Monday, October 16, 2006


Writing this post, it reminded me of this other documentary called "Balseros" (Rafters) that I watched quite some time ago on HBO. Like "Chinese Restaurants", it's also a story about migration, this one of seven Cubans trying to escape the Castro regime in improvised homemade "balsas" (rafts), hence the title. The documentary follows the seven refugees as they prepare their rafts a few days before facing their journey, an uncertain attempt at crossing the shark-infested Florida Strait on their way to reaching the Florida coast. We witness all the drama, the painful farewell from their loved ones, the promises of reunion some time in the future. Then the documentary actually takes us 7 years in the future, and we catch the seven refugees living in the US. It's riveting to be able to witness what happened to their lives (spoiler warning!). There are the ones who never saw their relatives again and there are the ones who were able to reunite with their loved ones. Some proudly show their new American citizenship as well as their newly acquired possessions. Some others bitterly complain about their crushed dreams. It's all very intimate and as you get to know them, it’s hard not to share their joys and disappointments. This sure beats Reality TV. This is real drama. As the producers write, "theirs is a true story about some of the authentic survivors of our times, the human adventure of people who are shipwrecked between two worlds."
These two documentaries, “Chinese Restaurants” and “Balseros”, brings to life the human drama that takes places when somebody moves to another country, mostly when it's the only solution to escape poverty, but to a lesser extent I think it could apply to any migrant. According to the most recent UN report there are 190 million international migrants in the world. Migration has been one of the hot topics for governments all over the world and will continue to be in the coming decades. Even in the US, a country largely built and formed by immigrants, this is a contentious issue to this day. As the population of some of the world's most developed countries decline, governments are being forced to act upon. Some measures are more successful than others (limiting access to birth control, cash bonuses to couples bearing more than one child) but they all seem just palliative measures against a stronger tide. Ultimately, governments will have to allow some form of immigration. Countries such as Russia, Japan, and Singapore, are already debating these issues. But this is far from simple arithmetic. It raises a lot of questions regarding culture, race, and the population gene. Japan, for example, has one of the most racially uniform populations in the world. How will they deal with an influx of different gene pool? How will any country, for that matter, manage the increasing usage of "foreign" languages (such as Spanish in the US) and the changes in racial mix? China has another type of problem: a surplus of 23 million men in marriage age over the next 10 years. Where will they find the brides? There are no simple answers. One thing is for certain. There'll be lots of people migrating. Some eventually will find a more comfortable life. But there'll be also lots of people caught in the middle, struggling to come to terms with their own identities and missing their loved ones. Because when you migrate to another country, you might win some, but you always lose something. That's the deal one makes.

Murphy, Kim. 2006. The Vanishing Russians: Part I - A Dying Population. Los Angeles Times. October 8, 2006
Onishi, Norimitsu. 2006. Village writes its epitaph: victim of greying Japan. The New York Times. April 30, 2006.
Poston Jr, Dudley L. and Peter A. Morrison. 2005. China: Bachelor Bomb. The International Herald Tribune. September 14, 2005.
Pressley, Sue Anne, Karin Brulliard and Ernesto Londono. 2006. Marchers flood mall with passion and pride. The Washington Post. April 11, 2006.
Ramesh, S. 2006. Singapore government outlines plans to tackle population problem. Channel NewsAsia. 23 August 2006
UNFPA. 2006. The State of World Population 2006.

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