The Unwilling Immigrant
We Westerners in Asia rarely consider ourselves immigrants. We’re always calling ourselves expats, and rightfully so. We don’t have immigrant status in the sense of someone immigrating to a Western country has. Their aim is to obtain citizenship, learn the language, and plant their family roots there for all of time to come. Our goal is merely to enjoy life abroad, short or long term, without the commitment. We cherish the knowledge that if life ever got too hard in our adopted home, we could jump on the next plane to our real home. But at what point do our real and our adopted home change roles?
Nowadays, faced with the reality that neither farming in the Philippines nor teaching English in Taiwan are stable enough for my family, I’m forced to look at Canada. People all over the world would kill for the opportunity to bring their family to Canada’s great shores, and yet I feel it forced upon me, like an unwilling immigrant. This is possibly how economic refugees feel, wishing so bad for the country they love more, but forced to give it up in the interest of their family. They move to the Great White North, slave away at a job for 30 years, hate the lack of culture or interesting food, but get to watch their kids grow up not quite appreciating the fruits of the parents’ labor and sacrifice. Their kids don’t understand why mom and dad push them so hard in school, but reluctantly study their butts off anyways, with just a vague idea of why.
Not for dad though. Dad knows what they left behind.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take my mind off the easy Leyte living. Drinking tuba (coconut wine) in the mid-afternoon, with bowls of cooked pork, caribou, and bananas, practicing my wife’s Waray-waray language is something I won’t find in Canada. I’ll miss the 10 minute ride to the beach for a quick 20 minute dip, and the daily basketball games at the square for 5 pesos each. I’ll miss watching my kids grow up in a sea of other kids, trading cultures and languages, and sharing experiences, watched by a legion of nannies and housewives. I’ll miss my monkey Boots. I’ll miss the friendships, no matter how thinly based, I’ve established with people with such a different life from my own. Dad will never forget what they’ve left behind, not for one minus-30-degree Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) minute.
Canada will be alright. I’ll have beers with my boys back home. We’ll tell jokes in my language, so I’ll probably laugh harder. The conversation will be things we have in common, rather than differences. My kids will still have friends, probably a few even on our street. I’ll play ball, probably with better players, and go swimming, definitely at a swimming pool. A swimming pool would probably be safer and more fun for my kids, than the mighty-intimidating ocean. So what’s the difference? What it comes down to, ultimately, for me, is environment. It rains a lot in Leyte, but I’ll take rain over prairie winters. I’ll take a table of cooked meats and tuba on the street, surrounded by sky and palm trees, over Molson Canadian, and someone’s living room. I’ll take a booming population of young kids crowding our street for my children to hang out in, over an increasingly old population in the West, where parents are too tired from their day job to give a crap what sketchy business the kids are getting into. Did I mention I have a monkey?!
Canada will be alright. My wife will get to work and/or study for a career far more interesting and profitable than anything she could do in the Philippines. I’ll have the freedom of language to apply my skills and interests in a wider range of jobs. We’ll live with the comfort that no matter how bad we do financially, our children will always have free health care, and some of the best medical facilities in the world. My children will have a First-World education, and couple that with an appreciation for where they came from – I hope. It won’t be that bad at all.
The only problem is getting there.
Getting to Canada is no problem for my kids or me, since we’re all citizens. I expect, in the long run, it won’t be that difficult for my wife either, since she’s been married to me more than four years, and both of her children are solely Canadian citizens. The hard part is the wait. I’m situated in Taiwan at the moment, fighting to make a dollar and pay back our debts, and they’re in the Philippines wo-manning the fort. What that means is if I were to go to Canada after this year in Taiwan, it would take another year away from my kids to bring them and my wife over! When I look at the future and I see two, not one, but two years away from my kids, I really wonder how bad I messed up. I’m not in jail, but sometimes it’s like a prison sentence. I’m away from my family, not by choice, but due to necessity. If I had a choice, it’d be different, but I don’t, so it’s a bit like a prison sentence. On the bright side, I can smile knowing that I’m a providing father, and I can leave my room anytime I want. I just can’t afford to buy anything!
You have to enjoy the moment, no matter what it is. Some of the future seems depressing; some of it seems bright. It’s easy to forget that I currently live in one of the most vibrant and culturally interesting countries in the world: Taiwan. Life is what you make of it, and sometimes how you perceive it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. If one year from now our farm is revived and actually doing well, and I can live in the Philippines with my family, or bring them to Taiwan to keep this Asian dream running, I’d be stoked. I don’t want to lose it. But if I have to go back to Canada and miss them for another year, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened. I’ll just consider myself one lucky Filipino immigrant… Dammit.