“History is the resolve that makes us act so things don’t have to be the way they are. History is about hope, not despair.” — Ambeth Ocampo, Filipino historian
Like a lot of my countrymen, I belong to a family of OFWs. Half of my mother’s siblings went to another country to work and, eventually, live their lives; and they now consider the Philippines as just another vacation spot. Now that their nieces and nephews are grown up (whose educations were helped by their remittances), I imagine my aunts (whom I call “mama”) feeling relief, pride and a sense of accomplishment.
So I think back on my mother’s family: my aunts and their dreams of getting out of poverty; my grandmother who never learned to read or write; my grandfather, a farmer who probably got so bored and lifeless living in an industrialized country that he developed the dementia that forced my aunts to send him back to the Philippines; my uncles who worked as soldiers to a dictator; and my mother with her frustrations and neurosis which she passed on to me.
We trace history through our family. The skeletons in our cabinets, our mad relatives in the attic, the seeming successes that hide secret shames.
Families are a big deal to Filipinos. We are, as a foreign writer has offensively put it, “an anarchy of families”. Our loyalties, first and foremost, are bound to people that share our DNA or are connected to us by rituals such as marriage.
Families are a big deal to Filipinos. Statement of fact. We are a young nation and the institutions that compel us to be loyal to the idea of “country” are tenuous and superficial.
Take the public health facility where I work, for example. the idea of “public health” is a modern one, there is a rigorous body of science behind it, values and norms in which it should operate. That is, in theory. In practice, public health is a pawn of partisan and feudal politics. (I should clobber myself in the head for letting that idea sink in just now. What can I say: idealism and hope made me close my eyes to reality.)
So, yes, I am leaving. Sorry mommy, the system is just too much for me. Much as I would like to follow your entrepreneural example, I am unable to do that and still maintain professional integrity. So I am leaving. Whether I am coming back (and how or when), well, that’s for history to know.