(This is an old archive from INQ7.Net and from several other online sources, and I thought I’d share this with you in light of the centennial celebration of the Filipino diaspora to Hawaii, and what Greg Macabenta discovered about the first dispersion of our people. This was a speech by Patricia Evangelista , age 19, who won the International Public Speaking competition in London, May 2004.)
WHEN I was little, I wanted what many Filipino children all over the country wanted. I wanted to be blond, blue-eyed and white.
I thought — if I just wished hard enough and was good enough, I’d wake up on Christmas morning with snow outside my window and freckles across my nose!
More than four centuries under western domination can do that to you. I have 16 cousins. In a couple of years, there will just be five of us left in the Philippines, the rest will have gone abroad in search of “greener pastures.” It’s not an anomaly; it’s a trend; the Filipino diaspora . Today, about eight million Filipinos are scattered around the world.
There are those who disapprove of Filipinos who choose to leave. I used to. Maybe this is a natural reaction of someone who was left behind, smiling for family pictures that get emptier with each succeeding year. Desertion, I called it. My country is a land that has perpetually fought for the freedom to be itself. Our heroes offered their lives in the struggle against the Spanish, the Japanese, the Americans. To pack up and deny that identity is tantamount to spitting on that sacrifice.
Or is it? I don’t think so. Not anymore.
True, there is no denying this phenomenon, aided by the fact that what was once the other side of the world is now a 12-hour plane ride away. But this is a borderless world, where no individual can claim to be purely from where he is now. My mother is of Chinese descent, my father is a quarter Spanish, and I call myself a pure Filipino — a hybrid of sorts resulting from a combination of cultures.
Each square mile anywhere in the world is made up of people of different ethnicities, with national identities and individual personalities. Because of this, each square mile is already a microcosm of the world. In as much as this blessed spot that is England is the world, so is my neighborhood back home.
Seen this way, the Filipino Diaspora, or any sort of dispersal of populations, is not as ominous as so many claim. It must be understood. I come from a Third World country, one that is still trying mightily to get back on its feet after many years of dictatorship. But we shall make it, given more time. Especially now, when we have thousands of eager young minds who graduate from college every year. They have skills. They need jobs. We cannot absorb them all.
A borderless world presents a bigger opportunity, yet one that is not so much abandonment but an extension of identity. Even as we take, we give back. We are the 40,000 skilled nurses who support the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. We are the quarter-of-a-million seafarers manning most of the world’s commercial ships. We are your software engineers in Ireland, your construction workers in the Middle East, your doctors and caregivers in North America, and, your musical artists in London’s West End.
Nationalism isn’t bound by time or place. People from other nations migrate to create new nations, yet still remain essentially who they are. British society is itself an example of a multi-cultural nation, a melting pot of races, religions, arts and cultures. We are, indeed, in a borderless world!
Leaving sometimes isn’t a matter of choice. It’s coming back that is. The Hobbits of the shire traveled all over Middle-Earth, but they chose to come home, richer in every sense of the word. We call people like these balikbayans or the “returnees” — those who followed their dream, yet choose to return and share their mature talents and good fortune.
In a few years, I may take advantage of whatever opportunities that come my way. But I will come home. A borderless world doesn’t preclude the idea of a home. I’m a Filipino, and I’ll always be one. It isn’t about geography; it isn’t about boundaries. It’s about giving back to the country that shaped me.
And that’s going to be more important to me than seeing snow outside my window on a bright Christmas morning.
Mabuhay and thank you.
(Feel the pride? Yup. Wherever we are, we are and always will be Filipinos who long to ‘give back to the country that shaped us.’)