Diaspora

WHEREVER THEY MAY BE TODAY

 

The word ‘Diaspora’ from the Greek word ‘scatter’ was once referred exclusively to the Babylonian dispersal of the Jewish people from the ancient northern Kingdom Israel. Today, the term is used widely to describe other historic mass dispersions of people from an established or ancestral homeland who share common roots.

 

Today, it can be said that a large percentage of Filipino people can ascribe that term to themselves in both the extent of their dispersion and numbers that exceed migrations (forced or otherwise) of other nationalities like the Viet namese boat people, the Russians under Joseph Stalin’s rule, the Cubans under Fidel Castro and the like in more recent history.

 

In the case of the Philippines, the unprecedented movement of their human re sources across national boundaries during the past several decades has spread widely over some 214 countries. This has led to a borderless community of Fili pinos whose collective number is breaching the 12-million mark.

 

Relatively speaking, that’s a large number considering that the population of several countries like Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Brunei, Laos, the Pacific island nations of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia combined and even New Zealand are smaller than that.

 

The Philippines, being geographically situated in Southeast Asia also bears some significance in regard to this phenomenon. Why? It’s because if we could shrink the Earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this: there would be 61 Asians, 12 Europeans, 13 Africans, 9 would be from South America and the Carib bean, and 5 from North America including Canada.

 

Currently, the number of Filipinos living and working abroad represents about 11% of the total population of the Philippines and in some parts of the world – notably the United States, Canada, Australia and nearly in all countries of the American continent, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania, their presence helps fuel the growth and development of their adopted countries as it does their homeland’s own economy as visibly demonstrated by the annual inward remit tances they make. In 2010 alone, those flows reached US$ 18.726-billion!

 

It is estimated that over a million Filipinos leave the Philippines every year some doing so through overseas employment agencies and other programs, including government-sponsored initiatives. Of that number, roughly 44% are contract workers (or, ‘OFWs’) in pursuit of higher levels of wages. OFWs are expected to return to the Philippines upon termination of their foreign employment con tracts but a sizeable number of them nevertheless manage to extend their con tracts and eventually work on gaining residency status. The Philippines is one of those countries that have a law allowing for dual citizenship.

 

The next equally large group – the ‘Overseas Filipinos’ consist of about 40% of the total. They are the ones who choose to emigrate and become permanent residents and citizens of other countries. These Filipinos are the more highly-educated and high-calibre individuals who work as bankers, financial advisers, doctors, engineers, architects, IT professionals, engineers, fashion and graphics designers, technicians, accountants, teachers, military servicemen, seafarers, musicians and entertainers, events production, students, physical therapists, nur ses and caregivers in their adopted countries.

 

The last but much smaller group (16%) manages to depart the Philippines more often than not undocumented. They invariably end up overstaying in their host countries until they are able to regularize their status or run out of options and return to the Philippines. All three groups are part of what is known as the Fili pino Diaspora.

 

Still, wherever they may be today, they all start from one point in the world, the Philippines.

 

Watch The Video

 

A tribute to the classic art of the late National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, the powerful filipino song, Bayan Ko, and the timeless artist, Kuh Ledesma from her album ‘ K’ which gives a neo-ethnic sound through the expertise of Bob Aves. Bayan Ko (My Dear Country) was written as a protest song by Jose Corazon de Jesus and put to melody by Constancio de Guzman during the American Period of the Philippines and has accompanied almost every struggle of Filipinos against domination, occupation or tyranny since the turn of the 20th century to recap-ture the visions and ideals of the Philippines’ First Republic – from the anti-American protest movement and mil lenarian revolts of the 1920s and 30s, to the determined and blood-stained resistance against the Imperial Japanese occupation forces in the early-40s that kept them from advancing towards Australia and New Zealand, the student revolt of the 70s and more recently in 1986, the world’s first and original “People’s Power” revolt which peacefully toppled a rapacious dictatorship and its cohorts who by then had damaged the core values of Philippine society and its democratic traditions once admired throughout Asia. It is a beautiful, melancholic rendition of the song that still manages to stir the hearts and express the longing of a cultured people who cherish most living independently and free even if the price of doing that sometimes means having to lose one’s own life. Though the song may promote nationalism, let us not forget that we are all ONE wherever we may be. Let this be a celebration of the beauty of diversity and uniqueness of the Filipino.

 

ALL BLACK AND BLUE, RED AND WHITE

 

A few armchair critics hold a notion that the Filipino Diaspora comes about as a result of Filipinos abandoning the Philippines and that they style themselves as being an “imagined community” in their host countries. They argue that, because unlike traditional nation-states, the diasporic population often don’t constitute themselves as a viable body politic. Others counter that it is the Philippines which has done the abandoning largely by not providing them with jobs erst while “pushing” them to work or live abroad in order to earn and remit billions of dollars to support the Philippine economy.

 

Neither of these two notions are absolutely true. The truth is, while many may have gone to live or work in other countries, with many eventually acquiring other citizenship, Filipinos abroad continue to maintain strong ties in the Philip pines, and pursue an active interest and involvement in the future of that coun try.

 

That they are an “imagined community” flies off the face of credibility as well. Where they are found in great numbers like in the states of California, Nevada and Hawaii in the United States for example, the Filipino-Americans (who now consist of approximately of 3.1-million persons) are both a powerful political, social and economic bloc. Filipinos make up the third largest ethnicity amongst Asian Pacific Americans in the United States.

 

Other countries and territories with established Filipino communities exceeding 100-thousand include Saudi Arabia (1.15-million), Canada (639.6-thousand), United Arab Emirates (609.7-thousand), Australia (336.2-thousand), Qatar (263.9-thousand), Malaysia (243.9-thousand), Spain (241.3-thousand), Japan (210.6-thousand), the U.K. (200.9-thousand), Singapore (163.1-thousand), Ku wait (155.7-thousand) and Italy (119.5-thousand).

 

In many places around the world, the dimension of Filipinos as a race or a national family is not appreciated nearly enough considering that here are many attributes of Filipinos that are beautiful and noble that are imprinted on the Filipino psyche.

 

This significant distinction was grasped early on by Sorbonne French Prof. David Camroux, who wrote “The Philippine State and the Filipino Diaspora”. He examined the “transnationalism” of different kinds of overseas Filipinos, “in the sense of varied and diverse rootedness that diasporic communities experience.”

 

Prof. Camroux poses the question: “Do dual citizenship Filipinos, for example, feel a sense of dual loyalties and allegiances, a kind of dual nationalism, con comitant with his/her dual citizenship? Or what is the sense of identity and loyalty for someone who is simply a Filipino citizen, but who feels that “home” is elsewhere?” These questions have caused Camroux to suggest the concept of ‘binary nationalism’ to better understand the Filipino diaspora.

 

“By binary nationalism,” Camroux explains, “it is suggested that a double-mir rored identity in which a sense of one identity is contingent on a sense of the other leads to dual and indeed, multiple senses of non-exclusive loyalties. Such binary nationalisms would seem to preclude the transcendence of nation that transnationalism should logically imply, while at the same time not being ana thema to rooted cosmopolitan ideals of global citizenship.”

 

An example of what ‘binary nationalism’ is went recently on display in the United States where a large segment of Overseas Filipinos live. On 8th July of this year, hundreds of Filipino-Americans demonstrated in front of the six China cons ulates in the US to protest China’s incursion in the Philippine-owned islands of the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea where China seeks to extract at the very least $50-billion worth of oil annually. Even Filipino-Americans who were born in the US ardently participated in the protest actions as they identified with their parents’ home land, joining the chants of “Our soil! Our oil!” as they waved US and Philippine flags.

 

And here in New Zealand during a telecast broadcast live minutes just before the opening of the Rugby World Cup 2011 at Eden Park in Auckland was a group of teenage Filipino-Kiwis standing in front of the cameras with faces painted black with the iconic Kiwi silver fern stamped on their cheeks obviously rooting for their All Blacks team against Tonga but holding aloft the blue, red and white star-spangled Filipino flag. An estimated 50-million TV viewers worldwide obviously saw that and must have wondered how that could happen?

 

A FORCE IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD

 

Whatever it may be that you might think it is the Filipino Diaspora challenges many long-held concepts about nation, culture, identity and place. As a people who are fast on the move from one to other countries, Filipinos take their cul ture, customs, and ethnic identity with them and thereby create and extend the social space of their own Diaspora.

 

This uniquely represents a new conceptual image with which to map the re-territorialisation of space quite apart from the usual coordinates based on physical location, territory and distance. But what is even more important is that the Filipino Diaspora is fast emerging as one of the forces for development in the globalizing world. Here in New Zealand, that force has yet to be truly felt because their numbers are still small compared to say Filipinos in Australia, New Zea land’s nearest neighbour in the Pacific.

 

So, is there any basis to what is being said here about the effect of Overseas Filipinos in their adopted countries? The International Organization for Migra tion (IOM) identifies in its website the wide range of development potential of diasporas in that it accumulates human and financial capital for economic and social development in host countries.

 

Watch The Video

 

The inclusion of this video clip, which was produced by advertising firm Campaigns and Grey Philippines, comes as result of the author of this article – Karl Quirino, being at one time involved as an executive officer of PCIBank in 1991. It was then when he and other members of its senior management team early on recognized the growing numbers of Overseas Filipinos as a potent force that would gradually evolve into what is today the ‘Global Filipino’. During strategic planning committee sessions they were all involved in, their deliberations led to storyboard specifications which the advert ising firm used as basis to create this 60-second TV commercial with a simple message at the end that says, “… with our strength added to your strength together we can both overcome the challenges of tomorrow.” Today and thanks to their group-think foresight, that simple message is still as fresh, apt and relevant as it was 20-years ago.

 

Likewise, the larger and wider Diasporas such as what Filipinos are experiencing today contribute to development of their home countries in many ways. Many members of the Filipino Diaspora work in skilled sectors that are of critical importance to their adopted countries. Many accumulate knowledge to establish and manage their own enterprises and are equally at home with the general situation and business cultures of both their original and host countries. Many too have contacts with potential business partners in countries of destination and can facilitate the establishment of trade and production links that promote the market access of export goods from developing countries.

 

STEPS TOWARDS FULL ENGAGEMENT

 

For Filipinos, that kind of influence is growing steadily. A group called Overseas Filipinos Worldwide has a website that leads you to a think tank of concerned individuals, migrant organisations, NGOs and other members of civil society working in tandem towards advancing the democratic governance culture in the Philippines.

 

Overseas Filipinos are now influencing public policy and the national develop ment agenda and strengthening collaboration and solidarity amongst Filipinos worldwide. In the Philippines, they recently submitted a letter to the incumbent President of that country listing a number of action points, the most important being that the Philippine Government “must send clear and strong signals that migration and remittances are only temporary measures to help the government prepare for a long-term goal of self-sufficiency and that strategies, policies, and mechanism for the productive use and investments of their remittances should also be included in the Philippines’ Medium-Term Development Plan (MTPDP).”

 

Like their counterparts in the United States, Canada, Australia, the U.K., Spain, Italy and other countries with significant and more established Filipino com munities, Filipino-Kiwis are just now only taking their first steps towards a life-long journey in New Zealand that leads them beyond marginalisation to become an economically-, socially- and politically-empowered community within the greater fabric of its society.

 

AND WHAT IT TAKES TO DO THAT

 

Kapatid is a beautiful Filipino word, meaning “cut from the same cloth”. In the making of that cloth different strands of thread were used to bind it. These threads are the tribes represented by the many regional groups as there are islands in the archipelago of the Philippines. But we are a fraternity, a family sharing one name – Filipino. All Filipinos have the same family name, all.

 

We are but one Filipino. So in that fundamental aspect, we must learn to look after one another no matter where we are, especially the stronger ones tending to those in greater need for the poorer, the sick and the more disadvantaged of us who are our brothers and sisters and who may be cold, hungry, less know ledgeable, and desperate. If those of us who are more established and stable do not do enough for those who are, then the rest of the world have basis to say to us in our collective face that we do not take care of our own, that our people are without honour, lack conscience or worse, don’t know who we really are.

 

Let us not forget that the term “Filipino-Kiwi” used to identify the many of us who are now here in New Zealand as residents or citizens serves to keep deep bonds alive. No matter how substantial your lives have changed, you retain traits that identify you as distinctly Filipino. These bonds may make it difficult for many of you to digest the major shift of citizenship, of required obligations attached to that citizenship and of our global identity. The key to resolving that conflict is simply to understand that assimilation is not the same as integration.

 

By holding on to the word “Filipino”, Filipino-Kiwis must realize that there are implications when doing so. The word “Filipino” is a term that is alive. It re presents a rich culture, a colourful heritage, a heroic history, a collection of common traits, a unique psyche and an ethnicity sprung forth from a common motherland.

 

If there is no strong attachment to these things then there is no reason or benefit to continue identifying oneself as “Filipino” and the context of that choice means having to cope with its implications. And here it is: Pakeha is Pakeha and Māori is Māori and yet both are known elsewhere in the world as Kiwi, so where therein dear brothers and sisters do you fit by giving up your identity as Filipino?

 

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