Gervae Acosta has worked in Taiwan since 2015. He currently works for an electronics factory in Taoyuan County. Gervae also volunteers during mass as an usherette, lay minister, and in the Lectors and Commentators programs. Gervae has told the story of his experience as a migrant worker for the documentary series, “The Migrant Worker’s Face.”
By Gervae Jhon Diamola Acosta
Edited by Hannes Zetzsche
There’s a reunion video on Facebook between a Filipino man and his biological parents that makes me cry every time.
The video depicts a true story, reenacted to dramatize the narrative. It begins with a young boy, Jojo, running frantically among vendors’ wares in Muñoz Street Market, in Quezon City. The 4-year-old boy has just escaped from his burning home and can’t locate his parents; he doesn’t know if they’ve survived or, if they have survived, how to find them now. He runs through the market, hoping but failing to catch a glimpse of his guardians.
A jeepney driver realizes the boy’s plight and takes him to an orphanage. The orphanage takes him in and he is quickly adopted by another family, who take him to live with them in Australia, some 4,500 kilometers from the Philippines. The new family of three is later joined by additional children, biologically born to Jojo’s new parents, and Jojo’s new parents work hard to raise all of their children well.
Jojo becomes a film producer, successful by most standards, yet he feels incomplete because he knows nothing about the fate of his parents. 30 years later, he returns to Quezon City, in the Philippines in search of them. He hands out flyers with his baby photo, hoping someone will recognize the 30-year-old story of the missing Filipino boy and direct him to the boy’s parents. Kilala nyo ba sa? (Do you know him?)
A couple who lost their son 30 years before come forward, though DNA tests reveal a 0% match; they are not Jojo’s parents, though the experience, particularly the feeling of potentially being someone’s, help him to regain some Filipino identity.
Jojo’s story becomes a phenomenon once it is picked up by a television station and more parents come forward with stories that match his, though each time, DNA tests disprove their match.
Finally, friends of Jojo’s parents recognize the story and come forward, detailing the names of his parents: Carding and either Linda or Herminia, though friends note the two split up soon after losing their son. Without too much difficulty, Jojo manages to find his father, Carding, now an engineer in the U.S.; the reunited father and son speak tearfully via Skype. Jojo’s mother proves more difficult to find and, as Jojo nears the date of his return to Australia, it seems unlikely he will locate her.
A day before Jojo is set to leave, however, a radio station locates his mother for an interview. She recognizes his photo and chokes back tears to say she wants to meet him. In an emotional, final scene, one happy Filipina comes forward and hugs her son. DNA confirms: Jojo has found his mom. As mother and son are reunited on screen, my tears join theirs.
I realize how lucky Jojo is; I’m still looking for my dad.
I was born on October 4, 1987, to a broken family.
My name tells some of the story of my family’s history. Gervae Jhon Diamola Acosta: Gervae John is mine, decided upon by mother while she was pregnant with me, a mixture of biblical and good to the ears; Diamola is my mother’s maiden name, revived only after my father left her, ending their marriage; thus, Acosta is all I have by which to remember my father.
By the time I was born, my father, Gervacio Trinidad Acosta, and my mother, Aurelia Arnaiz Diamola, had already split up.
My grandparents explained the circumstances of my parents’ separation once I was old enough to understand. My father, a security guard in Manila, would usually drink after work, in dangerous, violent quantities. He began to hit my mother, occasionally at first but more frequently and angrily as his drinking increased.
One evening, he came home drunk and beat my mom up really badly, leaving her bloody and in pain. Violated and afraid, she kicked him out of the house. At the time, she was already pregnant with me; I realize now how fortunate we both were that her pregnancy continued unharmed. When she kicked my father out, he never came back.
For the first two years of my life, I was raised by my mother, at our home in Negros Oriental, in the Philippines. When I was born, my family became three—my mother, my sister, and me. Despite the baggage my mother carried, she worked hard to love us and protect us from our family’s history. My big sister had known our father and had spent her infancy as his daughter, but I never knew him.
When I was two, my mother married again. After separating from her husband, she had petitioned successfully for the Catholic Church to annul her first marriage; divorce is not legal in the Philippines and, in order to remarry, she had needed the church’s assent in claiming she was not married. The church had recognized the brutal way in which my mother’s marriage had dissolved and had granted her right to marry again.
My mother’s second husband was a businessman in Cavitte, a good area near Manila. From the beginning, I remember seeing him as a father figure.
A widower, my stepdad brought five children from his previous marriage to our new family, but he always seemed willing to love me as if I were his own. I was very happy my mother married him; he showed a good attitude toward my sister and me, and he treated my mother well.
When my new parents married, my mother moved away to live with her husband in Cavitte and I stayed with my grandparents in Negros Oriental. My mother had decided it would be best for my sister and me not to be uprooted with such a dramatic move while we were still young; because we got along well together, my sister and I remained in our familiar hometown with our beloved grandparents.
I credit any uprooting of my family and childhood to my father and how he behaved before I was born. Nonetheless, I was blessed with loving grandparents who taught me about sacrifice.
When I boarded a flight from Manila in 2015, I was moving away from my grandparents to support them.
After working for eight years in Manila, I had decided to go abroad to help my family. I had been hired in 2007, after my high-school graduation, to work for an electronics factory in Manila. I had worked there for eight years, earning several promotions and many hours. As hard as I worked, however, I knew the pay was much less than I could expect elsewhere. I decided I would move to Japan.
My first interview to become a foreign worker did not go well. At an office in Manila, during early 2015, I met with a broker whom I hoped I could hire to facilitate a job for me at a factory in Japan. The broker gave me a bad impression and the agency chose not to hire me.
From the first interview, I traveled to another broker’s agency to interview for a position in Taiwan. Here, I was accepted and the broker told me I could work for Hitachi, a large appliances factory in Taoyuan County. Soon after, I paid a broker’s fee and the cost of a one-way plane ticket to Taiwan.
My reason for earning money has remained the same throughout my work in Manila and, since 2015, in Taoyuan: sacrifice for my grandparents. I am a proud Filipino, devoted to my family and friends in the Philippines, and I know my home will always be in Negros Oriental. But I have realized that in order to sustain my family and home, I must spend my working years away from them. In this way, I protect what’s important to me by going away from it for a time.
My grandparents made a similar bargain when they took my sister and 2-year-old me into their home many years ago. Surely, they must have been saddened to see my family split as it was when my mother moved to Cavitte, yet for the health of all of us they supported her with their blessing and with the promise of raising her children. My grandparents have never been wealthy and often struggled to provide for the needs of two additional dependents once my sister and I moved in with them. Yet, they committed to our family and earnestly supported us.
I see my work in Taiwan as a direction reflection of their sacrifice; they sacrificed for me, now I sacrifice for my grandmother, because my grandfather passed away. Most months at Hitachi, I earn between NT $25,000 and NT $26,000, of which I always give NT $5,000 to my grandmother. The rest of my salary is split between my broker’s service fee (NT $1,700), about NT $8,000 of pocket money for my necessities, and NT $10,000 deposited into a savings account for my future family.
The job is rewarding for the way in which it helps me support my family and I work hard as a result. Most months, I accumulate many tens of hours of overtime pay. During a typical workday, I begin at 7:30 a.m. and don’t finish until after 8:30 p.m.; my boss always asks whether I want to work overtime, else finish at 4:00 p.m., but I almost always choose to work late. I almost always work on Saturdays too. The only day I always rest is Sunday, when I volunteer at the Hope Workers’ Center.
I completed my orientation to the E.A.G. club last week, adding to my busy schedule of church volunteerism.
Soon after arrived in Taiwan, I sought a church where I could worship God and serve his mission. I had always attended mass at home, in Negros Oriental and in Manila, but I had been too shy to seek volunteer opportunities there. I wanted to become a more engaged parishioner in Taiwan.
My coworker, Rosemary told me about the Hope Workers’ Center, in Zhongli. She told me she celebrated mass there every Sunday and she invited me to join her. When I arrived, I was immediately taken by the voice of the choir. I enjoyed singing and had occasionally sung during mass before, and when Rosemary realized this, she invited me to join a parish choir in Zhongli. I excitedly signed up the same day. As a choir member, I have sung every Sunday since.
In October 2016, I expanded my volunteer role and my comfort zone when I agreed to become an usherette. Usherettes are the parishioners who arrive to mass early, so they can direct others to open seats in the church and then collect the mass offering near the end of mass. At the Hope Workers’ Center, usherettes wear bright red vests over their church attire and are expected to speak welcomingly with parishioners as they arrive. As a shy person, these tasks worried me, though I wanted to challenge myself. I successfully completed a Sunday-afternoon training session and have served as an usherette during noon-time masses for the 10 months since then. I have also completed trainings to become a lay minister, altar server, and, most recently, to join the EAG, which educates workers about their rights. I never would have expected my willingness and ability to serve in these roles before, though I embrace them now.
Among fellow volunteers at Hope Workers’ Center, I first began to talk about my family and the dad-sized hole in my memory.
During the various trainings I have attended before volunteering in the church, I have frequently been encouraged to open up about my personal faith journey and motivations for serving God. In one such reflection, I talked about my dad and the hurt his absence has caused me. It felt good to reflect publicly and to hear my thoughts aloud for the first time.
One day, the center’s director, Mhike, invited me to his family’s house for dinner. After a lovely dinner with his wife and two sons, we were chatting and I told him about my father, about how badly I wanted to see him. Mhike told me he used to work for the Red Cross and he thought I could track my father down if I wanted; through DNA or some other data, the Red Cross might be able to unify us. He asked me, “Why do you want to see you father?”
I want to see my dad because I think I would learn more about myself. Even though I have never met the man—he moved out before I was born—I am certain I have characteristics passed on from him. I feel I would be very lucky to meet him. For so long, I have lived without knowing fully who I am, where I come from.
On several occasions, I have searched Facebook for him. My mother told me his name, Gervacio Trinidad Acosta, but I have never found him. My mother showed me a picture once of him and I saw he was quite tall and very handsome. I’m sure there were similarities between our faces.
What he did to my mother is unacceptable and I will always be sad for her, but he is my dad all the same. Maybe he is a good man, maybe he has turned his life around and has become a family man to a new wife and children? My mother doesn’t know where he is, but we have speculated he probably has formed another family.
I pray that we get to meet and that he recognizes me as his son. In the dorm where I live in Taoyuan, I have built an altar to God where I often pray for my father, where I pray to meet him one day, but also for his strength from afar. I know it is unlikely I will meet him in Taiwan.
If one day I am lucky enough to meet my father, I don’t know what I will say.
It’s my biggest fear that my father and I would finally meet and he wouldn’t recognize me. What if he walked into my room and saw me, only to ask, “Who are you?”
But somehow I’m encouraged by Jojo’s example. When he met his parents, the cameras didn’t seem to pick up any awkwardness or difficulty finding conversation. Rather, it seemed Jojo was met by parents who had missed him as much as he had missed them.
Jojo says as much: “I have missed you,” even though he had only the memory of a four-year old to go on. In an even more extreme way, I miss my father, a man I have never met. I miss the manly guidance a son needs from his dad and the time spent between two guys.
Whether I meet my father or not, I have learned lessons from his example all the same, particularly as I consider my future role as a father and husband. If the day comes that I should marry and begin a family, I know I will not make the same mistakes he made. I save NT $10,000 from every paycheck now so I will be able to buy a house for my family and provide for them when the time comes and, more importantly, I do not engage the same destructive behavior he did.
Since arriving in Taiwan, I have stayed away from smoking or drinking; those habits are expensive and only lead to bad behaviors. Instead, I play basketball with friends and I volunteer at the church.
This reflection by Gervae Acosta has been published by the Hope Workers’ Center as an entry to “The Migrant Worker’s Face” documenting project. The Hope Workers’ Center continues to seek stories like Gervae’s with which we can add detail to migrants’ intricate face. There are two ways that you can help us. If you are a migrant worker and would be willing to share your story, we want to hear from you directly! You can read instructions about how to participate here. If you are not a migrant worker, then we ask you to continue supporting our project: read our stories weekly and invite others to do the same.
The Hope Workers’ Center is dedicated to supporting migrant workers in our community. Through this project, we hope to appreciate the beauty of each person’s life while fostering recognition among a wider audience of the struggles that migrants regularly encounter in their work. Thank you for your support!