Last night, March 13, the Bayanihan Kultural Kolektib (BKK) was part of the panel “Pinoyorkers: Filipino American Artists and Activists Change New York” which was held at the Charles B. Wang Center in Stonybrook University, Long Island. I would say it was an interesting discussion, and, true to its promise, a lively one.
Towards the end, there was a question from one of the audience members, who was half-Filipino and half-European, which goes something like, “How are Filipinos seen now in the global community? How are they regarded or what makes them visible?” — or something like that. And the kind sir (whose name I forgot and I express apologies for not being able to remember) proceeded by saying that he had a conversation with someone (not really sure if non-Filipino) who saw Filipinos stereotypically as “maids” (or “yayas”). I am not really sure if he sees this as good or bad.
Michelle and I (of BKK and the only folks, I believe, who are part of community organizations among the panelists) were still supposed to answer, but unfortunately, there was not enough time and the discussion was already cut short after one of the panelists answered. So I am writing this with the hope that this would reach the gentleman who asked the question, as well as the rest of the audience and panel. I just couldn’t really let the day pass without addressing the query.
First off, we, as organizers (and again, not just as artists), work with “maids” and we, ourselves, have been nannies and/or domestic workers at some point in our lives. I, myself, a graduate of the premier national university of the Philippines, worked as a babysitter here in New York during my first few years of stay. And I take pride in that. Being a domestic worker is a very dignified and noble occupation.
The domestic workers we work with (members, non-members or soon-to-be-members of Kabalikat Domestic Workers Support Network) are some of the humblest, most down-to-earth, hard-working and organized people I have met.
In Hong Kong, when I had the chance to attend the founding assembly of the International Migrants’ Alliance (IMA) back in 2008, the plaza on a Sunday was filled with thousands of Filipino domestic workers (men, women and LGBT), sharing stories and organizing strategies over food and other recreational activities. And it was, needless to say, a very humbling experience.
In response to the gentleman: Yes, it is true that most Filipinos are “maids”. But they should not be a source for the nation’s shame. If there are people that the nation must be ashamed of, these should be the corrupt officials who take away the people’s money, the people in power and position who vowed to “protect and serve” the people, but do otherwise. Not these “maids” who contribute to more than half of the Philippine national budget through their remittances and pay for the country’s debts — which are, well, technically not theirs to pay for anyway.
And as we have mentioned a couple of times last night, let us go back to the roots. Let us be critical of the Labor Export Policy (LEP) of the Philippine government which drives Filipinos out of the country and force them to work as “maids” in different parts of the world. Are there really other decent jobs that the Philippine government can provide back home aside from sending away its people to serve as “maids” in other countries?
Lastly, to answer the gentleman’s question, we have lots of reasons to believe that the Filipinos are now being recognized as a people who are organized and who collectively stand up for their democratic rights, given its history of hundreds of uprisings in a span of hundreds of years against foreign colonization. The National Democratic movement in the Philippines, I must say, is one of the most respected across the globe.
Going back to the theme of the discussion, if we really do want change, then we must start by genuinely changing how we perceive the “maids” who bring in not only a big bulk of the country’s income, but most especially, who bring “honor” and “dignity” to the country by taking care of people who are not even their families, only to be separated from and raise money to buy food for their own.
Again, congratulations and thank you very much to the organizers of “Singgalot — The Ties that Bind” for inviting us to perform, speak and be part of the weeklong activities. &=)