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The Filipino diaspora

05:02 PM September 21, 2011

During the Marcos years—because of severe economic depression, lack of job opportunities and political oppression—thousands of Filipinos desperately seeking better lives for themselves and their families took risks and bravely went to strange lands and cultures taking on whatever jobs were available.

After the downfall of the Marcos regime, the Philippine economy did not take off as expected. Compared to its Asian neighbors’ robust economies,   the Philippines continued to reel from the terrible legacy left by the dictator: massive institutionalized corruption, crony capitalism, bad or weak leadership and a host of other problems — preventing an industry based economic takeoff.

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As such, taking comfort from the courageous trailblazing examples of their forebears who managed to survive and make do in countries with even the strangest of cultures and even the coldest or hottest climates — increasing numbers of Filipinos continue to leave the Philippines to work and even settle permanently in foreign lands.

It is the billions of dollars  of cumulative financial contributions sent to loved ones by these brave sacrificing souls  that has kept the Philippine economy afloat.

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Definition of the word “diaspora”.  I notice that the word is often floated around by Filipino writers who assume their readers know what it means. The Oxford dictionary definition: “The dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.”

The word “diaspora” is usually associated with the Jewish people. The Jewish people left Israel and scattered all over the world as a result of various conquerors who took over Israel: Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans. Officially, the year 597 BC marked the beginning of the continuing Jewish diaspora when the Assyrians conquered the Jews.

For the Filipino diaspora, which is now a part of world history, for  purposes of setting an official date marking its beginnings,  I believe a proper date should be 1972 — the year the dictator Marcos declared martial law.

A  scattering of Filipinos had already migrated to the US prior to this time — mostly in Hawaii and California — many of whom were relatives of sugarcane field workers recruited from the Ilocos regions in the early 1900s  or US military predominantly navy personnel who had become naturalized US citizens. Filipina nurses and doctors were also coming in significant numbers in the late 1960s on Exchange Visitors visas but not as immigrants. Most of them stayed and eventually became permanent residents or US citizens.

In some Middle East countries, Hong Kong and other Asian countries,   Filipinos were already  working, mostly as domestic workers or musicians even before the martial law years.

But it was when martial law was declared in 1972 and the years after when mass migration of Filipinos to different parts of the world took a quantum leap. This phenomenon continues on today.

In Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Bahrain, Dubai, Hong Kong, and other cities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia — we find  communities of thousands of Filipinos.

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Like the Jews, we are now practically in every corner of the world managing not only to survive but even becoming successful in various professions and  businesses — especially for  those who went to the U.S.

And like the Jews, we bring with us our culture, our values, our religion, our food and whatever else that makes us uniquely Filipino — enriching and influencing the general society at large where we have embedded ourselves. In my beloved San Francisco,  Los Angeles, Sacramento, New York, Chicago and other US cities, many non-Filipinos are as familiar with lumpia and adobo as they are with pizza and tacos.

Many have intermarried with non-Filipinos. My daughter is married to a Jewish American who has a mixture of Russian, Lithuanian blood in him.  My first grandson who will come into the world this November will be a mixture of his father’s  blood plus French and Ilongga (from my wife) and Chinese, Spanish, Ilocano (from me). If not for the Filipino diaspora, of which I am a part, his existence would not be.

For many Filipinos, bound by blood, culture and origins, even if they live in other lands, their concern for the well being of their brother and sister Filipinos in the homeland and around the globe continue.  They are continuously involved in the sacred effort to create a better Philippines and for all Filipinos wherever they may be.  Like the  global community of Jews, who are influential on Jewish concerns anywhere in the world, I  have no doubt that  the global community of Filipinos will also be very influential re Filipino concerns in the future.

Some overseas Filipinos, because of  their global experience of living, working and interacting with non-Filipinos – have also come to realize that their concern for others should not be limited and restricted by tribal, geo-political, racial or national boundaries  – that they should not limit their concerns to Filipinos only – but include all human beings as we are all part of one human family. Such individuals have become true global citizens when they have arrived  at this profound realization.

From September 27-29, 2011, for the first time in the history of the Philippines, a global conference will be held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila where overseas Filipinos from all over the world will meet and confer on issues relevant to Filipinos all over the world including those in the Philippines. The title of the conference: ” Diaspora Development: A Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora”.

Note: The California State Bar honors Atty. Ted Laguatan as one of the best immigration lawyers in the US officially certifying him as an Expert Specialist in Immigration Law continuously for more than 20 years – one of only 29 lawyers. He also does accident injuries, wrongful death and complex litigation.  For communications: (San Francisco area) 455 hickey Blvd. Suite 516, Daly City, Ca 94015. Email [email protected] tel 650 991-1154 fax 650 991-1186.

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TAGS: Culture, diaspora, Filipino, Immigration, Migration, Philippines, United States, US
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