Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alone and Unwanted

When a migrant worker leaves his country to work, he voluntarily inflicts on himself a form of solitary confinement, sucking out all that is familiar to him, all things on which his life, up to that point of departure, has depended on.

Unable to communicate in the local language, he struggles to recapture in the foreign land some sense of the old, the usual. Food is relegated to the simplest (fried everything), to the essentials (boiled everything), that is, until he can read food labels properly, at which time, he can then progress to maybe stewed or sautéed dishes. Family contact is, at best, 1% of the intensity with which Filipino families are famous for. The use of the internet and high-tech communications can never replace human touch, a deep glance at a child's eye, a warm, tight hug.

Life for a migrant worker very quickly degrades into a dry, empty existence. Drag oneself out of bed, coffee for breakfast, off to work, toil for long hours, come home dead tired, drink, sleep. The robotic routine repeats itself day in and day out, and at the end of the first year, the migrant worker's vitality is all but totally jettisoned. Conjugal intimacy becomes a figment of his imagination.

The migrant worker is lonely and alone. Can it get any worse?


The irregular migrant worker suffers all that a regular one does plus three other seemingly insurmountable human conditions.

First, he lives in constant fear that he can be arrested anytime, and, in a blink of an eye, his world will come crashing down on him. Perpetually looking over his shoulder and second-guessing every move he makes, public places are shunned, personal histories never narrated. The lesser the people who know him the better it is. He intentionally makes himself invisible to society. He is essentially, non-existent. He is not there.

Second, he can forget ever seeing his family again, and for any human being, any family man this strikes at the deepest recesses of the heart and soul. His family is essentially dead to him, and he, to them, unless he turns himself in (or gets regularized through some stroke of cosmic luck). Regular migrants can go on vacation when they can't bear the separation any longer . Irregulars are forced to numb out the pain of missing their families through any means they can: drinking, prayer, and for others, extra marital relations.

Alone, in constant fear and cut-off permanently from his significant others, we now come to the third, possibly the heaviest cross of the irregular migrant: he is unwanted. We are social beings, and at the very core of our humanity is an intense need to belong, to be recognized, to be acknowledged.

The great Filipino heart and fighting spirit can conquer the loneliness, bravely face the fear of arrest, and suffer the pain of his self-ostracizing -- all in the name of eking out a living to be able to feed the hungry mouths that depend on him.

Despite the irregular migrant's simple goals the society in which he lives in essentially wants him out. It uses him, and his physical strength as labor inputs, yet, in the same breath, denies him acknowledgement of his existence.

It stamps the term "illegal" on the unwanted migrant yet how is it that smaller national boundaries - on which a country's constitution is narrowly applied - supersedes the bigger boundaries of the earth, where a wider human law prevails? Might the unstoppable forces of globalization force us to view irregulars as simply displaced breadwinners on a mission?

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