About a year ago, I wrote that the word “diaspora” may not be the right word to describe – or to appropriate – the phenomenon of Filipino migration. It’s about linguistic precision; that words like “Maafa” evoke a meaningful experience to Africans, and there’s meaning evoked when you refer to the lower Hindu caste as “Dalit.” I used the word “pakikipagsapalaran” – gamble – for the sake of some linguistic precision to the Filipino experience of migration, but somehow that begs a revisiting.
I’m not a “translator” per se (only in the sense of pop songs), but the term is actually “pandarayuhan.” A root word – “dayo” – means to “visit.” Another root word – “dayuhan” – means “foreigner.” One must make distinctions, though, between “dalaw” and “dayo;” that while the former assumes that you were invited, the second one assumes force.
I think it is in the word “dayo” where we should form that narrative of our people.
Don’t get me wrong: no narrative will ever encapsulate the entirety of our experience of migration, and each story is unique. “Dalaw” assumes welcoming; that things are all set for you, that everything is prepared and ready just for that moment of your visit, that you are a very welcome guest. “Dayo,” on the other hand, assumes that you’re out on your own. “Dalaw” assumes complete, positive choice; “dayo” assumes some degree of coercion. The calling of need – not the penchant for tourism – is a very common reason for leaving. On one extreme, it’s the story of having to raise a family yet not finding the right job, or having enough income. On the other extreme, it’s the story of making it here, but not having – or making the best of – the opportunities for success found in other countries.
Seeing my relatives and friends during Christmastime lends well to the narration of “dayo” I’m forming in my head. There’s my uncle who has never let go of his Filipino roots, who during dinner would keep talking about adobo mixed with American soy sauce and vinegar that makes him wince. Then there are my friends who have taken to the bleaching of their Filipino identity, whining in faux Southern California accents about the state of the Philippines.
Yet I digress: the whole point is to frame the Filipino experience into something Filipino. “Diaspora,” as common a word as it is, impinges on a whole new different Exodus: not the exile from the promised land, but “pakikipagsapalaran;” adventure, gamble, the seeking of fortunes. Again, it is negotiating the situation: “to stay or to go” is different from “go on or die.” Negotiating leaving is different from being a refugee: it is to earn the money or take out a loan, minding the lines at the embassy or the agency, and – still – negotiation by the time you reach the airport terminal.
There are negotiations that succeed, in the form of Balikbayan boxes from OFWs who willingly share their wealth to their families and friends, precisely the reason why they’re there. There are also those that fail, in the form of coffins bearing OFWs who bore pain and suffering for their families and friends, which brought them out and back. “Dayo” is the narrative: it may not be the coercion that comes with slave-ships and masters bearing whips, but walking to a place not your own, visiting indefinitely.
So whether it’s the often-romanticized nostalgia for the overseas Filipino, or for the self-flagellation of the Filipino who divests himself of that identity, the narrative isn’t “diaspora.” Diaspora assumes exile, deportation, the removal of identification. “Dayo,” like “pakikipagsapalaran,” represents the hope for return; of when, they can only tell. Of where… it depends on where “home” is. For those of us who seek the narrative of a people, perhaps the word where we base it on may tell more stories than the chocolates and sneakers.