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Wedding rings as visas

Notebook By Juan L. MercadoBy Juan L. Mercado
In the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof, three impoverished sisters, in a turn-of-the-century Tsarist Russian village, plead with Yenta :
Matchmaker find me a catch and make me a perfect match.

Yenta would feel at home in Philippines 2007. An international marriage market” is bustling here says a Commission on Filipinos Overseas study. Wedding rings are visas out of grinding penury. Some 309,745 Filipinos married foreigners, within an 18-year span. Nine out of ten (92 percent) were brides.

This market could further expand ( this ) decade, assert CFOs Minda Valencia and Myra Ramos, with demographer Nimfa Ogena, in their paper on marriage migration.. The Overseas Foreign Workers Journalism Consortium circulated a study summary.

Some spouses-to-be admit: marrying foreigners is the easiest ticket for possible overseas work and settlement overseas”, the Consortiums Jeremaiah Opiniano wrote. Marriage for convenience also provides income for families, locked into poverty.

Last year, 24,904 marriages to foreigners were registered up from 21,100. Destinations for the brides, and occasional groom, in 2006 were United States -10,190; Japan – 8,601; Canada – 988; United Kingdom 619. These countries screen out marriages of convenience.

An Asian marriage migration trend is surging, Valencia, Roma and Ogena point out. The rise in the number of Filipinas flying to Taiwan, Japan, and Korea is significant. CFO data from 1995 to 2005 shows more Filipinas marrying nationals of these three East Asian countries.

Brides tend to be younger and less educated than their foreign spouses.
There is a rising number of Filipino women marrying Asian nationals nearly thrice their age”, Opiniano writes. As Yenta sang: Hodel I made a match for you. Hes handsome. Hes young. All right, hes 62. But hes a good catch. True. True”.

Thats light-hearted Broadway. But it shows two different worlds collide, when young Filipinas, often from remote barangays, pair up with elderly foreigners, says Philippine Studies. In 1999, the Ateneo University quarterly analyzed psychological fallout from 20,164 Filipino-Japanese marriages over five years.

The Filipino wife was not prepared for the set-up in the Japanese household, (nor) of the obedience expected by her-in laws,” wrote University of the Philippines Leslie Buazon. Theres a flipside. The Japanese were unprepared for the independent spirit of the foreigner Wife”.

With Angelica Escalona, Buazon studied marriages in a farming village on northeast Honsho Island : In the 1980s, foreign brides started streaming into Yamagata . Most were Koreans and Chinese, followed by Filipinas from Manila, Bataan, Cavite , Bicol, Leyte.

As in other countries, the young flood into cities. This leaves villages like Yamagata with skewed sex ratios. Many males, above 30, cant find a spouse. Most seek out local Yentas for matchmaking.

In Yamagata, most marriages were brokered through mail. Cyberspace has replaced Yenta, the CFO study shows. Filipinas now meet foreign spouses through mobile phones. Internet-based chatting leads to wedding rings.

Often, theres an overseas relative eager to sub for Yenta.
Almost a third of Yamagata brides had gone to college. CFO director Valencia reports that today most of those heading for Japan and Korea are high school graduates and college undergraduates. Overall, educational similarities among Filipino, Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese spouses are declining.

The Taiwanese spouse often was less educated than the Filipina. They married up. This was true for half of the 4,862 registered Filipina marriages from 1995 to 2004. But in Japan and Korea, Filipinas tend to marry down.

Marriages of convenience permit overseas migration which they believe could dramatically change their lives Valencia , Roma, and Ogena observed. They reveal desperate moves of women who would rather risk settling in a foreign land (which they know little about.)” Their alternative is : coping with a future life in poverty and/or solitude or loneliness.” It also bears a social stigma of being labeled as non-marriageable.
Thus, Yenta sings to sister Chava : Hes handsome, Hes tall. That is from side to side. You heard he has a temper. Hell beat you every night. But only whens hes sober. So, youre all right.” Not so.

Costs can be high.
Tokyo data, showed that 3,931 of the 10,242 Filipino women divorced their Japanese spouses. In the Yamagata study, most Filipina wives were Catholics but didnt have access to church. Ties to the faith of their fathers weakened. To please in-laws and ensure harmonious relations, they join rituals of their Japanese families.

Aside from language barriers, different climate, food, characteristics peculiar to the Japanese family caused the most stress”, Japanese psychiatrist Norohiko Kuwayama notes :. Thus, groups like Good Shepherd sisters run seminars that include tips on surviving migration-linked marriages.

Filipina Rita and Japanese Endo use sign language to communicate. Endo has visited the Philippines. Rita will go to Japan as her wedding ring becomes a visa. I can learn to love Endo, Rita says, wistfully.

One hopes so. For this surge in marriages for convenience, is at rock bottom, an indictment. It condemns rulers whose greed compels Filipinas to play dice, with their deepest human hopes. To reach some measure of a decent life, they must get a visa in their wedding rings. Like Ruth of scriptures, these Filipinas stand amidst the alien grain.
E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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