MANILA, Philippines?Disaster, after all, is not the exclusive experience of Filipinos?it is a growing nightmare in America as well. The collapse of giant business enterprises that symbolize American stability is sending a tremor in American society that is cracking its core confidence and occasional economic arrogance today. The panic of the public is not yet uncontrollable only because the government is the one panicking ahead of everyone else and trying to save even what may not be saved anymore.
When the Asian crisis in 1997 saw several currencies lose great value, many realized how absolutely unreliable the global financial systems were, and how utterly brutal they were to people. At that time, it was acknowledged that more than 90 percent of the world's financial transactions were not based on actual products or services but on speculation. That should be nobody's business then but of speculators ? except that the currencies of nations rose and fell on those same speculative transactions. Asia teetered but Asia recovered. Perhaps, that experience has made Asian economies stronger, so strong that Asia is now the center of global growth today and tomorrow.
Asia's growth, though, is borne of its resiliency. It has precisely because of its experience of pain and inferiority that it has developed a capacity for taking hard punches, of being beaten, but of surviving through it all. The effect of that whole process of being conquered, colonized, exploited, and kept at the bottom of the cellar has been submission on the outside than resentment at the inside. China and India broke loose from historical imposition and beating the West in its own game. Even Russia that was almost begging from its Western counterparts just yesterday seems determined to regain its dominant status even in global economics.
Where, then, is the Filipino in all of this?
At home, things are not all well. Government as represented by the president and Congress is overwhelmingly unpopular. The Catholic Church is slowly losing its own credibility as an institution, with respect and admiration for it waning as fast as the confusion that its highest leadership generates with less than united and consistent actuation on several issues. Philippine society is virtually leaderless as the traditional State and Church dominance clings on mostly by the force of police state and the fear of hell. In the whole equation, both State and Church provide no inspiration, no vision, no noble mission which they can send their people to eagerly pursue.
The American economic debacle hurts Filipino-Americans, and the pain of Fil-Ams translate to pain for their families and relatives in the homeland. Remittances from America still comprise the majority of all remittances to the Philippines, and decreased earnings by Fil-Ams will result in less money remittances to Filipinos and the Philippine economy. A century ago, history created an umbilical cord between the Philippine and America. The relationship has not always been a fair one or a kind one, but it is there and it is being evolved to being a more intimate one with a few million Filipinos now citizens of the United States.
Filipinos rank as the second-highest income earner among ethnic groups in America, with Filipino families earning even higher incomes than American families on average. In a small gathering I attended recently in Chicago, I was told by one Fil-Am lady that she did not feel having done anything spectacular to achieve economic wellbeing except to seize opportunity after opportunity that she encountered along the way. With her was one Fil-Am after another who, too, had done the same, and they too were progressing by the day. There were dentists, artists, journalists, TV producers and the simply employed, a good representation of first and second generation Fil-Ams.
I was amazed at the spirit that was prevalent in that gathering. Whatever generation they belonged to, whatever profession or business they were involved in, a common thread of love for the homeland and concern for the poor was clearly evident, and the determination to each find a tangible way to share their blessings. Everyone accepted that the divisiveness that defined especially the first-generation Fil-Ams but it was obvious that the younger generation was moving under a different set of circumstances.
The memory of a native land and blood ties to a people left behind deeply mired in poverty and corruption is no longer simply discouraging Fil-Ams like before. Perhaps, decades of frustrations have pushed many Fil-Ams to think of different ways in which to help the Philippines despite the absence of inspiring leadership and good governance. In other ways, the urge to help is getting stronger and can soon overtake the propensity to merely gripe about things.
I have been moving from one city to another ? many in California, and in Maryland, Virginia, and now in Illinois. I have several more to visit before I can complete this trip, but it is obvious that a special moment in the evolution of Filipinos is now emerging. It is an awesome emergence, one I had feared I would not see in my lifetime. Today, I am convinced that the trend is irreversible, and becomes more so under adversity. Truly, patriotism for the native land is alive and being stoked, not discouraged, by failed leaderships all around us.
It seems true, then, that despair can lead to determination, that frustration can lead to action. The air is truly laden with a strange and rare quality of hope that is undeterred by a darkening moment. It is not a hope of fantasy, but a hope grounded on a resolve to act, to contribute, to change, to share, to save the poor, to build a nation. It is an energy preparing to burst, difficult to describe but palpable enough to sense.
In the midst of an extended helplessness in the motherland, in the midst of an economic depression in America, it is no longer surrender that is forming in the hearts of Filipinos worldwide but a surprising determination to move forward even without leadership. After all, it may be America where great change is expected from the propaganda of politics. Indeed, it may be in the Philippines, from the patriotism of Filipinos.
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