An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every day. Most of them go out on work contracts, one to three years in length. Others migrate permanently. In this issue of Our Own Voice, we have gathered literature on the temporary migrants, Filipino OCWs. They have been called the new heroes of the economytheir annual remittances (over US$6B) are the country's largest source of foreign exchange. Non-profit organizations for Filipino migrant workers worry, though, that this income is used for short term comforts rather than to develop the deep economic infrastructure needed for long term growth.
They are so different from each otherthe immigrants and the migrant workers, the balikbayans and yung mga balik ng balik sa bayan. The most visible of the migrant workers are those in the menial categories: domestic helpers, drivers, commercial marines, construction site workers and hotel backroom staff. Their work is described as 3Ddirty, dangerous and demeaning.
The stories, poems and essays in this issue of Our Own Voice illustrate some of the situations our OCW kababayan face. Paulino Lim, Jr.'s short story plumbs the depths of a sailor's loneliness. Elmer Pizo's poem describes the dreary cruelty of a Filipino's work life in Saudi Arabia. Marianne Villanueva's short story, "Opportunity," and Vim Nadera's excerpt from his novel take the reader on journeys, exploring reasons for leaving homeland to visit colonizers' shores. Marking the first play to appear in our webpages, Krip Yuson's "Luto, Linis, Laba" examines a community of domestic helpers in the Philippines and extends our understanding of the group's aspirations to working abroad. Carlene Bonnivier's story, "Maria's Lullabye," gives a Malaysian narrator's view of a Filipina maid in Kuala Lumpur. Azon Cañete's poem challenges us toward deep sympathy with a nanny who puts her employer's children to sleep, wondering how her own offspring are doing in her absence. In his poem, "Desert Postcards," Joseph Legaspi shares the experience of the migrant worker's child left behind.
When we started pulling this issue together, the editor grimaced and asked me, "Is it going to be sad? Will all the work be about abuses and tragedies?" I leave these questions for readers to answer for themselves. In my opinion though, there are many quiet success stories. My friend, Betty, has been a domestic helper for 10 years in Singapore. She'll turn 30 soon. Though no prospect of marriage lies ahead, she says she's happy, that she has learned to work and think independently. I admire her perspicacity in managing her income. She is paying off a loan she used to buy a second-hand truck. That truck hauls sugar cane during harvest season and makes deliveries during other times. She provides employment for four people through the truck. She plans to set up other small businesses, tooa carinderia, a beauty parlor, and maybe a cooking school.
I've pulled together a personal list of books and links pertaining to the OCW experience and phenomenon. This is by no means comprehensive or very focusedI just wanted to share resources that I've used over the past decade. So come, dear reader, savor the work in this issue. There are quite a few long pieces but they are well worth your time!
March 27, 2002