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Young Blood

Home is where grass is greener

IT SEEMS as if everyone just wants to leave. People are leaving the provinces for Manila or Manila for elsewhere in the world (even if it means going to the very rural communities of another country). The grass is greener over there (or so we’ve been told), the streets are paved with gold, and there is more of whatever it is we seek.

Moving makes sense if what we seek is opportunity, if there are more jobs, better jobs and a better quality of life waiting for us on the other side, if there are better benefits, better public transportation and better choices for us there, if there are better chances for our children out there. These are all valid reasons to move to a place far from home.

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Moving has always been part of human history. People move all the time—and people ought to move, ought to grow and ought to learn.

We Filipinos are no first-timers when it comes to moving. Filipinos left for Hawaii in the 1920s, and from there, to California and the rest of the world. Up until now, Filipino doctors, nurses, nannies, construction workers, caregivers, teachers and technicians are scattered across the globe.

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Having so many Filipinos around the world has its pros and cons. The remittances of our workers keep the economy afloat, and yet, you have different organizations and the academe scrambling to correct what seems to be a social mistake with repercussions on the family as well as the brain drain and human rights violations. Migration has had some mixed results, but still millions long for the golden ticket to leave.

There is a difference between leaving because one wants to explore and grow and leaving because there is nothing at home that allows you to provide for yourself and the people you love. It is heart-wrenching to see families separated because there are “better opportunities” abroad. It makes one wonder if there really is no chance for those who remain at home.

It makes you wonder even more when you have already made it abroad and then you are thinking of moving back. If moving is normal and there are millions of Filipinos leaving because there is seemingly no green grass left in the country, why would anyone want to go back?

Not much is said about balikbayans who come home permanently but I believe there have been waves of them because my family was caught in one in the 1990s. After 15 years in the United States, my parents decided that they had their fill of the American dream and took us all home. After college we could choose whether to stay or go. I shuttled between the United States and Manila and eventually chose Manila as my home. But as fate would have it, I got married last year and moved to Vancouver where my husband works. I was no stranger to migration.

We knew we were going to move back home eventually (everyone who leaves says something like that; they just can’t say when). But a few months into our marriage, my husband decided it was time to regain his Filipino citizenship and come home for good.

Friends and family are shocked to learn that we are going back to the Philippines. It makes no sense to many of them. Moving from Canada to the Philippines. Moving from Vancouver to Manila and then to Naga. It is some sort of reverse migration. While everyone else seems to be scrambling to get out, there are a few crazy ones who are going back. But we aren’t alone in making that choice. My parents did it 20 years ago.

Going home makes sense to me. There is so much potential in our country. The opportunities are there for those who are willing to take the risk. The “better life” is not as obvious back home simply because you have to put more effort to achieve it. One needs to work harder and invest more in making home worth staying in.

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The country won’t become a “better place” without people making it what it should be. There won’t be better jobs if people don’t create better jobs. The Filipino won’t be better educated if there are no more good teachers. There won’t be a better anything if people don’t start to believe they can make it better. With balikbayans trickling in, and with the focus of other friends on the provinces, I see much hope in this new kind of migration There is a new movement going on—one that is no longer driven by desperation, but by a new sense of adventure and optimism.

We see opportunity in the idle land of the countryside. Opportunities exist in the men and women actively trying to be productive. There is opportunity in everything, even in what we think as the most negative aspect of what we have as a people. We have raw materials and raw talent, giving us a million and one opportunities to process and produce whatever it is we want. There is opportunity if we are willing to define it ourselves, risk it and make it something fruitful. There is opportunity because we see the beauty of what we have and hope that there can be something even more beautiful.

Funny how a Philippine-born Canadian citizen, who has spent more than half his life in Vancouver, found his match in an American-born Filipina from Manila in San Jose, a sleepy little coastal town in Camarines Sur. In our young lives, we have had the chance to cross oceans, travel the world, work in the West, and yet met our destiny where we least expected it: at home. Our first meeting in itself told us of the opportunities that can really be anywhere.

People move all over the world in search of many things. They leave the country to find themselves or make something of their lives. And it’s great if they succeed. But we believe it is also okay to go back to one’s country, because in going back to your roots, you may find yourself as well. And you may find success, or in our case, your life partner.

We know we can find more back home, so we are packing our balikbayan boxes for the last time. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make. We could have waited another thirty-something years, growing our pension and retiring comfortably back home. But our youthful idealism started to see something practical and profitable as well. Investing our time and the little that we have now may grow into something not just for us to enjoy, but something the community can share as well. So we are leaving Canada and moving back home to the Philippines. We are going to live in Camarines Sur because we know we can make the grass greener over there.

<em>Tamara T. Azaña, 28, has an AB Social Sciences degree from the Ateneo de Manila University. She hopes to be a social entrepreneur at the Center for Social Innovation.</em>

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