Indian by blood, Filipino at heart
Neelesh Sajnani felt he could no longer contribute and live up to the expected standards of being a citizen of India. He has chosen to be a Filipino.
It had been a time-consuming process – the law required a number of legal documents, not to mention the number of offices that I was required to visit in different corners of Metro Manila. From medical tests and certification of documents in Manila, to application for various clearances in Makati, the effort was all worth it, however.
I have been calling the Philippines home for the past 24 years. Maybe this isn't too novel for most expats, but this has nonetheless been a place where I and my family earned our daily bread and butter. We were given permanent residence visas back in the late '90s, but something just didn’t seem right. Parang may kulang.
Nationalism was a core discipline instilled in me at a very young age. From the classroom to the real world, I would always see the Philippine flag waving gloriously and how Filipinos would sing their national song with much glee. At times, I too would sing along with them.
This begs several questions: Is there something lacking in India that only the Philippines has? Would Filipinos even accept me despite the different name and background? How would my other family members based in India react?
JUST NATURALIZED. Neelesh Sajnani stands proudly with his family after his naturalization ceremony.
And then the one question that was worth thinking about: What can I contribute to this country?
What's expected of a citizen
Unlike most countries, India does not allow dual citizenship but rather extends a lifelong visa for former nationals so they may visit the country for whatever purpose. And so I stayed with that arrangement.
As I entered college in the Philippines, the concepts of nationalism, patriotism, international relations, among others, were first introduced and further expounded by some well-rounded professors or even guest lecturers. They would sometimes end their lectures with: “Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat.”
Coupled with a number of factors, I started to feel distant from India though not culturally. I felt I could no longer contribute and live up to the expected standards of being a citizen. I was no longer immersed in India’s history, politics, and other socio-civil aspects.
Instead, my mind was filled with Filipino names and concepts, such as Dr Jose Rizal, El Filibusterismo, Sineskwela, Jollibee, Arroyo, Aquino, etc. I could express my thoughts and answers in straight Filipino.
It’s not that I never bothered to learn Hindi – India's national language. I was not ignorant of the different aspects of India either. I was simply more struck by and immersed in the Filipino culture.
It’s not every day that you'd hear a foreigner proudly declaring and getting excited over becoming a Filipino. For reasons beyond me, I also don't understand the lack of nationalism on the part of some Filipinos. One friend told me once, “Some Pinoys have lost faith in their own country and moved to different countries. It’s good you stayed.”
It’s a bitter pill to swallow – some may or may not agree – but it is what it is. One can argue about the better life out there, in another country with a flourishing economy, cleaner streets, and a better public transport system. But would you trade it all away so easily?
Hit the polls
Where will progress be without the bright minds and hardworking Filipino men and women? We aren’t known for giving up so easily – as shown by our reslience after Super Typhoon Yolanda. Remember, our bayanihan spirit cannot and must not be easily extinguished.
My heart and my beliefs are rooted in the Philippines. Nothing will ever change my mind and no other venue can replace my homeland.
The late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr once said, “The Filipino is worth dying for.” Today, we’ve overcome a number of tribulations and we need to overcome future ones together.
I love the Philippines, and I’ve always called it my motherland. Pledging allegiance to the Philippine flag has always instilled pride in me and encouraged me to do more for this country – as one among equals. I believe in the Constitution of this country, in the strength of Philippine democracy, and in the bright future of the Filipino nation.
Come 2016, I will finally be eligible to vote – a first in my life. By that time, I would be 26 years old. For a kid who has been dealing with politics, specifically foreign policy and development studies, this will be a thirst finally quenched.
No other country has given me such happiness and financial stability. A lot of people complain – sometimes unjustly – about the country. Any country has its own flaws, and we must work as a nation to build and develop it.
I proudly declare: I love the Philippines. You are indeed home.