By Mari-An Santos


Whenever I go to Hong Kong, it feels so familiar. On the MRT and at the stores, I inevitably encounter a fellow Filipino. It could be the bakeshop attendant, the security guard, or the countless au pairs taking their wards home. A lot of them, recognizing a countryman, will ask, “When did you arrive?” It felt good to be acknowledged.

I am struck by how much my fellow countrymen have to sacrifice in order to provide for their families back home. On Sundays, they congregate at the Central District, where they lay out mats and have picnics with their friends. They spend the entire day catching up with each other’s lives as well as those of their loved ones back home.

One particular scene has stayed with me all these years. After Sunday Mass, a group of women huddled around one, who was distributing all sorts of goodies to her friends. I gathered that she had just arrived from the Philippines. One of her friends started looking at the pictures in a digital camera. She was showing her friends her children, exclaiming, “Oh, how he’s grown!” “Look at what she is wearing!” I was  moved to tears. Here was a mother who was taking care of a child not her own while her children were growing up without her.

Walking through the groups, it was as if they were at Luneta Park on a Sunday. Some were getting a haircut, some pedicures, others were reading gossip magazines, others sharing recipes. Whether Ilocano, Tagalog, or Bisaya, their collective chatter made a cheerful sound.

We have given them the generous monicker “Bagong Bayani.” But I suspect that given a chance, they would rather be fathers and mothers to their own children, and husbands and wives to their spouses than rays of hope to an entire country from across the sea.