I am a Filipino who came to the United States nineteen years ago to work as a Physical Therapist in Lebanon Tennessee. It was a time when the Philippines was under a deep recession brought about by Marcos dictatorship. My three brothers believe in hard work but there were no jobs around. And they were just starting their own families. Since I was lucky to be hired in the US, I became their hope for recovery. I obliged willingly. I worked all the way from Tennessee to North Carolina to Florida in different hospitals. Every pay day, I remitted dollars back home, which, when converted to pesos were more than enough to cover for their food, for my nephews and nieces’ education and medical costs for my aging parents. I started doing this in 1990. I am still doing it now.
My American co-workers marvel at my tenacity in keeping this family obligation. “Enough already,” they advise me. I explain to them that I send money back home because there are no welfare, food stamps, student loans and US-style Medicare in the Philippines. I am all of these to my family and without me, we would all perish. I call my remittances back home ‘human investments’.
But fulfilling my family duties exacted a heavy toll on me. All these years, my life had been centered on work, work and work. Though I am gay, I never partook in the good times a single hard working man enjoys. In fact, I worked nearly seven days a week for the last seven years because all my nieces and nephews have entered college.
And what do I get out of this? All I know is that I’d feel very miserable if I’d keep all my money to myself while my family back home is starving or my nephews and nieces are growing illiterates. I invested into my family’s survival and education because I believe I’d have a bigger return from these in the end. Had I concentrated all my money to the stock market, I would have lost most of it last year.
I believe that human investment is better than the stock market. I can hear it in the happy voices of my nephews and nieces who call me now and then to thank me for all the sacrifices I’ve made. I’ve put five children to college, most of them are Nurses. The first graduates are working now. The last two will graduate this March of 2009. After that, I am too old to keep this family obligation longer. The next generation can take over and continue this family obligation.
I don’t expect them to support me in my old age the way I supported them in growing up. My hope is that I won’t need any help until my last days. What matters is the family has survived intact.
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