by Kat Evangelista

Whenever I think of the Filipino family, the first picture that comes to my mind is a lola (grandmother) sitting in a rocking chair holding out her hand to her apos (grandchildren), while each children receives her hand to place it in their foreheads. This is what we Filipinos call pagmamano, a gesture as old as the country itself, an act of respect to the elder members of the family. I myself have practiced this countless times, and will still be practicing it in the years to come. Some things never change.

Or so I think.

Nowadays, a lot of things have been challenging the Filipinos’ claim that they have close family ties. Every year, thousands of Filipinos go to other countries to work as nurses, engineers, teachers, and domestic helpers, thus the term Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). I once attended a seminar where the speaker said that we are the only country on the face of the Earth who has this mentality. That in order to better our family’s economic status, or what the masses aptly say “makaahon sa hirap” (rise from poverty), we have to send our fathers, mothers, daughters and sons into a foreign land to work for us, and send money to us in a better (and much stable) currency. We are a country who’s most famous commodity is our manpower.

The consequences? Incomplete family pictures. Children growing up in the absence of their fathers or mothers. Parents growing old in the absence of their already grown up children. In my neighborhood, a lot of OFW’s houses has been renovated, repainted, stocked with modern appliances and chocolates with foreign names have been sent from different countries, but this houses are empty of family members to appreciate them. In the simplest sense, food has been brought in the once-poor table, but the mouths to feed on it are sad and incomplete. And somewhere, in a cold (or hot) land, an OFW is looking at old family pictures, maybe shedding a tear or two. The Filipino family has been fragmented into pieces. Some reunitable, some beyond repair. In a country that boasts of “close family ties”, the ties have loosened.

I used to feel badly about this situation. Maybe it’s a normal reaction of someone who is left behind. The government claims that this Filipino Exodus has greatly helped our economic status, but it left a lot of unhealed wounds, too. Again, I used to feel bad about this situation. But not anymore.

As I get older, I had a better grasp of the situation. I realized that close family ties doesn’t only mean being close literally in distance, but in hearts too. That the Filipino family is not only a happy family, but a strong family, too. That these OFW’s loves their family so much, that they are capable of sacrificing themselves, in order to help their ailing parents get good medical assistance to good hospitals, help a sibling get out of financial troubles, and most commonly, send their children to good schools, hoping that in the future, they will get good jobs and they won’t need to leave their future families in order to provide for them. Clearly, the intent behind the desertion is noble. Close family ties is not just about staying or going, it is about valuing our roots and nourishing it. And promising, to come back and be reunited with them again.

So, if a foreigner will ask me, “Do you Filipinos still have close family ties?” With a proud face and a smile on my mouth I will say yes, because up to now, we still uphold to our age-old family value: we put our families first in our decisions. We do what we can for our families. Even if that means packing up and boarding a plane going to foreign lands. And if one day, I will be compelled to make this decision too, I will also put my family first, too, as we Filipinos always do.

Kat is a 22-year old young professional who tries to juggle family, lovelife, work, idealism, writing and music in her almost-always-full hands. She lives in Bulacan, Philippines. Email her on [email protected] And yes, she is the small girl scratching her head on the family picture above.