Excerpt from A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

One Family and Migration in the 21st Century

by Jason DeParle

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle X
A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 400 pages

    Aug 2020, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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The eldest of eleven children raised in a farm family, she had quit school after sixth grade and moved to Manila as a teenager to work in a factory. Marriage and children followed, with home a series of Leveriza hovels, each as forlorn as the last. Her husband, Emet, had hustled a job cleaning the pool at a government sports complex and held it for nearly two decades. On the spectrum of Filipino poverty, that alone marked him as a man of modest fortune. But a monthly salary of $50 wasn't enough to keep his family fed. Their eldest daughter had a congenital heart defect that turned her lips blue and fingernails black and who needed care that he couldn't afford. After years of worrying over her frail physique, Emet had dropped to his knees and asked God for a decision: take her or let him have her. God had answered in a mysterious way. Soon after, Emet got an offer to clean pools in Saudi Arabia. He would make ten times his Manila wage but live five thousand miles away in an Islamic autocracy when stories of abused laborers were rife. He accepted on the spot. By the time I arrived, years later, his daughter had more medicine and the shanty had a toilet.

Up before dawn to cook the breakfast rice, Tita was a weary homemaker, trudging to the market every day and scrubbing her hands raw over laundry. But she was also a lieutenant in Sister Christine's slum improvement group, a small army of housecoat revolutionaries that ran Bible studies, sold subsidized rice, joined political protests, and found strength in the nun's message, counterintuitive amid the squalor, that Jesus had a special love for the poor. Tita's life revolved around eggs: she bought two thousand a week to sell in the group's co-op stores and stacked them under a kitchen light in an attempt, only partly successful, to protect them from the rats. The enterprise was metaphoric: in the post-Marcos Philippines, her hopes and the country's were equally fragile. Despite a limited education, or perhaps because it, Tita was full of questions. She read English newspapers with a Tagalog dictionary and asked me about the news. "Ano ang imperyalismo?" she asked me. "I'm always hearing, 'No to imperialism!' but I don't know what means 'imperialism.' "

Tita's oldest child was an indifferent student of modest ambition who spent his spare time on the farm. The second was sick. The two youngest boys were spindle-legged scamps, busy chasing roosters through the alleys. That left Tita's middle child, Rosalie, her confidence keeper and chief helpmate.

A slight, shy, doe-eyed girl, mature beyond her fifteen years, Rosalie was easy to overlook. Her religiosity cloaked her ambition. In addition to school and chores, she was a stalwart of Sister Christine's youth group; when it staged plays, Rosalie played the nun. Noting Rosalie's strength and faith, Sister Christine saw the makings of a real nun, but Rosalie had another idea. There was a nursing school near Leveriza, and the students looked smart and clean in their starched white dresses. Filipino nurses went far in life. Some went as far as the United States.

In 1965 (six years before Rosalie was born), Lyndon Johnson sat beside the Statue of Liberty and signed an immigration law he both celebrated as a civil rights landmark and dismissed as a measure of little consequence. Johnson said he was ending a "cruel and enduring wrong" by abolishing quotas from the 1920s that banned most nonwhite immigrants. Passed in an age of peak immigration, aimed at southern and eastern Europeans— the nonwhites of the day— the quotas had kept immigration to a trickle for four decades. Johnson praised the new law for ending discrimination but insisted it wouldn't attract more people or change America's ethnic composition. "This bill that we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power." He added, "The days of unlimited immigration are past."

Excerpted from A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves by Jason DeParle. Copyright © 2019 by Jason DeParle. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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