Migration: A Chess Game

August 14, 2013

One evening a friend invited me out for a walk and drink in one of the shopping areas in Pasig, part of metro Manila, the Philippines. The structural design, the different artistic expressions, the ambiance and other features of the place is surprisingly and overwhelmingly beautiful for someone like me who sees art as an expression of the soul. Exploring the place for the first time made my brain cells multitask. We moved to explore the place, but my eyes spotted a giant chess board situated in the middle of the park. Walking closer, both of us agreed to play a casual game, thinking that it would be exciting. The last time I played chess was with my brother, Patboone in the summer of 1981. Soon after his death on December of that year, the family chess board was packed away with his other stuff in our underground storage. Since then, I had never had the chance to play chess.

I could still recall the basics of the game though my friend had to remind me every time I make a wrong move, “you can’t do that”, “be careful with that move.” His patience was commendable. Trying to concentrate, I also enjoyed the distractions of people passing by who were wanting to take photos of the giant chess board. I had enough reason not to play a blitz. Every move I made brings back memories of my brother but surprisingly, the enjoyment of winning wasn’t there anymore. Every move I made was purely mechanical, just minimal analysis, no strategy but mainly a memory refresher. After a while, I mustered up the courage to say, “I’m tired, let us stop.” The unfinished game was left under the brightly lit grounds.

Reflecting on this experience I can’t help but compare playing chess with the different roles played in the family. I wonder how the families of migrant workers play their roles when after several years of absence, they would go back to be reunited with their families. I can’t help but wonder how a man would play the role of a husband and father, a woman play the role of a wife and mother, to play the same familiar roles they left several years ago. Would they still be willed to play the same role? Like playing chess after many years of not touching the chessboard, will the enthusiasm of winning and ending a game be there?

To work abroad seems to be the trend for survival for most Filipinos. A report from the Institute of Migration recorded an estimate of 8.7 million Filipinos in 239 host countries, or territorial entities, with an average of 3,377 daily deployments. This means that mothers and wives, husbands and fathers would suspend their present roles and physical presence with their families in search of greener economic pastures. The children left behind will be turned over to a trusted relative or friend or the eldest child will take on the role of a parent to his or her younger siblings. Will the suspension and taking over of roles in the family be temporary? The answer could be yes and no. Each time someone leaves, it’s a gamble, and the result is unpredictable.

Out of the 3,377 migrant workers leaving every day, how many leave the country of their own will? How many of them are pushed by their families to leave the country, forced to fulfill a parents’ role or because of a family project? One of the children of a worker said, “Waking up one morning, I noticed luggage in the room, my mom started giving me instructions to wake up early so I could prepare breakfast for my siblings… confused but managed to ask why, mom said she is leaving to work abroad… I wish I was part of that decision.” (Jane, not her real name, is 14 years old with three siblings, ages 12, 10 and 8).

Still vivid in my memory is an experience where a six year old patient expired on my shift due to complications of Dengue fever. The mother in grief cried out “you have a nice voice, you can sing and dance well, and I dreamt that you work in Japan, but now you’re gone.” Hearing the mother utter those words while weeping made me walk out of the room disturbed and angry. I believe to work abroad is a family decision. Each member of the family must be consulted before making a decision. When a family member starts packing her luggage, she packs as well the dreams of her family. Each member of the family has the responsibility to keep their focus in achieving their goal – the fulfillment of that dream.

It cannot be denied that people have the right to move, yet statistics show how this movement is affecting the basic unit of the society, the family. When thousands of people leave the country for a better future, a question that needs an honest answer should be asked. Is leaving the present to live in the future the only choice we have? Would there be a bright, secure future for the families? What about the ethical challenge of migration? These questions arise from the vast scope of migration. Migration as a phenomenon itself is unfathomable, even a mystery. However, families are directly affected by the impact of migration. I firmly believe that the Church plays a very important role both from the sending country and the host country. The six months I spent in the Philippines to explore the possibilities of the local church being involved in the pastoral care of migrant families is not that affirming. I cannot help but wonder, like the unfinished chess game left under the brightly lit grounds, the issues, concerns, problems associated with migration are already exposed in the open, seen in brightly lit grounds, yet another series of questions would arise. Would there be willing players? Will the next players decide to continue the unfinished game? Or will they decide to start a new one?

God, keep us from redefining your home in the society — the family.