As I wandered the streets of several European countries this past summer, there were numerous moments in which I made eye contact with Filipino locals in those countries. As a Filipina-American, I would smile at them each time and feel the same surge of familiarity that I felt when the same instance would happen back home in Chicago. This might seem strange to a non-Filipino since these people were strangers to me and we lived in completely different countries. There are Filipinos in every corner of the globe; and it is a common practice to acknowledge each other with a simple nod or a full-out conversation when one runs into a fellow Filipino at any time or place.
The combination of a highly educated, literate population coupled with a narrow and limited economy has caused the Philippines to lose an enormous amount of human capital to other countries who can provide jobs and economic mobility. Charles Davis, ICAEW economic advisor and director for the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), estimated the Philippines has lost roughly 10% of the overall Filipino population because of this dilemma. This situation lies at the root of the enormous Filipino diaspora across the globe, mainly consisting of two overall groups: those who have permanently emigrated (generally with their families) to other countries and those who work in other countries (often alone) in order to send remittances to their families back in the Philippines. My mother and her extended family are members of the former group, as my mother’s side of the family emigrated to the United States from the 1950s-80s. The latter group is commonly known as Overseas Filipino Workers or “OFWs.” My father is an OFW who works in Saudi Arabia and comes back to Manila roughly twice a year. Many Filipinos have left the Philippines for the Middle East, European Union, the United States and many other countries in search of a future. The resulting opinions are two-fold. There are those who view this massive migration of Filipinos abroad (whether permanently or as an OFW) as a severe blow to its domestic economy; these people would indeed label this phenomenon as “brain drain.” On the other hand, there are those who emphasize the positive side: that the Filipino diaspora provides a consistent flow of cash into the Philippine economy through remittances. The World Bank reports that the Philippines received USD $21 billion in remittances in 2011, which amounted to almost 10% of the overall Philippine GDP in 2011 of USD $224.1 billion.
Regardless of whether the existence and growth of the Filipino diaspora is positive or negative, it persists. Like any diaspora, the spread of Filipinos all over the world created a large network of two-way communication flows through individual emails and calls back to the motherland, Philippines-based media, foreign-based media targeting the Filipino diaspora, and the massive growth of the Internet. These communication flows continue to reinforce and re-negotiate the diaspora’s sense of collective identity. How do diasporic audiences sustain their sense of collective identity through media consumption and production? Why do I feel the need to smile and nod to a random Filipino halfway across the world?
The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) community holds an unusual position in Filipino society, as they technically live and work in another country for the majority of the year, but they are still Filipino citizens who feed the Philippine economy through remittances. In regards to communication, their concerns consist of the events of both the Philippines and the country in which they work. They simultaneously shape the discursive framework of Filipino media through shows targeted to this audience, while also absorbing the Filipino media in order to keep up with Filipino daily and major news. From 2007-2011, roughly 80,000 Filipinos per year have emigrated for permanent relocation to other countries. One fellow WordPress blogger, a second-generation Filipina-American like myself, performed an active reinforcement of the Filipino diasporic identity by outlining 7 identifying characteristics.
The Filipino Channel (TFC) is the most well-known representation of mass media targeted toward the diaspora. It boasts viewers and its tagline on the link to its website claims itself, “the digital tambayan [meaning “favorite hangout”] for the Global Pinoy [emphasis added, “pinoy” is a colloquial term for Filipino]. A hit TV show in the Philippines “Wowowee,” (2005-2010) a variety show with many guest celebrity hosts also aired on TFC. By sharing the cultural products created in the native Philippines, Filipino migrants were able to maintain the linkages that connect them to the motherland. Wowowee has travelled to many countries with large Filipino-American populations to record special international episodes, as well as the special episode honoring OFWs, shows a deep inclusion of the Filipino diaspora as still active and adored among physically-local Filipinos. As Karim Karim puts it, “their rhythms resonate transnationally to mark out non-terrestrial spaces that stretch inter-continentally.” Their audiences both physically and mentally span across continents to occupy a non-physical place.
Written by Pattie Umali
Other resources accessible through direct links in the article.
Karim H. Karim. “Re-viewing the ‘National’ in ‘International Communication’ Through the Lens of Diaspora” in The Journal of International Communication (10, 2): 2004. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13216597.2004.9751976