They depicted water literally gushing down the streets, almost overturning cars. “Oh no,” I thought, thinking of 2021’s Typhoon Odette that ripped up our house in Northern Mindanao, “not again.”
But the flooding wasn’t in the Philippines, only I was. It was in Southern California, where my family was staying. “Please God,” I muttered, “let them be safe.”
In fact, the recent Hurricane Hillary—said to be the first of its kind there since 1939—didn’t live up to the dire predictions. Thank God. But it reminded me once again of the irony of my situation; an American expat in Southeast Asia missing his Filipino wife and daughter residing in the wilderness of his native land.
I mean, usually, it’s the other way around, isn’t it? And more to the point, more often than not, the sufferers aren’t expat Americans, but Filipinos both here and abroad enduring the absence of loved ones in countries distant and far-flung.
During a recent series of appearances promoting my latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, a concept I call the “reverse diaspora” generated a great deal of interest. The basic idea: that, while everyone reads and hears much about the so-called Philippine diaspora—i.e., millions of Filipinos suffering the long-term absence of loved ones working abroad—its opposite is far less chronicled. It also is the story of my life.
While I pace the halls of the big house we built overlooking Surigao Strait, my lovely wife—at least for a few more months—lives and works in California with our three-year-old daughter. So, when I say I feel the pain of stranded Filipinos, well, I’m not just spouting metaphors.
The pain is ever present. Like a ghost, it hides behind doors and lurks in darkened rooms. Then, suddenly, without warning, pops up from a hidden corner of the mind to say “boo!” For me, it is short-lived, scheduled to end very soon. I can only imagine the measured anguish of so many Filipinos for whom the separation lasts decades.
Sometimes I console myself with humor. “My wife and I are engaged in a reversal of roles,” I tell my friends and book-launch audiences. “Instead of the foreign husband sending his wife money from abroad, the Filipino wife in America is sending money to her American husband in the Philippines.”
It always gets a laugh.
But the idea of a reverse diaspora isn’t that farfetched. Though badly crippled by the pandemic, foreign tourism to the Philippines is making a comeback, with more than 2 million visitors arriving last year: well above the 1.7 million projected.
“We are at the cusp of the massive success of tourism in the Philippines,” Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco told the Philippine Star.
And, though I can’t back it up statistically, my sense is that more and more Westerners—alienated by the cultures and events of their own countries—are choosing to settle in Southeast Asian nations like the Philippines. Or, at the very least, displaying an increasing interest—even fascination—in doing so.
While my own national diaspora will continue, the family separation, thank God, will not. Next week, I’m scheduled to fly back to America for a long-awaited reunion. Then, a few weeks later, I shall return to the Philippines with my three-year-old daughter in tow, followed shortly by my wife.
I recognize, of course, that I am fortunate. And feel deeply for the multitude of Filipinos who are not.
David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, Haldane is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.