Thinking Thoughts on the Filipinos in Lebanon

Today before sunrise, I wrote to one emigre from San Francisco who has resisted to be totally absorbed by the culture of the adoptive country.

She says she has evolved as an American Filipino, not Filipino American, having grown up and having lost as well the sounds, sights, and smells of the home country.

But she assures me: "I have refused to be swallowed up by all the things around me. Which is why I have picked up some of the grammar of our pains as a people." She adds: "That is why I have learned of the semantics of our suffering, which, in some sense, we have learned to live and love and also enjoy."

As an aside, she asks: "Are we a race of sadomasochists or plain masochists or both?"

I emailed her back while thinking thoughts about the Filipinos in Lebanon even as Hesbollah pounds Israel, even as these cousins and brothers and kins mortally punish each other by accounting the dead on each side, the Beirut count in the hundreds while the Tel Aviv count has been far less, so far.

There are problems here when you think two thoughts at the same time, and during early hours of the morning that has yet to come from the mountains and the sea around you and the crisp air coming from the fields that the sakadas tended for many years since their coming over in 1906.

I worked on my response by centering on the difficult and trying condition of the Filipino emigre everywhere, in all the lands of the world.

It is not something that we envy, I wrote to her. We have become OFWs, a semantic rendering to camouflage our unenviable fate and fortune. Earlier, we were OCWs, I told her: overseas contract workers. But we could have been worse: OUR CATTLE TO THE WORLD. I underlined, our and cattle and world for effect.

She asked me about the brain drain.

I began with an admission: Yes, emigre, there is brain drain in the country and soon, the beloved country might have an intellectual hemorrhage if the holes and exits are not plugged ASAP.

And the explicitation followed suit: Imagine the thousands of some of our best professionals leaving every year for the developed countries, and for countries you cannot, for heaven's sake, imagine that Filipinos would have a liking to go. But we are living in difficult as well as interesting times and we cannot just sit back and relax and watch the Manila sun setting while our families and children starve. And so we are sending any able bodied Filipino professional and skilled workers to the Middle East, to Africa, all the continents that you can imagine, war or no war.

And then I told her my story, my sad story, which she asked: I was a teacher back in the home country. I wrote poems to live and survive. But we could not live on metaphors and so I had to find a way to seek and find for a way out. I have waited for so long for democracy to bear fruit but two people's revolutions ended up with an empty and emptied paradise long promised to us.

And then I emailed her about the need to have that a connect to fight the decades of disconnect that have plagued us migrants and immigrants: Yes, we need to connect, discover the roots, link up again and again with the home country. But we also have a duty to feed ourselves, put food on our family's table, and dream of a better life. The most ironical of the ironies is that we have to leave the homeland, the heartland, the birthland to live the good life, or so we keep hoping and praying and believing.

Because it is not the same way in Beirut, I wrote.

There, the Filipinos who go through a gruelling war and despair and hopelessness, with some of the Lebanese employers denying the basic rights of our people to be repatriated by withholding our people's passports, by accusing our people of being thieves, and some other terrible deeds just to make them stay and stay put. One of our own, a woman, jumped from her employer's building and hurt herself so bad, and now she is in a hospital, with broken limbs and broken life and broken dream. She will go home this way, if the war does not catch up on her.

I do not understand this, I wrote the emigre, and I worry about our people. At least two of my relatives are there, having been there for quite some time and picking up the language and redeeming the mortgaged land of our maternal grandparents. Now that land is back in the hands of the family but this war, this terrible war in Lebanon, will this change the contour of our family's story?

I continued: I read one account of Filipino staying put, and staying put with her employer even as the employer was contemplating of running away from the ravaged land of the Old and New Testament and Koranic people. What has faith got to do with all of these, I wrote to her.

I was rambling, for sure, with all the thoughts crisscrossing, and the night getting darker and darker in Waipahu. In the shadows, I sew the outlines of homes muted now by this evening of our immigrant lives.

I thought of the homes left behind by all ten million or more Filipino migrants and immigrants, the homes they left behind in order to scratch out a life in perilous places like Lebanon. How many are in Israel awaiting repatriation, I do not know. But if Lebanon has a share this many, Israel must have more, far more.

And this war has gone on, with the missiles and rockets and bullets and bombs and deaths and destruction from both sides.

Peacemaker, anyone?

A. S. Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 29, 2006

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