Once or twice a week, my mother would call to check on my situation, especially about my work, finances and health. Our conversation would last for about five to ten minutes depending on the time and day of her call and the remaining balance in her ‘budget tipid’ calling card (weekends and off-peak hours have cheaper calling rates).
My father would text to confirm if I received my monthly allowance or to share his thoughts on sundry issues like the FPJ candidacy, kidnappings and even the unconfirmed reconciliation of Joey and Kris.
I maintain regular contact with my younger brother through internet chat and my elder sister through e-mail.
I live alone in Manila while the rest of my family is based abroad. This has been our set-up for the past three years although my family has not been physically intact since thirteen years ago.
My mother left the country in 1990 to work in Dubai. My father immigrated to San Francisco, California in 1993. Eight years later, he was joined by my mother and brother while my sister decided to settle in Dubai with her husband.
My memory of my parents was formed during the years I spent with them from infancy to early adolescence. After that, our bondage was facilitated by long distance calls, holiday and birthday greeting cards, photos, and most recently, electronic communication.
We are briefly reunited almost every year when my parents come home for a one month summer vacation. We maximixe the little time we have together to refresh ties and familiarize ourselves with each other before we become total strangers. No time is wasted in our mutual intention of establishing the most memorable, warm and funny moments together that will make up for the long time that we were separated.
One month is a long break for tourists but it is painfully short for overseas Filipino workers who need to forge the most meaningful parental ties with their children.
Every time my mother or father would be visiting the country, I found myself rehearsing the right words to express my affections for them. But in the end, there would be no sentimental exchange of feelings between child and parent. Instead, we channeled our emotions into fulfilling activities an ordinary family is doing like watching TV in the evening, cooking and dining together, cleaning the house, reporting of our performance in school, visiting relatives in the province, gossiping and shopping in the malls.
This semblance of ordinariness strengthens our affinity and provides comfort in our relationship especially after realizing that it would take another year or more before we can see each other again.
In many ways, our family is more ‘traditional’ than the traditional Filipino family. Despite our distance, we continue to be a closely knit family who perceives our present situation as a transitional phase to a near future where we can be reunited permanently.
We may be continents apart but it is blurred by our constant reassurances of love, concern and understanding. Never did I feel I was abandoned by my parents. Never did I doubt they were doing their best to build a strong and united family. My parents were my constant source of inspiration and guidance in both times of joy and despair.
Perhaps I was used to being far from my family that eased the loneliness of living alone. But I believe it was also mitigated by the fact that migration and working abroad has become an accepted norm in modern Philippine society.
Back at school, my situation was no different from my other classmates who also have a father or mother who works in another country to support them. Now we have more than eight million of our countrymen who are scattered in different parts of the world to earn a living which they could not hope to raise in our land.
My parents have never really discussed their work or living conditions in detail every time we have the chance to talk. They would always check our status then remind us to be extra-careful in the streets and persevere in our studies.
They were silent about their grief of living away from their children. For the past ten years or so that we were apart, I never remember each one of them complain about getting sick. Much more, they never mentioned about getting low pay, cold treatment, racial discrimination or working under harsh conditions. These were things I learned only in college which my parents never told us so that we would not worry.
Despite the hardships of our situation, I still feel lucky. Many families fall apart because they could not stand the pressure of their alienating situation.. Bitter sacrifices end up to nothing for many Filipinos who come home in cadaver bags. Some disappear never to be found. I derive a humble happiness in the fact that my family is still intact and that my parents are still alive.
Many times I wish things are different for our country so that families need not be separated to survive. I know that my mother would not leave if her income from selling rice is enough to raise a family. My father was forced to migrate after being retrenched from his work in the South Harbor. My sister would have chosen to settle here if her office would not continue to relegate her as a casual employee.
On his last visit here two years ago, my father told me that life in another country as a second-class citizen is not good. But it is better to be a second-class citizen which pays enough to sustain a family than to eke out a living here and die from hunger and poverty.
For me, what remains to be the most compelling argument why our society must keep its people together is that when you feel the urge to express your love for your family, the painful reality is that you need to have a visa, a passport, and a plane ticket to see them or that you need to have a telephone to fulfill this basic human interest. I have to add, you need money, lots of money to acquire these tools of communication.