keeping you company, this ability to say 'Never better!' points to an inner disposition, one that suggests that you have accepted the cost and consequence of becoming an exile.
There is no way you as an exile can ever keep on with the romanticized view of 'going abroad and earn lots and lots of dollars.'
As early as you can, wake up.
You have to dismiss that non-sense notion becuase here, in the America of your dreams, people live their own lives as privately as they can.
This means that you have got to live your own life and do not ever bother other people.
To hold on to the belief that Filipinos are the same everywhere and are never corrupted is wistful thinking.
Over here, very rarely you will get rich quick.
You thank the spirit of good luck if you have been included in the few that did not have to go through hell in order to make it in this land of exile.
Many of those who have been here have not been lucky. Many ended up with nothing after calling it quits for many reasons.
The ugly stories are familiar to us.
The work environment, for instance. In care homes, the indocumentado is required to put in all of his waking hours for patient care work, no ifs, no buts.
There could be a post in the care home you work announcing that the minimum wage is $6.75 beginning February 2002 and that provision of the California law has not changed. You think of this law and its innate oppressive provision. Four years ago, it was already difficult to survive on that per hour rate.
Count your hours and you will certainly cry rivers.
The employer-employee relation, with employer ever-ready to take advantage of the unevenness of power between him and his employee, the dominant position being his.
Anywhere one goes, these are constants.
Include also the kababayan who does not know any better.
In Los Angeles, there are many of those who do these.
And Los Angeles is a prototype.
You go to New York and you have the same stories.
You go to Phoenix and the stories of oppression by our own kind hit you right in the heart.
Lima singko, they take advantage of the illegal, the tago-ng-tago, those who have no legal papers, those whose only hope is an amnesty that is uncertain as the storm of summer in Manila.
There is this unevenness in power in the relationship between those who have come here for a long time and those who are still groping in the dark.
There are binaries that are not visible but as real as the need to heave a deep sigh when heaviness of being sets in.
The power relations existing among Filipinos, for example, suggest a certain 'microphysics of power': tourists vs. residents; permanent residents vs. citizens; legally staying vs. the tago-ng-tago, the working visa holders vs. permanent residents; tourists vs. student visa holders; training visa holders vs. working visa holders vs. permanent residents vs. citizens.
Given these scenarios, it is not easy to utter 'Never better!'
'Othering' others is always an option by those in power even in that microphysics of power.
Think of small dominations and small oppressions by the small people who have, by their own self-estimation, become big in their own, and only in their own, eyes.
The Unites States of America, you realize, is capable of bringing out the best in you and the worst in you, as with many others.
You get your ethnographer's notebook, write all these things to commit them permanently on its pages.
You realize you are smiling and saying to yourself, 'Never better, alien!'
A. S. Agcaoili
Began June 7, finished June 9, 2006