Thursday, June 12, 2008

The old narrative about OFWs is passé

We usually think of OFWs as “modern day heroes” and it’s so easy to see why. The dollar they send back home is the linchpin that’s preventing the Philippine economy from disintegrating. They work so hard in foreign lands, suffer loneliness and isolation, and some got abused by their employers—all in the name of the dollar or euro that they desperately need to feed their families, send their kids to school, build dream homes and ultimately prop up the economy. But blogger and writer Jessica Zafra has an interesting counterintuitive take on this in her review of Chito Rono's film "Caregiver":

“Hey, we’re not exactly sitting by the pool sipping banana daiquiris either. Most of us work, all of us have problems. It is also possible to experience alienation and isolation in your homeland. How about a little respect for the Pinoys who stick around and do the best they can in truly trying circumstances? No one has a monopoly on suffering, but everyone has a unique story. We need fresh insights on the Pinoy experience at home and abroad, ...”

Oo nga naman.

What social observers often miss is the fact that the narrative about OFWs may have changed. We often refer to OFWs as economic refugees driven to foreign shores by want and desperation. These days, however, a significant proportion of OFWs are high paying professionals (medical professionals, engineers, software engineers, artists, skilled workers, among others) who are attracted by a host of factors other than economic. It’s the brave new world of globalization and our professionals, the crème de le crème of society who may actually have lots of opportunities here, are exercising their options to enrich their lives by experiencing how it is to live in foreign cultures and climes. It’s a decision no different from those Americans, Koreans, and Europeans who settled here in the Philippines for the love of the warm weather and the beautiful beaches.

With the advent of technologies like Internet chat, global roaming, SMS, video conferencing, voice-over-internet calls, it’s possible that the imagined negative social impact of labor migration on family cohesiveness may not actually be that alarming. Maybe, maybe not. But what I'm trying to say is that the old story line by now should be passé and we need to appreciate that.

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