The big move
The concept of moving homes was something that I grew up knowing, having transferred houses four times for the first seven years of my life in the Philippines. But early in 2006, I vaguely remember being sat down at the dinner table with my only younger sister at the time, and asked by our dad about what we thought of moving to Singapore. With hardly any questions asked, and clueless about the gravity of that question, we immediately said, Yes!
After only a few months, we had already relocated our entire lives to a new country. Everything was brand-new. We had a new apartment, a new international school to attend, new friends to bond with, a different language to speak, a whole different lifestyle and a new baby sister; all of which we just could not get enough of. Simply put, our life was great. Our childhood was filled with joy and countless irreplaceable experiences that we would otherwise not have had back in the Philippines. But as we grew up, we came to a few realizations.
While my sister and I had little to no worries at the time of our move, our parents’ roots were in the Philippines. They had to take a leap outside of their comfort zones. While my dad was relatively comfortable, he needed to stay strong for the family. My mom, on the other hand, found herself filled with sadness and overwhelming fear that the risk they took would not pay off; that leaving her career to become a housewife was perhaps not the right thing to do. But, after a few years, she started to slowly accept her new status and enjoy the life that we have been blessed to live.
Over the years, we have met some interesting people with different perspectives, who have lived extraordinary lives. We’ve made lifelong best friends from all over the globe, who we now occasionally meet up with during our travels. But most of all, living overseas has made our life comfortable to the point where we are able to focus on our family and spend quality time with each other, and not have to work all the time.
However, as the five-year contract turned into a 10-year one, the list of all the sacrifices that were made and all the things we had missed out on back in the Philippines had grown long. We had missed over 10 years’ worth of birthdays, reunions, dinner parties, Sunday Masses with family, and everything else.
Coming back every year would seem more and more like a vacation than a return to my supposed home country—the idea of which even confused me. That lack of clarity made my identity crisis all the more apparent. While I spoke Filipino and looked like a local, my opinions did not resonate with anyone. I had a really difficult time deciding whether I should be saying that I was from Singapore or from the Philippines, and to be frank, I still do not know the correct answer to this day.
While, yes, having lived in different countries has undeniably provided my family with more than what we could pray for (and we are grateful), one question always comes to mind: “At what cost?”
My sister Alessandra did not want to study in the Philippines because she simply did not feel like she would belong here. My youngest sister cannot speak Filipino and feels uncomfortable with trying. My parents cannot stand the lifestyle in Manila anymore, to the point where they have stopped planning yearly Manila trips and instead plan holidays elsewhere. As the only one living in the Philippines, I not only agree with all of them, but the fact that the Philippines is no longer my home, and has not been for the past few years, also becomes more obvious every day.
When people talk about the overseas Filipino worker, more often than not, it is the one parent who works away from his or her family who is highlighted more rather than entire families, like mine, who relocate their whole lives abroad. Certain stereotypes also cloud perceptions toward OFWs, i.e., that they are rich or that they make a lot of money.
These perceptions tend to sugarcoat certain realities. While they have their own struggles that should not be undermined and are arguably graver than what I and my family have experienced and are currently experiencing, I only wish to share that ours is also a part of the OFW family narrative, though one rarely talked about—the story of an entire family’s big move to uproot itself because of work, and rebuild somewhere else.
Mariel Andrea Sabandal, 21, is a student at Ateneo de Manila University.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.