International Relations: An Exchange of Letters

What if Overseas Filipino Workers were recalled back to the Philippines?

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By gabriel J. catanus
art By Nathalie Llemos
Jun 01, 2016 | min read
Part of 44: What If?
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To my dearest son:

Kumusta ka na dian, anak? (How are you there, my child?) 

Happy 18th birthday! I wish I could celebrate with you — can you believe that it's been an entire decade since I've last seen you? 

Enjoy the enclosed birthday money. I've already asked your Lola (grandmother) to take you to a nice dinner tonight. She'll also be taking you to the mall so you can use your birthday money to buy some new shoes or clothes. I wish I could be there. 

Anak, I miss you so much, and it makes me so sad to know that I've missed so many of your birthdays. Please know that I do think and pray for you often. I was just thinking about the day that you were born — I remember it so vividly, as if it just happened yesterday.

Our life was simpler back then, wasn't it? We were poor, but we were so happy. We were together, you always had cousins to play with, and your dad was still stationed at the American base close to your Lolo's (grandfather) home. We were so hopeful — he had promised to take us with him when he returned home to the U.S. By the way, has he called or sent any money? I cannot find him on Facebook.

But that's in the past. Look at you now — 18 years old, and taller than Lolo in all your pictures. I'm sure that many girls are interested in you because you're mestizo (and, of course, very handsome). But don't get involved with any girls, anak! They will only distract you from your studies, and you're so close to being finished.

Lola tells me that you stay up late studying. I am so proud of you. You know how much I regret being unable to complete my education. Knowing that you are being diligent encourages me — I know I am blessed to be able to work as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) here in France, but I miss you. It's hard for me to take care of these spoiled rich kids while I'm away from my own child. But I know that having the opportunity to be an OFW is the Lord's way of providing for us so you can go to school, and eventually improve our circumstances. 

Keep going to church, and keep studying hard. Happy birthday, anak! Please Skype me soon, I miss you. 

With love,


• • •

Nanay (Mom): 

Sorry for such a late reply. I tried contacting you for several weeks, but none of my calls or texts went through. Lola just suggested writing a letter to you, just in case you are having problems with your cellphone. 

Thank you for the birthday gift — I picked out some new shoes to wear for my graduation. Nanay, you really don't need to feel guilty. I know you're working hard for my sake, and I don't resent you.

I'm trying my best to do well in school. But truthfully, taking care of Lolo and Lola is so time-consuming that I have trouble finding the time to study. It's getting harder to find the balance between studying and taking care of family matters.

I'm one of the only cousins left here in the Philippines — all the older cousins have already moved away, either to attend universities or to work as OFWs. I feel like I've been left behind here. I have to get out of this country, so I will continue to study hard to get a good job in the States. 

I saw on the news that there were some terrorist acts in Europe. Lolo and Lola are very concerned for you. I hope you're safe. 

Ingat (Take care), 

Your son

P.S. No, I have not heard from my dad, but I'm doing just fine. Let's not expect anything from him anymore.

• • •

Dearest Anak:

I was so happy to receive your letter! I was worried that you didn't receive the gift I sent you, or that you might've forgotten about me. 

I'm sorry I did not receive your calls. I don't have a phone anymore because my employer got upset and confiscated my cellphone. I'm frustrated because I didn't do anything wrong! The children were being disrespectful and calling me derogatory names — all I did was firmly stand up for myself, but they told their mother that I yelled at them and tried to spank them. Walang hiya! (Shameless!) 

I'm sorry for seeming discontent. I know that working as a nanny in Paris is a much better situation than if I were working in the Middle East or Hong Kong. So I thank God that I have this job, and that we still have money.

Please tell Lolo and Lola that I am safe. But because of the recent terrorist attacks, Europe is unstable right now, and tensions are growing. Many French people want to deport all foreigners — including people like me, OFWs who serve them! We are being blamed for everything: taking their jobs, stealing their husbands, and inciting terror ... even though we are Christians! What terror?? They are discriminating against us because many OFWs have worked as nannies in the Middle East, and they are fearful of potential connections.

A few weeks ago, several of us nannies were just leaving church when a group of men stopped us in the street and began yelling horrible things at us. Some of my friends have been assaulted, and others have been abused by their employers — just for being Filipinas. It is scary and sad.

I wanted to ask you something: How do you feel about me returning to the Philippines next month? I'm sorry to put this on you — I know that we need the money, and you are so close to being finished with school. 

But I don't know what other option we have. If I renew my work contract here in Paris, I know that I'll be harshly mistreated for two more years. And the French are already petitioning to pass a law that will deport all OFWs — if that passes, I'll be sent back to Manila anyway. 

The OFWs are appealing to the European Union for help, but all Western countries are tightening their immigration policies. 

Please let me know what you think. I know how heavy of a decision this is. 

Missing you, 

Your mom

• • •


I'm sorry to hear that things are so tumultuous in Paris, but your last letter frustrated me. Why are you putting this pressure on me?

You're the mother. I'm just your son, remember? That's what you said when you insisted I stay in the Philippines to finish my degree. And now that I'm almost finished with my education, you're telling me that I have to stop? 

I know this entire situation is unfair. I know that you sacrificed yourself for many years, and I appreciate all you've done to provide for me. But don't forget that I begged you to stay and let me become an OFW instead! Remember what you made me promise? That I would study hard, get my degree, and move to the States to find better opportunities? Do you want me to just give everything up?

You have to realize that you've been gone for an entire decade. Even if you come back, there won't be any jobs available for you. I'll be forced to quit school and look for a dead-end labor job to support us. That's what's happening to many of my friends — now my former classmates. There are just more people here than opportunities available.

I'm sorry if I sound upset. But Nanay, we've always been poor. This won't change if you come home. The only hope is for me to finish my degree and move to the States — if I get a good job there, I can petition for LoloLola, and you. 

I haven't prayed much recently. But I promise to pray every day if you promise to stay in Paris for just a while more. Just a couple of months, or a year or two. Just until I graduate. Please? 


Your son

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Gabriel J. Catanus

Gabriel J. Catanus is the Lead Pastor of Garden City Covenant Church, a church serving young urban professionals and Filipino American families in Chicago. He is a former hiphop DJ, a Bulls season ticket holder, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu novice, and a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Ethics at Loyola University where he teaches.

Nathalie Llemos

Nathalie Llemos graduated from ArtCenter College of Design studying illustration with a focus on design. She takes great joy in analog processes and working with her hands. She also enjoys home cooked stews, stop motion films, and loves dogs (pugs).

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