An essay written by Marianne Gonzales for the Center for Migrant Advocacy
October 6th, 2020
No one tells you what happens after ‘change’. Change is what molds us into the
individuals that we are today whether it be through extreme trauma, a shift in our
mindsets, or environmental transformation such as moving that leads us to where we
are now. I think for most, change is an adventure, risk, or even something that we
have dreamed of doing since childhood. Change is crucial in how we understand the
world. What is scary about change is that you never know what to expect. You just
go through with it because any difficulty is worth taking and any problem is worth
facing as long as you reach your goals– as long as you succeed in your ambition for
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing two OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), a young
woman living in the heart of Los Angeles who tries to find her path in this world
and my own family, an uncle, who strived in UAE for decades – that emphasized two
different experiences with change. However, with it comes issues that I feel all OFWs
face some way or another, especially in terms of financial and emotional struggles.
And for that, I feel in some way connected to them through these few hours of
conversation because although ‘change’ is universal, it is felt unevenly.
As we all know, the United States was devastatingly hit by the current pandemic with
over 9.5 million cases and estimation of more than 230,000 deaths. If the problem
is not through direct contact with the infection, then it would be through indirect
contact caused by the infection. Most businesses have filed for bankruptcy, with
some bigger firms taking precautions through terminating employee contracts
especially those who are casual workers. In terms of healthcare, as resources have
become scarce and air transport has ceased, medical resources have been limited,
thus, making it a big problem for hospitals needing medical tools and equipment for
severe cases. Alongside these, gender-based violence has also increased due to the
curfews adopted by the government. With hospitality, a lot of businesses have shut
down due to the lockdowns and curfews implemented to control clusters of
infection. This has ultimately affected most businesses, especially family-owned
businesses, who have placed their trust in the US the reason they have migrated to
In saying that, OFWs must know their rights and are assured that organizations are willing to help if there are problems out of their control. Especially
organizations like CMA that deserve attention especially for OFWs stranded and
helpless. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of problems with long-term
effects whether it be on physical health or financial standing. As a result, day-to-day
routines have severely changed, and some have felt isolated because of the
pandemic. However, some have found a way to de-stress especially as the second
wave became prevalent in the United States.
I was acquainted by CMA to interview a Filipina working in the hospitality industry in
Los Angeles. She had recently been removed from her job and was staying home
since the US was put into lockdown seven months ago. Before the interview, she
chose to stay anonymous, opting to go under her alias ‘Natsu’. A college friend of
someone in CMA, she moved to the US in 2012 during her second year of college.
After a year, her family decided to go back to the Philippines for her younger
sister to finish her studies. When asked about how she felt during the move, she
explained, ‘Of course it is difficult. Your world just stops because you’re moving. At
the time, I cried because I really didn’t want to leave the Philippines.
‘As well as you’ve only known the Philippines all your life but was there a time you
realized that you will be okay?’ I asked.
With a nod, she said, ‘I didn’t want to leave home because it was where I was
comfortable but once time passed, I thought wait…no it’s fine here!’.
We spoke more about her family and what they do for a living. She has an older
brother who recently entered the army after he was made redundant from his
previous job. Now he is based in South Carolina for training. Her mother, however,
worked as a manager in a nursing home with long hours ahead, and usually, Natsu
stays home by herself due to the demands of her mother’s work. She explained that
she didn’t have a father. This seemed to bother her grandparents a lot. Even now,
she hasn’t had any contact with them or her cousins due to this issue. When asked if
she was okay with her situation, she said she was used to it. However, I can tell that
it bothered her by the way she spoke about not receiving the same attention and
affection as her cousins do. From what I could gather, her family was traditional,
heavily believing in a ‘complete’ family. Although her grandparents helped her and
her family move to the US, it didn’t take long before her grandparents cut contact
with them. The silence grew and I understood why it was heavy for her. In big changes
like moving away from home, it is important to find a support group or family to
ensure that although you are away, you have a support net prepared to help you in
any problem. She had her own family of course but they had their own lives to
pursue and she was stuck finding her path in a new country, without the help of
a family she thought she could rely on. It would be different, she said, if my
grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins were also supportive of us.
We both agreed that the opportunities in the US were more fruitful compared to the
The Philippines. Although the pay per hour was considerably low, it was more than what
her friends were making back home. This was a problem for her as her friends back
home thought that they could rely on her for assistance. Seeing as she was making
dollars, they weren’t shy when it came to asking for help. She had a friend, an
acquaintance in college who she has spoken here and there but was never close to.
One day, she received a message from this friend asking for money and assuring
her that she will pay her back. Natsu was hesitant because she knew that once she
said yes, the friend will keep coming back and ask for more. However, she didn’t
want to seem like the ‘bad guy’ and so she sent money, fully expecting the friend to
return the money that was borrowed. I asked for her opinion about this, what she felt
during the time and what she thinks about Filipinos’ perspectives on OFWs.
‘I didn’t want to be considered a ‘kontrabida’ (villain) in this scenario because I
understand people are struggling back home. But it irritates me when I do ask for the
money back, they have the audacity to get angry at me even though I sent whatever
is left of my own pocket to them. I don’t understand that perception because why
should you get angry?’
There is this narrative that OFWs are living the best life because they’re working
overseas. And even if they were having difficulties with their work because of the
pandemic, most Filipinos at home complain that it is easier abroad compared to the
living standards in the Philippines. They tend to excuse their feelings, Natsu
explained, as if those abroad are cash-cows and they’ll just send as much money as
they want when asked. They don’t understand the severity of the pandemic and the
effects of it on someone working overseas especially if they have troubles with their
employers. Some are even unlucky to lose their jobs like Natsu and afraid of what the
next steps will be. Some have resorted to going back home to the Philippines, defeated
and nervous about what their families would think. It is a difficult position to be in
because there is no stability and that’s what Natsu emphasized the most.
‘You are already in a difficult transition in life and you’re still getting acquainted with
this new environment you’re not used to and all of a sudden, all these expectations
of you starts and you can’t say no because people will then have bad opinions about
you’ Natsu explained.
When asked what advice to give to CMA especially in terms of the current pandemic,
she replied, ‘Be patient with them (OFWs) and assure them that they are supported.
Words are as important as actions at the moment and some OFWs don’t hear
support from their families. It would be nice to hear it here and there’.
We ended our interview with a follow-up question: some advice to give if someone
wants to help a Filipino move overseas.
‘Basic necessities are important especially a big transition like moving from jeepneys
to buses. The routes aren’t the same and you have to be vigilant. You have to keep
an eye out for bus timetables and where the bus stops because once you miss the
stop, you might end up further from your designated stop. It was such a hassle when
we first moved’ she laughed, ‘We were so confused but we got used to it. Change is
Our conversation extended as we talked about our experiences moving overseas
especially at a young age. We were so naïve about moving and being away from
family that our greatest adventure was only starting. She said that the opportunity in
the US is endless and the struggles can easily be dealt with as long as you dare to do so. She found solace in her art – painting, drawing, and in movies
especially Japanese anime.
My expectations were far from different before this interview started. I didn’t expect
such a lively woman! But then again, with what is happening in the world, there are
many reasons not to be optimistic. However, here she was, learning new skills and
keeping a positive mindset even with the relentless problems. I have a deep respect
for her and her family. They strived, even without the support of their family. They
worked hard to be where they are now. I think that’s why OFWs are superheroes–
even under extreme pressure, they continue, not once complaining about their