Migrante by J.W. Henley

I was lucky to find this book in pristine condition at the used bookstore. It is even signed by the author!

This is the story of a Filipino man, Rizal, who comes to Taiwan to work. He was hoping to find a decent job, work hard, and send the extra money he made home, but working as a migrant in Taiwan was nothing like what he expected. He has difficulties in his fishing job, so he ran away. Then, he tries a job in a factory before an accident forces his to go back home. He decides to come back to Taiwan again as a migrant because what other choice does he have? There are no economic opportunities for him in Manila.

“They’ll take anybody. All you have to do is sign and you’re hired. It pays more than anything around here. You even make enough to send some home every month. All that just for being a fisherman. Doesn’t it sound - "

“Too good to be true, iho?”

As the author states in the foreword, this isn’t his story to tell, but until it is told by the workers themselves, this will have to do. He interviewed many migrant workers while writing this so it is a fictional story, but it will ring true for many reading it. I hope more Taiwanese will see these migrant workers as humans deserving of the same labour protections, and respect as any other worker in Taiwan. The broker system used is rife with corruption and abuse. book cover

It’s a very sad book to read. The way the non-white foreigners are treated in Taiwan is deplorable. I have visited the three locations that are key to this book (Suao, Zhongli, and Zhubei), so I have the visuals in my head of the conditions they live and work in. I remember once visiting Su’ao and walking by the boats filled with workers just sitting there in the heat, with their laundry hanging to dry off the boats. They were a sorry sight to see. I felt so much pity for them. Their vacant stares as I, a privileged white foreigner, enjoyed a weekend with my family. I felt terrible. It’s hard not to think of these poor lads on the boats as we enjoy our super cheap seafood in Taiwan.

This place - it had seeped into his body. Infected him with something dark and mean. That think was slowly eating his soul, stealing away all those things he once was. Before long, he knew, everything he had been would be gone. He would be just another man. Not a man. A migrante, like the millions shipped like cargo from one place to another. A thing. A strong back useful only so long as he was able to stand and swing a hammer or haul up nets full of fish or sweep a floor or clean a bathroom or climb up a set of scaffolding or… And when it would all be done, when his back was broken, when his hands were gnarled and useless., mind and body numb, he would be thrown away . Just another piece of garbage, slapping up against the steps in Navotas, like the doll - the pink plastic torso bobbing in a gasoline rainbow.

The author uses a heavy hand at points to drive the points home, but it is only to be expected in this kind of book. If reading this book can make a person feel a bit more empathy for what these workers go through, then it has achieved its purpose I think.

Another excellent book from Camphor Press! Go check it out.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #26 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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