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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  • Published:
    Aug 2019, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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Print Excerpt

Migration disquiets the West, demographic logic suggests it will grow. Aging societies need workers. Workers in poor countries need jobs. Rising incomes in developing world give more people the means to move and instant communication spreads word of opportunity. Refugee populations have soared. Economically, incentives to move are profound. An unskilled migrant in the nineteenth century might triple his wage by moving to the States; his counterpart today can multiply his earnings six or seven times (even after accounting for the cost of living), a pay raise twice as high.

No country does more to promote migration than the Philippines, where the government trains and markets overseas workers, whom presidents celebrate as "heroes." More than two million Filipinos depart each year, enough to fill a dozen or more 747s a day. About one Filipino worker in seven works abroad, and the $32 billion that Filipinos send home accounts for 10 percent of the gross domestic product. Migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: the civil religion. The Philippine Daily Inquirer runs hundreds of stories a year on Overseas Filipino Workers. Half have the fevered feel of gold rush ads. Half sound like human rights complaints.

"Remittances Seen to Set New Record."

"Happy Days Here Again for Real Estate Sector."

"5 Dead OFWs in Saudi."

"We Slept with Dog, Ate Leftovers for $200/ month."

I wasn't thinking about migration when I arrived in Leveriza. I was thinking about rats and eggs, about how people like Tita endure such dire poverty. Migration was part of the answer. Emet came home during my visit and did all he could to stay. But couldn't earn a living in Manila. Forced to choose between living with his children and supporting them, he returned to Saudi Arabia, a cycle he sustained for nearly twenty years.

What started as an act of desperation became a way of life. All five of Tita and Emet's children grew to become overseas workers, and they are part of a close, extended family that stretches across the globe. Of the eleven siblings in Tita's generation, nine went abroad or had spouses who did. So far, twenty-four of their forty-one children have done the same. Most of what could happen to a migrant, good or bad, has happened to someone in the clan. Some lost marriages; one lost a limb. Others replaced thatched huts with cement block homes and hung their children's college degrees on the freshly painted walls. Tita has a grade-school education, but her sister Peachy earned a doctorate, with money that her daughter made cleaning cabins on a cruise ship. Peachy's husband's years abroad nearly destroyed their marriage; she understands migration's social costs. But when I asked if the sacrifices had been worth it, she articulated the unofficial family creed: "A good provider is one who leaves."

Soon after I left Leveriza, Rosalie started nursing school, which was possible (if barely) because Emet was away cleaning Saudi Arabian pools. She was twenty-four when she landed her first overseas job, at a hospital outside Mecca. By the standards of foreign workers in the Persian Gulf, Rosalie was in luck: nurses earn much more money, and suffer less abuse, than the migrants who go in much greater numbers as nannies, cooks, drivers, or maids. But Rosalie left nursing school with an overriding goal, to reach the United States. Two decades later, she was still trying, working in Abu Dhabi, along with her husband, and worried that she had become a stranger to her three young kids, who were living with Tita and Emet back in the Philippines. Then a hurricane slammed the Texas Gulf Coast and left behind a nursing shortage. Rosalie got her chance.

In 2012, I met her in Manila and flew with her to Galveston. Her husband, Chris, followed five months later with Kristine, Precious Lara, and Dominique (ages nine, seven, and six), who spoke little English and hadn't lived with their parents in years. They had to learn a new country and form a new family at the same time. I tracked their experiences on a near-daily basis for three following Rosalie in her hospital and the kids in the Galveston schools. Migration has become the defining story of the twenty-first century; by the accident of an old friendship, I had an intimate view. This was a journalistic endeavor but not an entirely arm's-length one; occasionally my presence shaped events I was trying to record. But our long relationship affords a perspective that conventional deadlines don't afford. Rosalie was a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl when I met her and a forty-eight-year-old nurse, wife, and mother as her story goes to print.

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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