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Am I an OFW?

I got a comment from a Filipino in response to my post titled “Pinoys in Taiwan” and I just wanted to comment on the comment.  Firstly, I think it’s so neat that someone other than my friends and family is finding relevance in what I’m writing.  And secondly, I’m really starting to feel the eeriness of being public via the world wide web.

The comment, if you can’t be bothered to click back and read it, was a request to use my story of being a Filipino Overseas worker in Taiwan.  Now this is an interesting question to me because while I was there, I often thought about whether or not I qualified as an OFW.  I am Filipino and I was overseas working, but in no way was my story similar to the men and women who had fled the poverty of the Philippines to work hard for low wages in Taiwan and send money home to their families for survival.

I was warned that I might experience prejudice from prospective employers whose ideals for an English teacher can often be more about how much one looks Canadian, as opposed to how well one teaches English.  They were right. Teachers are a respected lot here and if a school were to hire a teacher who looks the same as the students’ nannies, then parents may complain or at least question the school’s judgement.  I did get work, and fairly easily, but mostly because there is a shortage of native English speaking teachers in Taiwan.  And also because I had good people connecting me with open-minded school directors.  What many have not come to realize there, probably because they have never been to Canada, is that “looking Canadian” is not exclusive to any one race.  But hey, even here in Canada many think that there is a way to look Canadian, and I don’t mean by wearing a hockey jersey and toting a six pack of beer around.

It’s quite easy for me to see how I’m different from the majority of OFW’s:  I speak the North American dialect, I dress and walk differently (I don’t know what it is, but other Filipinos can tell that I’m not from the Philippines before I even open my mouth) I didn’t go to the Filipino church services (although I wouldn’t have minded for Christmas), and I didn’t work as a nanny or a domestic aid, or a nurse, or a factory worker.  I have not known the hardships that burden them and my Canadian passport allows me privileges and freedoms that are beyond the imaginations of many.  And I walk differently and attract different things into my reality because I grew up in receiving messages that I am capable.  The majority of Filipino’s receive the message at a young age that their options are limited and so, they are.  But at the same time, I don’t think I’m all that seperate from them.

When one is in a foreign land for long enough for one’s routine to develop beyond that of a tourist, the source of strength to endure the vulnerability of being immersed in strange sounds, smells, structures and systems becomes, I believe, a communal wellspring.  No matter what brought us there or how we sustained our stay, I can appreciate their plight on the basic level of being an outsider.  Some might say, “But you chose to go there and you were making far more money than them.”  True.  And they also chose to go there to make money.  The difference of income is a larger economic issue that I won’t address in this blog mostly because it doesn’t change the fact that our choices lead to a transforming process.  What I find interesting, is that when I read the stories of OFW’s from the Philippines and their accounts of feeling homesick, I can relate.  And as I’ve written in past posts about homesickness, I refer not to a feeling of missing a place or specific people, necessarily, but the feeling that who I am inside is not aligned with the life that is reflected back to me by the activities, sights and relationships in my day-to-day reality.  In truth, I often felt homesick in Victoria, B.C., where I have roots and a house and relationships that span 1/3 of my physical life.

So was I an overseas Filipino worker in Taiwan?  One might say I was an overseas Filipino-Canadian worker in Taiwan.  And even though I’m a citizen of Canada, my privileges do not rob me of knowing what it is to be foreign.  I’m grateful for that gift because I think it has caused me to think more about identifying as a global citizen rather than depending on a national identity.

I wrote to Dominic, who made the comment about my OFW post, saying that I remain open to sharing my story for her site should it seem appropriate.  It’s been my impression that the stories of OFW’s usually seem to be accompanied by trauma, pity and shame.  Maybe we are coming into an age in which Filipino’s will see themselves as adventure-seekers, travellers, the finest in helping professions, global citizens.  The power of who I am and who I am not, is in what I believe and do.

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