The term Diaspora (in Greek, διασπορά – “a scattering or sowing of seeds”) refers to the forced or voluntary dispersal of any population sharing common ethnic identity to leave their settled territory, and become residents in areas often far removed from the former.
The biblical root of diaspora is decidedly more negative, having to do with Jewish exile. From Deuteronomy 28:25:
The LORD shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
As I write this, a good number (probably 1 in every 3) of my acquaintances from grade school, high school and college, are already working as overseas contract workers, some as already migrant workers. The OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) phenomenon has been an accepted term since the 1980s, but now in the 21st century, it seems the world is already actively acknowledging the impact Filipinos have had globally.
Abdullah Al-Maghlooth writes an impassioned and straightforward praise in Arab News, excerpt follows:
Muhammad Al-Maghrabi became handicapped and shut down his flower and gifts shop business in Jeddah after his Filipino workers insisted on leaving and returning home. He says: “When they left, I felt as if I had lost my arms. I was so sad that I lost my appetite.”
Al-Maghrabi then flew to Manila to look for two other Filipino workers to replace the ones who had left. Previously, he had tried workers of different nationalities but they did not impress him. “There is no comparison between Filipinos and others,” he says. Whenever I see Filipinos working in the Kingdom, I wonder what our life would be without them.
Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipino workers — 1,019,577 — outside the Philippines. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing. Filipinos not only play an important and effective role in the Kingdom, they also perform different jobs in countries across the world, including working as sailors. They are known for their professionalism and the quality of their work.
Echoed just as succinctly by Diana Othman in The Straits Times:
FILIPINO faces are already commonly seen delivering frontline service in restaurants, clubs, and bars here, but they are now popping up in a new arena – the coffee shops. Most are serving drinks and clearing tables, but they come a lot more qualified than their foreigner counterparts doing the same job on work permits. The Filipinos are here on S-passes, typically granted to those with at least a diploma, or employment passes, which are granted to graduates.
They are not complaining, because the job they have and the money it brings are much better than being jobless back home.
That last sentence in the excerpt from Othman’s article is very telling. OFW’s exist pretty much due to economic factors–which override social, cultural, even political values. Filipinos are forced to good to find better opportunities that are not afforded locally.
Just to emphasize the economic factors, I myself wrote about an economic concept known as Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) in my blog about the Big Mac Index. I’m requoting the study I did here:
The countries I chose specifically for comparison purposes, and to highlight why certain overseas careers are more than just stereotypes such as:
- Filipino Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong
- Filipino Entertainers in Japan
- Filipino Construction Workers in Saudi Arabia
- Filipino Caregivers in the UK
- Filipino Babysitters in Taiwan
- Filipino Nurses in the US
The other side of the economics of the OFW is the benefit they bring to the Philippines through hard currency remittances. According to the Bangko Sentral (BSP) statistics, OFWs are bringing $14 Billion annually–and this is not mere change when you consider that the BSP’s Gross International Reserves are about $36 Billion as of this writing. A better way to say it is: where would it be if those OFWs were not sending any money home?
In a discussion I had with my own brother, who is finishing medical school as of this writing, about his likely prospects as a doctor abroad (vs. in the Philippines), we toyed with the idea of reconciling diaspora with the concept of nationalism. The economics show the double sides of the argument: the low Purchasing Power force many Filipinos to seek better pay abroad, however the net benefit of their remittances close the argument.
My other brother, who finished his own nursing degree just recently, was addressed by a local Supreme Court Justice (who was a family friend) during a party: “Your parents will oppose your practicing your nursing abroad.” Although there were few smiles in the audience during the party, the Justice’s words were met pretty much with silence. And the implications were not lost on us: amongst the older generation, the idea of going abroad was still taken against nationalistic principles–no matter how stodgy, passe, or simply irrelevant those notions may be in light of the present day facts.
Brings to mind something my own parents did tell me years ago, about how they were near ostracized by their fellow peers in a community group they once belonged to when they announced that my then graduating high-school brother had decided to take up nursing. What they expected to be congratulatory, even encouraging remarks, turned out to be exclaims of surprise and shock–to the tune of: “why?! how bad are things here that the best thing your children can think of is to leave?” Later even seeming to paint my own parents in an insecure light: how badly did they raise their family that their children were becoming OFWs?
It didn’t help that the aforementioned community was supposedly a Christian group. Christian Nationalists. Who can think of a better oxymoron in this present day and age?
My first, last, and only reaction to that anecdote to this day: nonsense.
Personally, I am happy to be rid of the blind, closed-minded thinking about diaspora, the anti-nationalistic sentiments surrounding it.
Because of diaspora Filipinos are now globally recognized for their talents, the country benefits from the hard currency remittances, and those same Filipinos are finding their calling and rewards pursuing their passions–which remain Filipino passions regardless of where in the world these Filipinos may be.
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