Change for the Better

An essay written by Marianne Gonzales for the Center for Migrant Advocacy

#KwentongKababayan

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

this life.

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

the country.

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

good sometimes’.

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

situation.

#KwentongKababayan