The transnational/binational Filipino diaspora
When I was lobbying Rep. Teddy Locsin to support the Overseas Absentee Voting Act in January of 2003, I recall the explanation he gave to his opposition to granting suffrage to overseas Filipinos — “they abandoned the Philippines.” On the contrary, I protested, it is the Philippines who abandoned them by not providing them with jobs and by “pushing” them to work abroad in order to remit billions of dollars to support the Philippine economy. In the past decade alone, more than one million Filipinos a year were deployed to work abroad.
But another problem with Locsin’s argument is that he viewed residence in the Philippines as limited to presence within the geographic boundaries of its 7,108 islands (7,116 if you count the islands in the Spratlys that are within its Exclusive Economic Zone). What Locsin failed to appreciate is that the concept of the Filipino diaspora has vastly expanded those space boundaries.
Diaspora, from the Greek word for scatter, once referred exclusively to the Babylonian dispersal of the Jews from Israel but is now used widely to describe other historic mass dispersions of people with common roots, including the more than 11 million Filipinos in the Diaspora.
According to the July 2004 statistics of the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO), there were 8.08 million overseas Filipinos scattered in 214 countries — almost 23% of the total 35.83 million in the Philippine labor force during the same period. About 3.59 million, or 44%, were contract workers (OFWs) expected to return to the country upon the termination of their foreign employment; 3.18 million, or almost 40% were foreign immigrants; while 1.29 million, or 16%, were undocumented and overstaying in their host countries.
In his 1998 book, “Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities, and Communities”, University of Hawaii Prof. Jonathan Okamura suggested that Filipinos should be considered not as an ethnic minority in the United States but as a diaspora because of their “significant transnational relations” or linkages to their homeland.
“Diaspora represents such a new conceptual image with which to map the re-territorialization of space quite apart from the usual coordinates based on physical location, territory and distance,” Okamura asserted.
In other words, diaspora challenges long held concepts about nation, culture, identity and place. As people move from one nation to another, Okamura explained, they “take their cultures, customs, and ethnic/racial identities with them and thereby create and extend the social space of the diaspora.”
In her blog, Oward Bodie disputed Okamura’s description of the Filipino diaspora as an “imagined community” adopting the concept of Benedict Anderson. Bodie contended that “unlike the traditional nation-state, the diasporic population often fails to constitute a viable body politic; more than just difficulty in imagining itself as possessing real political power, the Filipino diaspora also has a historical susceptibility to marginalization, either in the home country or the adopted one. This sense of liminality often creates dangerous slippages.”
Bodie cited the Singapore execution of domestic helper Flor Contemplacion in 1995 as an example of the “marginalization” of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) the government failed to protect.
The problem with Bodie’s critique of Okamura’s thesis is that she failed to note the significant difference between overseas Filipinos, including Filipino Americans, and OFWs, who are both part of the Filipino diaspora.
Unlike OFWs, overseas Filipinos in the US –specifically permanent residents and naturalized US citizens – have soared beyond marginalization to become a politically empowered community. In Okamura’s home state of Hawaii, Benjamin Cayetano, the son of a Filipino farmworker brought to Hawaii in 1924, was elected governor in 1994. In California last November, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the daughter of Philippine immigrants, was overwhelmingly confirmed by California voters as the state’s Supreme Court chief justice.
This significant distinction was grasped by Sorbonne French Prof. David Camroux, who wrote “The Philippine State and the Filipino Diaspora” where he examined the “transnationalism” of different kinds of overseas Filipinos, “in the sense of varied and diverse rootedness that the diasporic communities experience.”
Prof. Camroux asked: “Does a dual citizenship Filipino-American, for example, feel a sense of dual loyalties and allegiances, a kind of dual nationalism, concomitant with his/her dual citizenship? Or what is the sense of identity and loyalty for someone who is simply an American citizen, but who feels a “home” is elsewhere?”
These questions caused Camroux to introduce the concept of binary nationalism to better understand the Filipino diaspora.
“By binary nationalism,” Camroux explained, “it is suggested a double mirrored identity in which a sense of one identity is contingent on a sense of the other, leading 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 anathema to rooted cosmopolitan ideals of global citizenship.”
An example of this “binary nationalism” was on display on July 8 when hundreds of Filipino-Americans – members of US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) – demonstrated in front of the six China consulates in the US to protest China’s incursion in the Philippine-owned islands of the Spratlys where China seeks to extract $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’ homeland, joining the chants of “Our soil! Our oil!” as they waved US and Philippine flags. They too are part of the Filipino diaspora.
The First Global Summit of Filipinos in Diaspora is set to meet on September 27-29, 2011 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila with the theme: “Diaspora to Development”. Summit organizers include the CFO, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), USP4GG and other networks of overseas Filipinos in Europe, Middle East and Asia. For more information, log on to: www.cfo.gov.ph.
(Please send your comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 41.5.334.7800).
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