Sunday, April 05, 2009

Temporal, Spatial

A useful measure of one’s ‘nationalist’ fervour is the degree to which one can imagine a future in this country. To imagine one building a career, making investments in solid purchases – such as a house, giving birth and raising children in this locality. Imagining a future here, and making a living here, gives one a stake in wrestling the order of things to hew closer to what an imagined good life would be. To commit to the future of this country, one will logically take pains to question why the existing order is as it is – dysfunctional at best, mercenary at worst.

Recently a former student of mine asked for my counsel, having passed the initial phase of the Foreign Service Exam and offered a place to study in a uni in Australia. I asked him what he thought would make him happy. Either choice will land him overseas anyway. If he does make it to become part of the diplomatic corps, they will probably send him to a hardship post in the Middle East, after serving the requisite first four years in the country. I asked him if he would return to the Philippines after his studies in Melbourne. I didn’t get a definitive answer. I have countless friends now either working or studying overseas. Some are quite adamant about returning home eventually. Yet time tends to tick past without us noticing, and eventually will be deferred according to the exigencies of the present.

My friends and peers (as with countless relatives who have long uprooted), share something in common. They can no longer imagine a future in this spatiality. It is a given that they see a paucity in opportunities – economic, self-advancement, growth, security. They would come home every so often to visit – much as one would to parents after having flown the coop. They do so to catch up with old friends and pay homage to the Philippine sun and scenery. One friend, who must make a spectacular living as a pharmacist in Canada, is here very four, five months. To my mind, her homeland has become a Disneyland of sorts – a theme park to while time away for some rest and relaxation. Her Facebook account is full of photos of her travels – a one-woman walking tourist catalogue. Her adoration for her country of birth is without question. But as they say, one cannot live on love alone.

I once taught in a university in Intramuros. The student body, one might say, reflect the mind set of the Filipino Every Person. Many of my students have either one or both parents working overseas. My salary literally came from the blood and sweat of migrant labour. All they want, it seemed, was to earn a degree so they could up and leave. Of the tens of thousands churned out by our tertiary education mills, how many imagine a future here? How many bide their time so they can have a chance at realising a model life they imagine over the horizon? How many grapple with feelings of doom as everyone they know leave ahead of them?

Marocharim has expressed a need for narrative to fully describe the Filipino’s migrant experience. Whatever the motive word might be, it should be book-ended by two kinds of crisis – one of temporality and one of spatiality. All polities (i.e. political communities) share two things in common - an uninterrupted timeline to connect past, present and future – all to unfold in a single space. What we may be experiencing is a disintegration of both. Here the archipelago floats, bits and pieces eaten away by the Pacific.

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