Excerpts from the Book
Stories of Leaving
To leave one’s country in search of a better life or to join the mate of one’s soul are not anomalies in the Filipino culture. These are such common phenomena that about 10.2 million Filipino souls are scattered across the globe, persistent in making the lives of their loved ones better, defiant in finding their own space in a foreign land, all the while singing songs of home.
It was the saddest day of my life. A little boy barely three and a half years old and a little girl one year younger than he were clutching their milk bottles under their arms. The little boy asked me, “Where are you going, Mother? Can I come?” I did not manage to answer; I just turned my back and walked away. I tried to hold back my tears and my emotions. I remember hearing the mumbling and crying of my children, my mother, and the rest of the family comforting them. When I was sitting on the plane, I let all the tears run down my cheeks, and I let out all the emotions I had been holding back. I felt weak, empty, and lost. I knew that my story was nothing different from millions of mothers and families who left their children to look for greener pastures and to give their children a better life. -“The Lady in the White Apron” by Alice Javier
…I had just broken up with my boyfriend at the time. We had fought over some petty thing, but the bigger problem was that my mother did not approve of the fact that he and I did not share the same faith: he was Protestant and I was Catholic. …But as a young Filipina you do not argue with your mother. So, I decided to cool things off, move towards greener pastures and find new opportunities. Who knew what lay ahead? All I knew was I needed to resign from Bilibid prison immediately and, along with the five other nurses who would be in my batch, start taking up German lessons in Father Dab’s classroom. We took leave of our families, arranged the necessary passport and visa requirements, and four weeks later boarded a Russian Aeroflot plane. I still have the picture of the day my whole family accompanied me to the airport, showing my nieces and nephews still in their toddler pants, holding on to their ice cream cones. Even my father was there to see me off. It was a feast, a truly joyous occasion. -“Remembering Bagumbayan” by Evangeline Bugayong
Just as I was at the height of my career, quite comfortable with the identity my various performing professions lent me, I met and fell in love with someone from a city called Prague. Within a few months, he and I wed and I was walking across the historical Charles Bridge that stretches across the Vltava River. I had to pinch myself every other minute, wondering to myself how I had married this wonderful man from a country I had never heard much of until I had met him. My body was physically there, but it was going to take some time for my mind, my heart, and spirit to catch up with the rest of me. -“A Secret that Illuminates” by Lily C. Fen
Stories of Arriving
It takes months, even years, of preparation to find the courage to leave one’s comfort space, but nothing can prepare the initial shock a migrant goes through as he or she arrives at a foreign land. The strange sense of dislocation is confusing, but it could sometimes surprise one with a sense of excitement which can blossom into curiosity.
I landed at Zurich Kloten airport on a foggy day in August of 1966. The Swissair flight hardly had any passengers. I counted about ten people in my cabin. The plane first stopped in Pakistan, then somewhere in the Middle East, then in Athens, where the seats were suddenly all occupied. Although it was the height of summer, descending from the plane to the tarmac that early morning, I was not prepared for the cold air that hit me. I was shivering in my thin stockings and the light suit I had borrowed from my stewardess cousin. Good thing my mother brought a warm coat for me when she picked me up. -“Have you seen the Sky Today” by Terry Windler
Heavens, to be fetched by an Archduke at the airport was simply unbelievable! He welcomed me and my co-worker with a smile—he even carried our heavy suitcases. I kept slapping my face discreetly just to wake myself up and check that I was not still asleep and dreaming on the plane. After thirty minutes of driving, we arrived at the Princess and Archduke’s large house in Geneva. Our beautiful room was well-furnished and there were warm clothes prepared for us. Three hours later, the Archduke showed us the whole house and its surroundings and finally gave us a bundle of keys, all with respective labels. He also drew a map showing where we could find the church and a coffee shop. He encouraged us to spend some time in these places if we wanted to and gave us money. It was the first time for me to hold Swiss Francs, but because of what I call “conversion syndrome,” I did not dare to spend them: everything seemed too expensive for me to spend the money on. The Archduke left the day after to join his family in the mountains to ski. The whole villa was entrusted to us for one month, even though we had just started to work there. -“A Different Cinderella Story” by Helen Gaganao
Beat took me to Ibiza, Spain, to a house on top of a hill that overlooked the sea and the mountains. We had had to travel for two long days by car and ship to finally reach Vista Alegre, where our vacation home stood. “Welcome, my girl,” Beat said. “This is my surprise for you!” And as I looked up, I saw my name “SUSAN” engraved on the wall. My God, this was his overwhelming gift for me, all because he was so happy that I had come to marry him. But our beautiful love nest was still shaken: Beat couldn’t understand why I was sad despite all his goodness. Whenever I saw the horizon on the sea, I felt the distance between the Philippines and me. Beat, who had likened me to an exotic flower that was uprooted and planted to thrive in a new place, promised that he would take care of me so I could grow happily. He did what he could to help me. -“The Garlands of True Riches” by Susan Nagel
Stories of Living
A raspy, almost throat-scratching language, a villa on top of a hill, a strong pungent smell, a tongue that speaks five languages, flower boxes floating under double windows, an empty table supposedly filled with a husband and a dozen children, silky milk chocolate, a life in four continents, the edge of a pocket knife, hidden strength, Grüezi!, a language that transcends words, fresh Alpine air, the gaping hole of lost identity, old towns taken straight out of fairy tales, neurosis and paranoia, melted harmony that is wine and cheese, plastic is separate from paper is separate from aluminum is separate from glass, secretive banks and the smell of gold, a woman’s rise.
Staying anonymous in a village such as ours was not possible. I now consider this an advantage. It was six months after my arrival, after my morning shopping at the Sterchi’s, while walking on the empty streets, when I turned around and met a lady. We exchanged smiles and I later invited her to our house for coffee. Heidi became my first local friend and remains one of my closest friends until now. My immediate neighbors, four families who had children the same age as my two boys, made me feel accepted and well-integrated. Our children went to school and spent vacations together. I attended folklore activities to satiate my genuine interest in their rural culture. Despite the privilege of having vast open spaces around our respective homes, we were one family. -“The Gift of Tongues” by Anny Hefti
My husband and I both shared a passion for food and it was something we really loved. I collected more recipes and repeated a new dish several times a month. I discovered that the recipes could be modified, giving the same dish different tastes. This, in turn, motivated my husband to cook as well. One time, I came home from work and he surprised me with a five-course meal. He even made me wear nice clothes for the occasion. It was so memorable. One day, I met our neighbors and they asked me, “What do you eat?” Challenged by this question, I told my husband that we should invite them one weekend. I prepared a buffet for twelve people with my international know-how in cookery so that the guests could choose whatever they liked. In fact, I remember the items on the menu to this day. -“What do you Eat?” by Cathy Weber
Since I knew nothing about household chores, cooking was tough in the beginning. From time to time, I missed our former housekeeper. But by and by, I got over the hardship and became a real homemaker. I remember one time, my dear husband patiently taught me how to use the vacuum cleaner. It was an old one that used to belong to my father-in-law. It made horrible loud rattling sounds that scared me half to death. My first time using the washing machine was no better: I put in all the clothes of mixed colors together, only to later find that the white shirts had turned into the colors of the rainbow. I ended up buying new shirts. Aunt Lizaly and I baked cakes and Christmas cookies together. She even taught me how to properly iron men’s shirts. Initially, it took me almost an hour to finish ironing one shirt! Later on, I found great pleasure in doing all the household chores, especially cooking and baking. -“The Best of All Worlds” by Evelyn Steiner
Realizing how apolitical I had become since leaving the Philippines and that I had been so occupied with my family, losing track of what was happening at home, I joined the group and tried to make up for my ignorance by devouring books, magazines, and articles about the political situation. I soon joined in campaigns and fund-raising activities, lobbying for the Filipino cause. I met and housed Filipino visitors from my home country who were touring Europe to lobby and raise funds. I was in awe of the very active women’s movement in the Philippines and their nationalism. Within a short period, I was politicized and met several Filipina members of the solidarity group, who were mostly married to Swiss men. We discussed not only the situation at home but also the situation of the growing number of Filipinas in Switzerland. There was some interaction with Swiss and other migrant women’s groups. This gave us the idea of forming a Filipina women’s organization and Samahang Pilipina was born — first in Berne, then Zurich, and later Lucerne. -“Aim High and Hit the Mark” Lina Ermert
Stories of Staying
As we come to a close, every migrant understands that we no longer belong to the country where we came from, nor do we belong to the country that opened its arms and adopted us. A life in limbo. A life of living in-between. But in the borderlands where we find ourselves in, we migrants also understand… The weight that we feel on our backs is the dreams our families helped us dream, the bonds that our friends help us tie to the ground, the shadow of our past spent in vibrant memories. The weight that we feel on our backs is the home we never realized we’ve always carried. We migrants understand, we were always home.
Before getting married, my then future husband and I decided to embark on a six-month backpacking trip to take our relationship for a test-drive. …Somewhere in the middle of our trip, we just wanted to stay in one place and not be surprised by any more of the world’s wonder. This is what I feel like every waking moment in Switzerland. I would pack up all that I am every night and hop on to sleep, for it to carry me over to the next dawn. Every time I’d get up in the morning, my first step out of bed would feel like an arrival in a different country. I reveled in this feeling for the first few months. Every venture out of the door meant that I was to conquer another dish, or I was to discover another Swiss tick, or I was to make a new friend… But dislocation confused me and left me wanting rest. In the grand scheme of things, Winterthur was where I belonged now. This time, I no longer had the leisure of being a surveyor. This time, I was not passing through. This time, I was staying. -“Search” by Monette Bichsel
In my autumn years, I am just beginning to live again. I collect my dignity as a woman and strength as a person to break free by the shedding of my old skin, my old self. There is so much for me to learn and unlearn. And perhaps the biggest lesson for me has been to treat myself with kindness and forgive myself for my shortcomings. I’ve never felt so at home. -“Persona” by Weni Gamboa
There is an old expression that says the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Put another way, even the mightiest oak tree starts as an acorn. But unlike the mighty oak, living as an expat has been more like being a green reed—being able to bend in the wind, to be flexible in the storm, yet remaining strong and confident that the rain would eventually stop and the warm rays of the sun would return. It has not only meant leaving behind a life one knew well in exchange for uncertainty and isolation. It has meant using each experience as a way to grow a little bit more. Being an expat has been a wonderfully rewarding journey of growth and renewal. It has enabled me to step out of my comfort zone, taking on all those challenges that seemed like dark tunnels, like a green reed always bending in the wind, never breaking. -“Bending Without Breaking” by Melody Hunter