On the Bittersweetness of Departures


My aunt and uncle and their youngest child are leaving for the United States later this month. My brother and I just spent the evening at a family gathering intended to see them off and wish them well.

It was a bittersweet celebration. I say bittersweet because the move comes twenty years after my uncle’s family first petitioned to have his family brought to the United States. Bittersweet is the flavor of victory when it comes late in the game and when the sheer passage of time has dulled the luster of the prize.

But what else can you do when a dream belatedly comes true? To what do you accord more significance? The life created during the protracted pause? Or the life still to be created—the life one dreamt of creating—during the long and wistful years?

Add to all that the agony that comes from leaving one’s older children behind to give a younger child a possibly better chance at life—what parent can ever be ready for that impossible calculus?

So, yes, it was a bittersweet celebration. And on few other occasions have I felt my identity as a Filipino so acutely, because it occurred to me throughout the evening that such bittersweet celebrations repeat themselves countless times in countless Filipino families because home is not synonymous with hope, not synonymous with security, not synonymous with prosperity—because to produce fruits through one’s labors, one has to sever the roots of one’s origins.

I’m not a big believer in the idea of someday, because “someday” doesn’t exist. But just for today, just for tonight, I hope that someday—and someday soon—Filipinos can be at home in the Philippines (in the true sense of the word “home”) and that every Filipino parent can be spared the trial of having to undertake a heartbreaking calculus.

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