A Second Chance

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

After visiting the United States more frequently in the last two years than ever before in my life, I have consistently experienced the deep nostalgia of Filipinos who have become American citizens.

Although I first noticed this nostalgia visibly manifesting in the 90’s, I had stopped going to the US because I had no more business affairs to justify the trips. I simply discovered email and learned that, with technology, oceans are not vast enough to separate friends and family from active engagement. Joining Gawad Kalinga, though, brought back focus on Fil-Ams and America. Not only were resources from the US funding a substantial part of the work for the poor but the influence of Fil-Ams on their own families causes even more sympathy and support for GK.

It was just over ten years ago when I noticed a subtle but dramatic expansion of the spirit and form contained in email messages of Filipino Americans. Traditionally, the messages would center totally on family matters, their different jobs and how much they earned, their new cars and houses, where they went and would go next on their vacations, where their children went to school and their accomplishments, and the schedule of their next visit to the motherland. The new messages contained a few remarks beyond family, about a certain event or comment about the Philippine government, about the Philippine economy, about Philippine politics. It could have been triggered by the preparations for the Philippine Centennial of 1998, or it was simply time.

What began, though, in the late 90’s was not just the expansion of topics from their traditional subjects, it was a ripple that is now a wave. In fact, it is a wave that appears so inevitably tidal in spirit and shape. It is a resurgence of patriotism or the breaking open of a dam that had suppressed so much outpouring of how Filipinos miss the homeland, of how Filipinos remain attached to their roots, of how what they could not express all these years, these decades in America, just show in their faces as balikbayans – Filipinos going home.

It was nostalgia in its strongest form. It was unmitigated homesickness that saw planeloads of balikbayans land in Manila, only grew in number and show no signs of slowing down. Even in the current slowdown, the spirit remains committed to visit home, to enjoy the place of birth, their birth or their parents’ birth. The nostalgia is so massive, so visible, and so predictable that businesses are built around it, tourism programs developed for it, condominiums and real estate companies selling to it, laws created to accommodate it, and soon, perhaps, some elections to be decided by it.

Many say that a full 10% of our population are now overseas, spread in several countries, Filipinos as the global worker, immigrants whose intermarriages produce Filipino blood mixed with American, European, Australian and Asia DNA. But it is the Filipino American who leads the immigrant sector in new citizenship, in family income inside their adopted country, in education and political maturity, and in accomplishments in various fields of endeavor. It is no surprise that Filipino Americans will lead in nostalgia as well.

What emerges, though, is now beyond nostalgia. It is not a question of whether a Filipino misses home despite success in America, despite an oath of allegiance to a second country. It is now a growing reality that memories of yore are not the only reason for a stronger re-connection. It is not just retirement, it is not just a warmer temperature for older bodies, it is for a second life, for a second chance at being Filipinos.

What unfolds is an awesome story that has just begun and will continue on for a purpose. It is not just nostalgia anymore, not just an emotional pull by memories of home, not just missing relatives and friends left behind, it is Filipinos loving a country they thought they would not, or could not, love anymore. It is love the second time around.

It was one and a half years ago when I visited America after a twenty year absence. I thought it was especially spectacular because I experienced snow for the first time – in the middle of a snow storm! Somehow, in those years in another lifetime when visiting America for business and pleasure was a regular annual event, I never saw snow, never made a snowball and threw one, never experienced its natural majesty and power.

In that end 2006 visit, I felt the nostalgia; I felt the renaissance of patriotism for a motherland among the few Filipinos I met then. Now, I feel it everywhere, in the Internet, in the community centers, in the airports, and even in Seafood City. The circulation of the Inquirer.net is bigger than the circulation of the print form of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Filipinos are connected not only in spirit but in the daily news as well.

This resurgence of patriotism will manifest itself more powerfully and visibly with every click of the clock. It is so powerful that even the young generations are being affected by it. The mere frequency and massiveness of Filipinos visiting their motherland impact on their children and grandchildren. Just visit the terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. There are senior citizens galore, but more babies and children add color and noise to the pandemonium.

Going home is not just a journey, it is also a story. It used to be that grandparents would take the very young ones, place them on their knees, and then tell them about their ancestry, about their history, and provided the vital mechanism by which culture is passed on from the first to the third generation. That happens even more now, and more.

Today, it is less a story of what had happened and more a story of what will happen. Patriotism is different from nostalgia in that patriotism demands action more than just basking in the beauty and memory of land and home. Patriotism is the call of the moment, not just for a second chance at being Filipino, but a second chance at being a hero for the motherland. Today is not about leaving the country but giving back to it.

When grandparents tell their story, they will not be content about their role in the history of their native land. Filipinos overseas are keenly aware, and even more keenly concerned, at what is happening in Lupang Hinirang, the poverty and the corruption, the violence in the countryside and the unresolved conflict between brothers of the same blood. They are not just telling a story, they know they will be part of the story. And when they tell their children and grandchildren of their love for the Philippines, they will encourage them to help those left behind, to change the ugliness to beauty, to clean politics and to recover honor, build the country of their dreams and a future full of hope.

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