Activism from the Margins: Filipino Marriage Migrants in Australia
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Activism from the Margins:
Filipino Marriage Migrants in Australia

Introduction

Global migration of Filipinos is highly gendered. Of the estimated 8,726,520 Filipinos living overseas as of December 2007,1 more than half were women.2 Their migration trajectories reflect the restructuring of the international economy, which exacts demand for cheap labor in the service industry, mainly as nurses, nannies, and domestic workers,3 otherwise known as the "servants of globalization."4 These servants are, in the words of Ninotchka Rosca, the "shameful export" of the Philippines.5

Another feminized trend is the migration of Filipino women as marriage migrants or brides in Western societies and in industrialized nations in Asia. The United States is the most popular destination of "marriage-for-migration," accounting for 40.89 percent of Filipinos with foreign partners from 1989 to 2007:6 an estimated five thousand Filipino women every year.7 Other major destinations for Filipino marriage migrants are Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. 8 According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), the total number of documented Filipinos with foreign partners reached 333,672 in 2007.9 I suspect this number deals only with Filipinos leaving from the Philippines explicitly for marriage purposes and excludes Filipino tourists who end up marrying foreign nationals during their sojourn.

Australia is one of the favored destinations of Filipino women, whether as skilled independent immigrants or as dependents entering the country as sponsored fiancés or brides. Since the 1980s, Filipino women have comprised 69.3 percent of the Philippine-born population in Australia.10 The preponderance of women is the most striking feature of the Filipino community, which diverges from the general pattern of male-led Australian migration. More than half of these women arrived as marriage migrants.11 In fact, the CFO recorded [End Page 142] 26,340 Filipinos with Australian nationals as partners from 1989 to 2007, or about 7.8 percent of the total.12 According to Janet Penny and Siew-Ean Khoo, intermarriage between Filipino women and Australian males is "the "most extreme case," involving 95 percent of these women and only 5 percent of Filipino men.13

The high incidence of Filipino marriage migrants in Australia results in the representation of Filipino women as "mail-order brides."14 Embodied as racialized, sexualized, and submissive wives, Filipino marriage migrants are susceptible to abuse and violence.15 Other similarly situated groups of women migrating for marriage face the same possibilities for abuse and violence, and little recognition has been given to the participation of any of these women in society as citizens. All too often, they have been portrayed as if they were trapped in time, hapless victims without agency to negotiate their marginality and subordination, let alone exercise citizenship.

This paper looks at the activism of Filipino marriage migrants and their participation in immigrant women's organizations, groups, or clubs as a form of citizenship practice. I argue that racialized marriage migrants such as Filipino women demonstrate "lived activism" in their quotidian lives, fostered by interaction with community organizations or immigrant women's groups. "Lived activism" emanates from marginality, subordination, and exclusion discovered through a process of daily interactions with the representative of the dominant culture at home and with others. In this context, the home is a "form of patriarchal enclosure, and the site of violence, oppression and resistance" 16 for many Filipino marriage migrants. Through interactions with similarly situated women in community groups, Filipino marriage migrants share their experiences on migration and settlement and devise ways to effect change in their lives. I further argue that this situation becomes "collectively personal," in that marriage migrants share common grounds as racialized wives and immigrants and process within themselves the ways to negotiate their marginality. Consciousness-raising through shared experiences "empowers women not only to recognize the sources of their oppression but also to create women-friendly environments."17 "Lived activism" is at the core of their lives as women and as citizens.

In exploring the connection between migration and activism through women's groups, this paper is divided into four sections. First, a survey of theory...


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