BOOK REVIEW: Diaspora Journey: Stories of Philippine Migration to Hong Kong

Image title

(PHOTO COURTESY: WIMLER Foundation Hong Kong Ltd., Hong Kong)

This article was contributed by Former Philippine Labor Attaché in Hong Kong, Jalilo dela Torre.

Diaspora originally meant the dispersion of Jews around the world after the Babylonian and Roman conquests, but in modern times, diaspora has come to signify any ethnic group who are dispersed outside its homeland for economic migration or due to political persecution.

In the context of Philippine migration, the word diaspora indicates the journey of Filipinos from the Philippines to seek greener pastures everywhere they find it outside the Philippines, from frigid Iceland, to the baking sands of Africa, from the sparsely populated province of Saskatchewan of Canada to the urban jungle of Hong Kong. Diaspora not only means the process of moving and perhaps reintegrating to the Philippine economy and society, but more broadly, the collective body of knowledge, skills, attitudes, ideals and collective spirit which a community of migrants live and work around with and bring home with them when and if they return to the homeland.

Reintegration advocates always see this as a positive: that the sending country will always benefit from the absorption by migrants of new knowledge, work attitudes and ethic, and technologies. But the reality is that it could be a double-edged sword too. While the social remittances are a source of comfort for the sending country, the social costs to the individual migrant — of families breaking up and of children turning to a life of wastefulness after leaving school. The more subtle cultural cost, however, is as unsettling. Children of migrants no longer respecting parents and grandparents, and no longer practicing Filipino values, no longer even speaking a word of a Philippine language, and not even recognizing that their homeland is not the one they have come to believe as theirs.

“Diaspora Journey: Stories of Philippine Migration to Hong Kong” by Leila Rispens-Noel, Joy Tadios-Arenas, Heda Bayron and Cindy Wong, takes in all kinds of stories, not just from temporary migrants like the 200,000 plus domestic workers in Hong Kong, but from across all types of Filipino economic migrants to Hong Kong. They are professionals, dependents who have succeeded on their own, and entrepreneurs who braved the merchant culture of Hong Kong to specialize on a niche market of Filipino buyers who long for products from home, like Boy Bawang and tawas.

Diaspora is a disparate compendium of short stories, from the transformation of domestic worker Liza Avelino to a world-class mountain climber, to the plaintive letter, Dear Papa by Maria Musngi. Who would have thought that the signage system of MTR, the most iconic of all subway systems in the world, perhaps the most extensive, was done by Filipino Chris Dingcong?

And the melancholic poem of Bambee Pacnis Abadilla, pining for the warmth of home but unable to go home because of Covid-19, to the more accepting and more embracing verses of Lilet Tolentino Babol. Who would deny that writing stories is cathartic, creative and transformative? This was what I had in mind when in 2018 I brought popular writer and OFW advocate, Susan “Toots” Ople, to Hong Kong for a creative writing workshop for domestic workers. The stories we gathered were an eye-opener into the world of Filipino domestic and professional workers in Hong Kong.

Who would not be inspired by the story of Evilyn Tabujara who refused to be cowed down by the Covid-19 economic lockdowns, which threatened to shut down her entire business and, in fact, did shutter some of them, but instead decided to help other people? There are so many inspiring instances of OFWs who have picked themselves up from failed family lives and businesses and decided to dedicate their lives helping their communities, and I could cry the whole day just listening to them.

In 2015, I decided to compile these success stories of OFWs who have decided to return to the Philippines and engaged in business and volunteerism into a DVD documentary and pocket brochure titled “Coming Home: OFW Stories of Successful Reintegration.” [link]

Labor Attaché Jeffrey Cortazar and I did the interviews; I wrote the stories and Tolits Ayala of DOLE-11 did the video-shoot and the editing. This was in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and under the auspices of the National Reintegration Center for OFWs, with which I was connected for a short time.

There are as many stories of joy, triumph, accomplishment and even sadness and grief, as there are Filipinos worldwide. They need to be brought out and told to our policymakers so that the laws and policies they put together are informed and based on realities.

I think this book is a big step towards humanizing migration policies and giving a face to them. My hope is that this inspired work of Leila Rispens-Noel et al, and the stories written by our men and women in Hong Kong become a source of comfort for some and a fountain of knowledge for government officials who will administer the policies affecting Filipinos overseas.

Jalilo dela Torre
Former Philippine Labor Attaché
Hong Kong

Diaspora Journey: Stories of Philippine Migration to Hong Kong

by Leila Rispens-Noel, Heda Bayron, Joy Tadios-Arenas, and Cindy Wong. WIMLER Foundation Hong Kong Ltd., Hong Kong.
145 pp. ISBN 978-621-8163-46-1 Price before June 17, 2021: HK$50/copy
Price after June 17, 2021: HK$65/copy