“A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves”: 21st Century Migration Isn’t What You Think!

Why A Good Provider is One Who Leaves is on The Lois Level

I spotted this book in the new book section at one of my usual libraries.  I almost passed it by because I felt that I knew what I needed to know about the “usual” narrative of “migration”, which has to do with “forced migration.”  Forced migration is when people are kicked out of their countries or forced to leave because their lives might be in danger.  I think a lot of people also think of illegal migration too, but that is also a whole different thing. 

The fact is that I lived as a sort of migrant, or expatriate worker, for more than a decade.  More people do than you might think.  It’s a way to earn more money, at whatever your normal career is, and living in another country is much more interesting than just visiting as a tourist. 

The difference between my experience and the ones in this book, however, is that I did not have to leave my child behind…her school tuition in the country was part of the deal for me…and there was never any question that I would stay in the new country permanently. 

I got especially interested in this book when I found out that it’s about Filipinos.  I went to a high school with a decent sized minority of Filipinos, and in both countries in which I lived, there was a considerable number of them.  I always wondered what their lives were like, especially in that many of them went without seeing their kids, or spouses, for years.  Years.  I knew they were specifically living away from them to be able to take care of them better, but I also knew that the conditions they were living under were not as nice as my living conditions. 

The lives of all kinds of “guest workers” are interesting to me because in addition to my high school experiences, of course I got to know people from lots of different countries working abroad.

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves has a particularly interesting story to tell because the family in the book worked abroad at all types of jobs, ranging from maintenance work to professional work. 

This book promised to answer some of the questions I had about people I’ve known for years.

Why you would want to read A Good Provider is One Who Leaves.

The premise of this book is pretty amazing.  The author, Jason DeParle, has maintained a relationship with the extended family that is its subject for decades.  He slept on a floor in their slum shanty in the 80’s, and he kept in touch with them as first the father moved to Saudi Arabia in order to work, and then one of his daughters, after managing to get qualifications as a nurse, worked in Saudi, then Abu Dhabi, and finally in the United States.  Some of the members of the family took on menial jobs to earn money as migrants, but Rosalie, the nurse who becomes the center of the story, entered the United States as a professional and entered the middle class. 

Immigrants like Rosalie are the immigrants that you probably see all around you, everyday.  More than  you might realize…I can tell you from my years overseas that more people who have never been in the United States speak unaccented American English more often than you think.  I’ve worked in international schools where I taught some of them.

So you really can’t tell the difference between a native-born American and an immigrant just by talking to them, and definitely not just by looking at them…and less so than you think. People from many different ethnicities can appear to be Caucasian, and in 2020,  anyone who can afford it pretty much has access to the same media and consumer goods.

This book gave me some insight into what the lives of the metaphorical family next door might be like.  What are their obligations back home?  What are their hopes and dreams?  What mistakes do they make?  What is it like to come to the United States in the 21st century?

This book is also surprisingly easy to read with a strong narrative that pulls you through the story.  Yes, like all books written in this style, it does veer off the main story into pages of background material.  I like that, but if you don’t, you can certainly skip those parts until DeParle gets back to the narrative.  He always does.

Despite all the trash talking that goes on in the news about immigrants that gets people fired up, I think most Americans are pretty accepting of new people.  We might get frustrated when they can’t understand us or we can’t understand them, but you know, when you get to know people you can start to see their good and bad sides, just like anyone else.  And as a nation, we value hard work.  One things probably all immigrants have in common is that they value hard work, or at least do not shirk from a challenge. The ones who do go back home. 

So much literature about migrants and immigration is about putting up barriers between us and them.  This is a story about a family that you can probably identify with.  I certainly wonder how I would have turned out if I had to start out in life where this family.

Free Resource

Click here to see a timeline of the Villenueva family who was studied in this book (free download available).

Click here to see a photo essay of Jason DeParle and the people profiled in this book.

Free Listen

Enjoy this 8 minute NPR interview with Jason DeParle, author of A Good Provider:

‘A Good Provider’ Argues Migration Can Be Salvation

Who is Jason DeParle?

Jason DeParle is a reporter for The New York Times. He has published one other book, American Dream (below).

You can find more of his articles here, but be warned, The New York Times has a limited of 3 articles per month for non subscribers, so choose carefully!

Also by Jason DeParle:

American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare

Published in 2005, this book traces the lives of three cousins and the different routes they take to escape poverty. The book also traces the family tree to discover the roots of the family’s situation.


What do these cover photos have to do with this book?

Well, not as much as usual, I must admit.

I would have loved to share a picture of Filipino nurses working in the United States, because that’s the main narrative in this book, but I couldn’t find a licensed photo of a privately employed nurse. The United States military, however, puts A LOT of publicity photos in the public domain, so it turned out that this is the best way to visually share this story, and a parallel one.

There are no photos of the family profiled in A Good Provider in the book, so my assumption is that they do not want to be public.

What I want you to appreciate is something I have learned from life experience and is a key message of this book: migrants are not others. They are not necessarily poor, in fact, many of them come to the United States as licensed professionals. Even if you happen to notice their ethnicity is different from yours, you probably don’t even relize that many of them are immigrants, rather than native born Americans, unless you get to know them. There are more foreign nationals than you realize who speak English with no discernible accent (to Americans), and more who speak with a British one.

So here is another part of the story.

I have lived most of my life near one of the biggest naval bases in the world, and my high school had a decent sized minority of Filipinos because at that time, Philippine citizens could join the U.S. military and get U.S. citizenship in the bargain.

Because of federal jobs in the area, my high school was about 49% white, 48% black, and 3% Asian/Pacific Islander/Hispanic.

My school district was one of the locations Navy families would choose after retirement from the military if they remained in the area (which typically happens after 20 years of service) because we had good schools and access to a large naval hospital.

In fact, just the other day, one of my high school friends, a Filipino-American, posted an image of her daughter and her husband hugging each other, both in uniform as U.S. Navy officers. In addition to being both a Navy mom and wife, I know more than one of this friend’s brothers served, and her dad probably did too.

When I started looking around on the Internet, I found lots of examples of Filipino-Americans serving in the U.S. military in many capacities. I narrowed it down to two of these images because they showed women working in the medical field and a third because it shows a Filipino-American family in the context of both of their cultures and how migration actually makes both countries better.

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton).

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton).

This is the description of the photo above from a U.S. Air Force news website (click photo for source): Tech. Sgt. Kathlyn Hidalgo, an independent duty medical technician with the 25th Fighter Squadron, and Senior Airman Nikkie Javier, a precision guided munitions crew chief with the 51st Munitions Squadron, both deployed from Osan Air Base, South Korea, are serving U.S. Pacific Command’s air contingent in the Philippines. Hidalgo and Javier are two of three Filipino-American Airmen serving in the air contingent.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy / Public domain

Photo credit: U.S. Navy / Public domain

Dr. Eleanor Mariano is the first woman to be a White House physician and the first Filipino-American to become a Rear Admiral. Before retiring from the U.S. Navy, she was Director of the White House Medical Unit. She served under three sitting presidents, and wrote her memoir, The White House Doctor. She is the daughter of an American enlisted serviceman (U.S. Navy) and a Filipino mother, and emigrated to the United States with her parents.

I chose the photo below because it shows a family as Americans and as a part of the Filipino-American community.

This is the accompanying description: SAN DIEGO (May 31, 2007) – Dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45) Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Burt L. Espe and his family receive an outstanding achievement award by retired Cmdr. Gil Gonzales, president of the Filipino American Military Officer Association. Espe earned the award for his reconstruction efforts with the Philippine Armed Forces. Comstock returned home from a near nine-month deployment in support of the global war on terrorism.

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jenniffer Rivera / Public domain

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jenniffer Rivera / Public domain

More about migration from The Lois Level:

The graphic adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” shows how hard work can lead to poverty

Have you ever wondered if you have Nazis in your family?

More about how the U.S. federal government’s hiring policies have provided opportunities:

Reading Time for Math People (or even if you aren’t)

Get on The Lois Level: What memorable books have you read about migration?

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