Sunday, July 26, 2020


An interesting story, but also has an interesting story behind the story.  The title comes from a remark to the author's question if the separation from her husband was it all worth while:  "A good provider is one who leaves."  Not what most of us would want, but is critical to survival of many poor people. 

The research started with another project.   In 1986 Jason was given a fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation to study poverty in the Philippines.  He needed a place to stay.  He ended up with a woman whose husband was working overseas in Saudi Arabia. After awhile he left, but kept in touch with the whole family.  He found himself not only recording events, opinions, but also being an advocate.  The New York Times gave him the opportunity to report about migrants.

Ferdinand  Marcos, the Philippine autocrat to retain power declared martial law and came up with the idea of sending out surplus workers to foreign lands on contract.  They would then send home money.  As many countries discovered this became a vital part of a nation's GDP.

At first most of the work migrants were men and an unexpected consequence was that the wives left home acquired more prestige and power.  A reversal came when the demand for nurses grew and Filipinos were well positioned to take advantage.  This often resulted in men adjusting (and some not adjusting well) to not being the bread winner.  Couples separated by national boundaries or dealing with reversal of normal bread winning patterns were under stress.

Nurses are in demand, but the supply has changed over the years.  At one time they were one of the few professions that women could make a decent income with.  Over time as other occupations opened up, nursing became chosen by fewer women.   It is not a low income career, but to meet American needs they need to import migrants.  Most are well educated and perhaps because of that they often get a higher income than domestic nurses.

Jason was able to visit many of the children of his original landlady and talk about their working in the Middle East and the United States.  There were many stresses and adjustments.  Many of the migrants have settled in the United States and each generation is more assimilated.

Some of the relatives end up in the cruise ship industry where America had taken advantage of immigrants who get much less pay and benefits.  There is a dramatic example of the ordeal of one relative who was injured on the job and went through desperate measures to save a leg which failed and then fought with insurance to get support which was eventually delivered, but with an uncertain future.

Immigration has become an election issue and Jason gives some historical perspective.  New immigrants work harder, commit less crime, bring cultural diversification.  Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America with 1/4 of population foreign born and 1/3 of work force.   There are countervailing forces in both American parties.  The Democrats are supported by ethnic groups that want more immigration while unions are against because of lowering wages.  The Republicans  are the party of business which wants lower wages, but also of traditionalists who are uncomfortable with change.

A question Jason brings up is "Do immigrants complement natives or substitute them."  Many factors are considered.  To-day with easy travel, Skype and their own ethnic networks, assimilation is slower.  For many native the immigrants bring welcome cultural items while others are resentful.  More immigrants are better educated than previous generations.  Inter-marriage is inevitable and help eventually to alleviate the stresses.

Donald Trump personifies an anti-immigrant trend in the United States.  He identified a fear and hatred of immigration and minorities and pushed it very explicitly.  With the electoral college the anti-immigrant voters had enough votes to put Trump into power.  Brexit succeeded in great part because of fear of immigrants taking jobs and changing culture and this was further aggravated by large numbers of Syrian refugees invading Europe.  Ironically immigration is the most practical counter balance to low birth rates in most Western nations. 

Originally read this book as a study on immigration, but found myself more engaged than usual.  A few personal connections to Filipinos reinforced my interest.  A friend had a good experience with a Filipino nanny when dealing with their first born.

Selling a product that was a hard sell to most people was told by a pet retailer that Filipino maids were advocates for dog tooth brushes as they had voluntarily taken on that responsibility and determined my product was the best.

I recall a Singapore movie, "Ilo Ilo" (2013) involving Filipino nanny and showed some of the family tensions.  A Singapore child became more attached to the nanny while her family was in stress.  The actress chosen for the role did not announce her own pregnancy and the script was re-written to work that into the story.

When I was working on a basketball project I was invited to a game where busloads of Filipinos came to Toronto for a game and other festivities.  Except for the two referees I was the only non Filipino in the crowd.  I was introduced to a player of the Montreal team who had left Philippines to avoid pressure from gamblers.  It was easy to see he was a game changer and the Toronto fans appreciated his talent.  Filipinos love basketball and this was confirmed years later.  More on the Filipino and other immigrant contributions to the Canadian game of basketball:

A driving force of my blogging and research is why and how did I end up here.  When first delving into my family tree I became aware of people crossing the Atlantic Ocean from different parts of England;  Devon, Cornwall and Yorkshire directly to Canada.  The Davidson name is Scottish and I encountered  some Scottish  listed on census.  One of my Grandmother's families came from Ireland, but had been migrants from Scotland.  I think most of them must have been relatively poor and saw an opportunity to better themselves.  Going back further I discovered some of my ancestors fled to the United States for religious reasons--some were Pilgrims and others Mennonites.  It seems likely I have countless unknown cousins in America, but some of them left, in some cases possibly as some version of United Empire Loyalists and in the case of the Mennonites to assure youngsters not forced into military.  Long before I was born it could be said my family had been assimilated.  More on my Mennonite connection:

My wife's family's treks to Canada were more recent.  One part came from Italy in 1916 (in the midst of World War I) at first through Ellis Island and met up with other Italians and most came to Canada and some went back to the States.  Another segment came from Ukraine and were shipped out to a cold winter in western Canada in early part of the 20th century.  Both the Italians and Ukrainians with a little bit of internal migration and inter-marriage with outsiders settled down.  They have managed to keep a few of their traditions, but it is safe to say they have also assimilated.   Both Italians and Ukrainians (and others they mixed with, specifically Hungarian, Serbians, English) were resented and restricted, but now are accepted as good Americans and Canadians.

A good read for a better understanding of the immigration political issue, the economic consequences and maybe like myself you will find yourself wondering how you ended up wherever you are right now.

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