We are the Salt of the Earth

Dead and Crispy
“Dead and Crispy” by Leo Aguinaldo (Fall 2016)

For those of you who do not know; and, for those of you who unwittingly pass judgement on foreign-looking people with heavy accents and broken English grammars, there is a political term that everyone calls us – we are “Foreign Workers” – others call us, “Overseas/Migrant Workers”.

You openly compare us to a weed that grows out of nowhere or out of place, like a dandelion that suddenly sticks out in a yellow bed of Canola or a green stretch of Alfalfa in the Summertime, but for “us, weeds that grow out of nowhere”, there’s so much more stories to tell – so much more to life than speak good English according to your standards.

Our life is not easy, and for most, it never will be. Don’t patronize nor sympathize, but let this sink in, in your superficial minds – Can you imagine the emotional torture that probably most of us, “Migrant Workers” have to go through to be able to provide table staple from a greener pastures for our respective families back to where we come from?

Like any other modern family, we have parents, spouses, kids and extended families that we have to reluctantly leave behind to perform the duties that locals overseas won’t, or to be brutally honest, can’t deliver.

Yes! The $10/hour job that nobody wants to work for abroad is equivalent to a dream job back in our homelands. That’s a lot of money, literally. But the implication is a lot of pain too, and rough patches to go through too.

It’s never easy to leave the ones we love, the place where we’re born and raised, and turn our backs to the profession we drudged our ages in the University (where in most cases, our parents paid for) in exchange for a Low-Skilled job abroad.

Literally and figuratively, distance is a mental pain that we have to deal with; knowing that we can work white collar jobs back home with less money to make than brewing your morning coffee, baking your fat-loaded doughnuts or flipping burgers like spatula ninjas. Yes, we might have a fatter purse million miles away from our birth land but we work hard for it like anyone else who routinely follows an eight-working hour. Life is a brutal cycle of survival. We need to breath and live in the unending battle of the fittest or most of the times, battle of the wisest. Everybody does whatever it takes to stay alive, even at the expense of leaving our love ones in order for us to live. It is indeed very ironic but that is our nature – we all have Nomadic tendencies, we immigrate and honestly, we become slaves of the low skilled workforce.

We are not Expats. Know the difference. We are indispensable. Our stay overseas is governed under Immigration rules that changes anytime. If the government of our host country wants to send us back home, we cannot do anything but abide the law – we pack our bags and head home. If we are lucky, with few bundles of money in our pocket; if we aren’t, empty handed.

But like any other locals, we pay taxes and pension premiums; with a high hope that in due time we would be able to get access into our payment contributions when we decide to call it quits and have a laid back life by the lake or back in our native land. What stings sometimes is the fact that we are always begging for the government’s mercy to give us the permanent tenure that we all have been dreaming of getting. We got work but only for an allowable period. We got jobs but not a career, and that is the painful truth that every “Migrant Worker” faces.

We are our families’ sacrificial lambs, our kin’s collateral damage, but we endure, or at least, we are trying to. Again, it’s biting, but we walk away from our families because we endear them; and that we want to be able to provide for most of their needs. We have individual stories, beyond our inability to speak good English, or beyond patiently working in your most despised $10/hour job while being anti-social.

Do not thank us for just brewing your morning coffee, baking your fat-loaded doughnuts or cleaning your stinky hotel rooms. We are paid to do these jobs. We are the cogs of the machine that save your jobs. Thank us for working the job you despise for you to be able to work the job that pays you triple of what “Overseas Workers” make. We help you keep your lucrative jobs. We do, and you are welcome.

Don’t look down on us because we don’t look or act exactly like you. We don’t speak exactly the way you speak. Don’t laugh comparing the wage we make from the salary you get. Don’t lark at us because we are different from you. You won’t like it when we laugh at you because you are all the same. Inside our white, black, yellow or brown coated body is a stinky flesh just the same – rotten in death, decomposed in mud.

This is our life; not the same as yours. You don’t have to like us; you just have to co-exist with us. Yes, we are weeds, perhaps, thorny and ugly but we are good weeds, not exactly the kind that gives you high, but the kind that grows in the spring time, buds in the summertime, withers in the fall and dies in the wintertime; but we never end up fading. We go back to the soil and we become the salt of the earth.

Thin Layer of Ice

Photographer: LA Aguinaldo, Bud Miller All Seasons Park, Spring 2015

It’s finally Spring time and soon enough, as the snow melts down the drain, everything will be muddy, slushy and ugly – perhaps, dirty is the more correct term.

We have survived another gruelling Winter and for us to be breathing and grinding the life that is, is a huge consolation. Phatom this – you get to wake up everyday and get to see and experience both the good and evil sides of life; that, itself, is a miracle.

Another long cold season has yet again passed and gone, and slowly, like how we strip our garments layer after layer for the warmer weather, this is another time to contemplate and realise that indeed, life is like the many seasons that come and go, harsh, unforgiving, bleak, warm, nice, pretty much all at the same time.

There are days when we have to bear heavy burdens – we are mistreated, unjustly dealt with or harmfully beaten; and there are days when we walk on sunshine – we do ourselves and others a good job, we reciprocate generous deeds or we make someone smile. Still, we march forward.

All of these are constant reminders that like any other human being out there, none of our existence is special. We are never special. We will never be special. We all go through the same kind of journey, good, bad or ugly. No one is excused, no one is exempted. The only difference is how we take care of our own business and how we make it through.

Regardless of what we are going through right now, have a stroll around. Appreciate everything that your eyes can stare upon. Go out with your skateboard or bike, walk around the lake or the pond.

Look at those flock of wild ducks slowly heading back into their natural habitat. Stare at them – their feet struggle, yet they walk above an icy lake surface, slowly but safely. Learn from them – they migrate for survival. Emulate them – they are brave and courageous little creatures; exposed out there in the harshest of weathers, yet they make it through, exposed and naked.

Stare at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Did you ever think you are lucky? You are sheltered from a bad storm, you expect three meals throughout the day and snacks to nourish your body in between (beer is a bonus). You do not scavenge and has never to fight nasty onlookers for food in the middle of the wilderness (Pizza Hut delivers, McDonalds has cheap meals), you do not sleep hanging in a tree (king size bed is now cheaper by the dozen).

So what is your trouble, really? Gratefulness is a gift where the cycle of generosity starts. Life is always a never ending battle of your inherent righteousness and the monster hiding under your bed or the skeleton in your closet.

So, no matter what time of the day it is or wherever you stand; no matter how you look at it, sober or under the influence; how thankful are you, really, to be alive above a thin layer of ice?