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Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings: The Expatriate's Paradox

by Dr. Jean Raymuno Lobell

It has been said that the best gifts that parents can give their children are roots and wings -- roots that give them solid grounding and wings that enable them to build their own lives. This simple but profound saying is an appropriate analogy for the paradox that we Filipino American s experience as we grapple with the desire to maintain our roots in our homeland and the need to try our wings in our new country.

With limited time on our hands between family and career demands, this push-and-pull has become an either-or proposition. Some of us have chosen to focus on "homeland" projects, and some of us have decided to be involved in "new country" issues. I believe, however, that this either-or proposition is an artificial divide.

Although one's primary focus might be one or the other, our paradigm for social and political involvement has to include both. If we, as an expatriate community, are to achieve greater impact both in our homeland and in our new country, it is critical that we recognize the continuum, the symbiosis, the interdependency between contributing to Philippine national development and contributing to a better quality of life for Filipino Americans. To begin with, our image as Filipino Americans is inescapably tied up with the political, economic and social conditions in the Philippines.

Filipino Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic communities in the United States. We are the second largest Asian ethnic group in the country and the fourth largest both in the State of New York and in New York City. By the year 2020, Filipino Americans, together with other Asian Pacific Americans, will make up 8% of the total U.S. population, having increased from 7.3 million in 1990 to an estimated 20.2 million. The number of working-age Asian Pacific Americans will triple to 10 million over the next three decades.

There is strength in numbers. There is even greater strength in having a common purpose. Imagine the tremendous impact we can have if we mobilize our numbers and our talents toward a shared vision – one that links the interests of our homeland and our community in our new country. Picture the contribution we can make if we decided to focus our energies and our creativity on issues and projects that would kill two birds with one stone – an economically viable and progressive Philippines and a successful and empowered Filipino American expatriate community.

How can we insure this continuum, this symbiosis, this interdependence? I suggest two strategies, which are by no means, encompassing. One strategy is to focus on "transfer projects" -- transfer of knowledge, transfer of technology, transfer of capital. A second strategy is "mainstreaming" – political participation in mainstream U.S. politics, social and community involvement in mainstream issues, and professional networking in mainstream associations.

The concept of technology transfer is not new. It has been going on between developing and developed countries. It is a critical component of Philippines 2000, our homeland’s five-year strategy for transforming the nation into a newly-industrialized country. How can we Filipino Americans support and sustain this transformation? Are we organized, mobilized, and equipped to do so? Can we join forces and pool resources to bring needed technology, new knowledge and much-needed capital to the Philippines? What projects can we undertake that would sustain such transfer?

One example of such project is the development of an integrated database of Filipino expatriate professionals, scientists and business people in the United States, Canada and other countries with a significant Filipino population. The wealth of talent and professional expertise that have "brain drained" from the Philippines to the United States and other countries is enormous. This talent bank is now tremendous source of and resource for "transfer projects." A number of Filipino expatriate organizations in the United States, Canada and Europe have started local databases. The next critical step is to integrate them into a viable international database from which we can efficiently identify those professionals whose expertise would be pivotal to Philippine development needs.

This same database can also support our "mainstreaming" strategy by facilitating our search for professionals who can serve on boards and commissions at the city, state and federal levels. Needless to say, Filipino Americans who serve on such boards and commissions can represent the needs and concerns of the Filipino American community. In addition, they can serve as linkages between our community and the mainstream society.

The "mainstreaming" strategy does not imply distancing oneself from the Filipino American community. It means affirming our ethnic identity as we develop and succeed in mainstream America. It means bringing back to the Filipino American community the experience, the insights, the successes that we have achieved in the mainstream society. "Mainstreaming" means active participation in the political life of our new country, whether at the city, state or national level. It means vigorous support of political candidates who will address the concerns of Filipino Americans and who are sympathetic to the needs of the Philippines.

Central to the notion of "mainstreaming" is mobilizing ourselves to lobby for legislation and policy that would have favorable impact on our community and on the Philippines. It means knowing how to access information and resources from the mainstream community to help Filipino Americans. A December 1992 report published by the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy show that Filipino Americans are the third lowest recipients of foundation dollars. Considering that we are the second largest Asian ethnic community in the U.S., this figure is pitiful. We need to learn how and when and where to seek funding for our projects – projects that are supportive of Philippine development and/or Filipino American community needs. Some organizations have started to do this and can help others do the same.

It is not impossible to be deeply committed to both our homeland’s national development and our new country’s continued growth. Ignoring one for the other deprives us of the richness of experience that is integral to being an expatriate. We are truly lucky if we can sustain our roots and our wings. And we can be incredible effective if we can harness our roots and wings toward projects that bridge Philippine development and Filipino American concerns.


The essay above originally appeared in Transitions, an official publication of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Foreign Information Council and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. The publication aimed to define RP-US relations after the closure of the bases and to commemorate the visit of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos to the United States in November 1993.

Copyrightę by Dr. Jean Raymuno Lobell, 1993.
Reprinted with permission from the author.





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