I am not sure how popular the Frederick Douglass quote at the beginning of A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves is but it is a profound quote that jolted me the moment I opened the book. Anyone who has paid a cursory glance at the entries in this blog will immediately realise that in a lot of the fiction I have read in recent years, migration is a recurring theme in a large portion of them. From Better Never than Late to The Year of Runaways to The Strangers of Braamfontein to Travellers to The Son of Good Fortune to Manchester United. The focus has been unintentional as my picks are often random. However, because nothing chronicles the human condition like fiction, fewer topics capture humanity like migration. The desire for fulfilment beyond what your present surroundings can offer and the deliberate effort to make a previously distant land home and in the process redefine what home is. All of this is before one even looks at it from the perspective of the natives whose land the migrants are moving into. In today’s world where economic opportunities are not commensurate with the desires and pursuits of a globalized citizenry, migration is a hot-button topic.
A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves is an exceptional work of narrative nonfiction. In it, Jason DeParle follows the Comodas family across the globe for over 30 years as he chronicles the impact of migration on 3 generations of that Filipino family. Jason DeParle zooms out on the economic and social consequences of global migration with particular emphasis on the Philipines as an exporting country and the USA as an importing country of migrants. He expertly switches his exploratory lenses and zooms into the journey of Rosalia Comodas and her family. The constant switch gives the book both a broad view and a personal perspective. No country does more to promote migration than the Philippines. Migration is to the Philippines what cars were to Detroit; a civil religion. About 2 million Filipinos go to work abroad every year and the $32 billion that they remit home is about 10% of the country’s GDP. The culture of calling another place home is one that Filipinos are adept at. The social, economic and physiological impact of migration is thoroughly explored through the lives of Rosalia, her parents Tita and Emet, and Rosalia’s children. Migration is no walk in the park and those who choose to call a foreign land home are embarking on a multi-faceted journey that has more than only economic ramifications. A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves but leaving is not an easy decision irrespective of whether the leaver enters through illegal entry points or has a legal status.