A million who leave
April 22, 2007 4:53 PM   Subscribe

It's been covered elsewhere in the media (and on MetaFilter) before, but Jason DeParle's feature in the NY Times Magazine this weekend is a well-researched, clearly written, and evocative piece on the phenomenon of the Filipino overseas contract worker. Just don't get him confused with a balikbayan (who has a cultural spot all his own, with boxes named in his honor).
posted by sappidus (6 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This reality is brought home every time I pass by the Foreign Affairs building and the U.S. embassy... and see the long queues crowding the entrances of both buildings.

Needless to say, I can't afford to look down my nose at these crowds. I've stood in both queues myself.
posted by micketymoc at 5:46 PM on April 22, 2007

One of the overwheliming sites in Hong Kong for me was walking in some of the public places near the water on a Sunday. Its the day off for all the Filipino maids and they congregate in the thousands, lay out blankets on any empty patch of pavement, against walls, on footbridges, and chat and do each others hair. Here's a photo I found on flickr. And another.
posted by vacapinta at 6:12 PM on April 22, 2007

It's telling that there are special immigration lines, just for overseas workers, at all three international terminals (Cebu-Mactan, NAIA I&II). It's odd how streamlined the system is, more like export control than immigration control.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:15 PM on April 22, 2007

I just finished reading the feature and found it depressing: depressing because it's so typical and so true.

Not only is the Philippine peso terribly undervalued (even just a casual glance at the Big Mac index could tell you this), but as early as Grade 3, my teachers would illustrate the Philippine economic situation with a pyramid representing the socio-economic class distribution of the population (the "elite" at the point, the bottom half below the poverty line) and an inverted pyramid next to it representing the distrubution of wealth, and would tell us how 1% of our population controls most of the money, and a large part of our countrymen have to make do with so little. You see it every day, wherever you go -- shanties lining riverbeds, floodways, and train tracks, squatter huts standing on unclaimed, undeveloped land, run-down shacks sitting right next to grand mansions and posh condominiums. Contracting work overseas is a dreary workaround to such a fate, what we call kapit sa patalim ("gripping the knife's edge") and is a very difficult trade-off between family and economic survival, considering how interdependent and close-knit Filipino families are, where everyone helps everyone out (bayanihan) and households are rarely nuclear, often holding extended family members by default.

I myself would hate to have to make immigration one of my life's goals, but to many others here, any life elsewhere is the promise of a better life. Even if you have to be a maid, a Japayuki, or a pool man to get there.
posted by Lush at 9:32 PM on April 22, 2007

You have to wonder, too, how this will affect the average Filipino family in the long term.

My English teacher friend tells me that most of her students have at least one parent abroad; more and more families are dependent on remittances from absent parents to keep going. For a country that is sworn to "protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution" (it's even in the fucking Constitution), we're sure doing a hell of a job keeping our families together!

More interesting side effects: I came across this article, about househusbands taking care of kids left behind by migrant moms. Not all of them are paragons of gender equality - many of them are, as the local parlance goes, "chemist" - short for "kay misis umaasa", or "relying on the missus", or practically on the dole.
posted by micketymoc at 12:33 AM on April 23, 2007

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