Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Ties That Bind

Let’s start with the grandfather’s generation, a native of Michigan, from a small town named Baroda. As a very young man and after having lost a leg caused by a freakish accident, he decides to embark on a long and fateful journey to the faraway Philippine archipelago right after the end of the First World War. Feeling confident and reassured by his acquired skills in accounting even at a very tender age, this young man is bent on trying his luck in a fledgling mining industry in a disparate group of islands then owned and governed as a commonwealth under US tutelage. In due time, he marries a Filipino woman with whom he has a good number of children, and included there is my wife’s mother. And before long, these grown children go their own separate ways laden with their own families. And inevitably their numbers grow. The old man dies and slowly his offspring, registered at birth as natural-born US citizens, start migrating to the US with their own extended families. And that is a short rendition of how my own family found itself carted away to mainland USA.

Our little hometown in Northern Mindanao can be deferred to as an apt microcosm and rationale for this all too familiar phenomenon. A score of US military veterans and civilians came during the last WW and decided to intermarry and resettle in that part of Mindanao. Over time, their families grew. Now many of their descendants, either having retained or elected US citizenship, migrated to the US and resettled with their own growing families in the land of their parents/grandparents. Some decided to stake their future with the land of their birth and are still left out there, earning their living and/or overseeing investments or inherited properties for themselves and their relocated siblings.

What is succinctly described above is not a unique situation for the Philippines but rather common in practically all parts of the well-dispersed country. And it can summarily be explained in this way.

At the turn of the previous century when the United States acquired the entire Philippine archipelago, the uninterrupted inward flow of US citizens to the islands commenced, and has extended way beyond after the US relinquished the islands giving them independence in 1946. With the constant flow left unabated, US citizens have come here for a variety of reasons. More common are either to intermarry and stake their new family lives in the tropical isles many consider very edenic. Or in the past to work for US companies doing business in the former US commonwealth and many had simply decided to stay on.

For their part native-born Filipinos initially during the 40-odd years that the US held on to the islands as a commonwealth, prodded and enticed by the tempting allures of the good life, had migrated to the US mainland and Hawaii in several waves, in the process establishing a firm foothold in American society which continues to thrive and flourish to this day. Again, this exodus too continues unabated limited only by the legal constraints imposed by the accepting country.

So much so that I will stick to an earlier claim that the number of US residents/citizens who are of Filipino descent totals well over 3 million and closer to 4 million, comprising of those who have elected US citizenship, and those who continue to hold on to their permanent resident status; and those possessing visas either for work or as investor, and even those who are technically classified as illegal aliens, possessing expired visitor’s visas.

Over time, a very intricate and at times, unwieldy, network of relationships by blood and/or affinity has developed between the two countries, which alliances transcend beyond the political, social, and even military arrangements carried on by the governments of both independent countries. Though at times, one may be inclined to think after a cursory reading of local media that the Philippines is still attached to a stubborn umbilical cord emanating from the US.

A human network that I believe is impressively more involved and intertwined when compared with the ones developed with the other former colonizer, Spain, which in unforgettable hindsight accumulated almost 400 years of occupation of the islands. One does not have need the results from formal studies to realize the lack of depth and superficiality in the former colony’s ties with Mother Spain, which pales greatly in comparison with the hardy ties developed with the other former colonizer who held on to the islands for less than half a century.

This less known aspect of the US-RP relationship is one not visited much by the current generation of Filipinos, most especially those in media and academia. That undeniably these ties are not only very extensive, but very deep, securely anchored down to the level of the family unit. And thus more meaningful and significant in the long haul.

While it is common knowledge that 60-65% of the current total inward foreign exchange remittances to the Philippines are originated from the US, what is not known is which families are sending these remittances. It cannot possibly be attributable largely to the new “OFWs” (Overseas Filipino Workers) who are in the US primarily as imported pre-arranged workers? There has to be a lot of US-resident families who have extended family members in both countries, thus the remittances simply reveal how income and/or estate are regularly allocated.

This blog entry cannot hope to completely and exhaustively expound on this far-reaching issue. But anecdotal evidences can be applied to sufficiently lay out a firm foundation that when built upon and fleshed out may invariably point to this conclusion.

As first generation US immigrant with over a quarter century of residency, our own immediate family has grown exponentially. Our own kids have intermarried and raised their own kids, with undeniable ethnic and emotional ties to both countries.

And this obviously unstoppable development will continue on, as long as families continue to be regarded universally as the basic social unit.

Because these are the real ties that bind, and which can ably withstand the tests and rigors of time and history.