At the rate we are going agog over the news that Filipino champion golfer Yuka Saso is going to pick Japanese nationality when she turns 22, you’d wonder why the French, so notoriously snobbish about Frenchness, didn’t protest too much that England’s most famous King, Richard I, the Lionheart, chose to be English.
The child of Eleonore of Aquitaine and Henry II of Anjou, both French subjects, not a drop of English blood, whatever that means, flowed in his veins.
Even Arab Muslims do not protest too much that the Lionheart's nemesis, Islam’s greatest Paladin and flower of chivalry, Salahuddin, was not Arab at all but Kurd.
So, what’s so sugoi (wow) about our Bulakeña Ineng turning Nihonjin Yuka-chan? Nothing. Honto desu suyo. (It's true, you know.)
Shinto heavens! His father is Japanese, lest we forget! Japan’s citizenship rules follow jus sanguinis, the law of blood. And just because we have an infamous Filipino suspiciously named Sassot ought not to make Saso automatically native.
I did a paper once for UP’s International Law Bulletin on Japanese Immigration law. What I found out in my research was that from 1995 to 1999, around 6,000 Filipinas married Japanese men, and around 5,000 Japinos are born, presumably of such marriages, each year.
I was Labor Attaché in Tokyo, Japan, from 1997 to 2001, and in a year alone, I approved — verified, to be exact — close to a hundred thousand employment contracts for night club entertainers, overwhelmingly women, bound for Japan on three-month visas. That’s not counting those approved at the Consulate in Osaka.
Those were some of the prettiest girls one can find in our islands and Japanese men are increasingly finding it hard, and very expensive, to get women of their kind to marry. If you’ve got the yen for gambling, forgive the pun, you can also bet that their kids will mostly pick Japanese nationality as well, come choosing age.
In fact, even today, walk past the night club and bar strip in Roppongi-dori evenings, close to Don Quijote, better known as Donki, and you’ll find some of them working as vira-makis, touting flyers offering drink discounts to passersby.
Don’t expect to find Yuka Saso there, though. Mama! She’s elite level. She just won the US Women’s Open this year, beating some of the world’s best women professional golfers. She’s out to win some more and that means destination big-money USA in golf, not even Japan. At least, not in her pro playing life.
I can understand the big sense of let-down for many of our countrymen, though. She took us for a heady ride, a memorable one, goosebumps and all.
She raised the Philippines flag when she became the first Filipina ever to win the US Women’s Open this year, when she won the individual gold in the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018, and placed 9th overall in women’s golf in the recently concluded 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Our top-of-line-memories are colored these days by late-breaking news of Caviteño Filipino world chess champion, Wesley So, turning American. Of Filipino-Canadian tennis phenom, Leylah Fernandez, from Montreal but living in Florida, USA, almost winning the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, and now, Bulakenya Yuka, turning Japanese.
These are kids with amazing talents, more witchcraft than human, who shook their worlds in their teens, and are very young still, today.
We should have known. The Filipino diaspora did not start with our 50-year-old overseas employment program in the 1970s. It goes far longer than that in our history.
Living in an archipelagic country, we have always been a peripatetic sea-going and sea-dwelling people. Our fast-sailing balanghai boats and vintas are the anthropological equivalent of jetliners in modern civil aviation for moving people, goods and ideas around the world.
Breathtaking advances in transport and communications technology is killing time and distance. The high-velocity, cross-cutting exchanges of cultural projectiles that is happening today would confound the people who invented the wheel in Mesopotamia, who count lifestyle changes in the hundreds of years or more.
There are about 10 million overseas Filipinos today, not counting those of Filipino descent, worldwide. Like our world champs, they are actively engaged in their communities, and making waves, too.
I am not just referring to the likes of Silicon Valley pioneer and billionaire tech icon, Dado Banatao, a Filipino who invented the world’s first system logic chipset for IBMs first PCs. That’s far too obvious.
I was a Labor Attaché for a decade, and I have met Filipino programmers asking about their rights over the computer applications they make for their companies. I have to walk them through the idea that intellectual property is acquired through creation and not mere registration with patent offices.
In Kuwait, a mechanic told me he redesigned an industrial vacuum cleaner that his company developed and later claimed the rights for itself. After explaining to him the concepts of patent and utility design, like the requirement of non-obviousness and repeatability, I asked him to diagram his innovation. He can’t and I couldn’t help him. He didn’t finish college and didn’t come back to me.
We have hundreds of thousands of creative, talented Filipinos decamping for overseas lives and their needs are becoming more sophisticated today. Our welfare programs have barely gone beyond basic assistance to OFWs in distress, a very small portion of our numbers abroad, in the last 50 years.
I have a sister living in Quebec who surrendered to Canadian citizenship after decades of marriage. She had had enough of her Canadian husband and kids putting up with delays waiting for her to pass through airport Immigration counters when they travel. The culprit: her Philippine passport.
She’s no famous painter like Mexican Frida Kahlo, but prettier. She graduated from UP Cebu Fine Arts and taught there for a while. A Dean Joya awardee, she painted, too. Shall she and her ethnically-mixed family be made to bear some of life’s basic inconveniences before the altar of patriotism?
Yuka Saso is the poster child of the pernicious dilemma of our great diaspora. Many like her are quietly suffering from the psychological trauma of confused identities, divided loyalties and, finally, of heart-rending choices.
Like Wesley So in chess, Yuka has openly expressed her pain. They love the Philippines and yet have to leave. In their respective arenas, they advance the possibilities of man’s perfectibility.
Nationality is a mere artificial construct, a Johnny-come-lately in the history of human ideas. What truly matters is our common humanity. This is particularly true of human achievements at the highest levels, like Yuka’s.
If the notion of nationality is to remain relevant among the young, the first truly global citizens in the history of the world, it should be one that liberates the human spirit, not limit it.
In response to the bludgeoning calls of patriotism, Yuka Saso is calling us out: “Why do I have to choose!”
Choose, Yuka-chan, and be done with it. There will always be a part of you that will forever be Filipino as you take on the world.
Most of all, it’s alright to be yourself. Daijobou.
(Atty. Angelo 'Jijil' Jimenez, is an expert on Philippine overseas labor issues and global migration. He served with distinction in the Department of Labor and Employment and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. He received 2 presidential citations for his efforts in safeguarding overseas Filipino workers or OFWs in Middle East flashpoints, including Kuwait and Iraq. He has also served as labor attaché in Japan. He served as a UP Regent from November 2017 to July 2021.)
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.