18. Caring across Borders: Motherhood, Marriage, and Filipina Domestic Workers in California
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18 Caring across Borders Motherhood, Marriage, and Filipina Domestic Workers in California Charlene Tung Lita stands in line waiting to enter the U.S.Embassy Consular Offices in Manila on April 30, 1990. She stifles a groan as she observes the queue snaking around the building and toward the front doors. She waits, knowing this is her opportunity to find work in the United States as a live-in caregiver to the elderly, just like her hometown neighbor Sally, and to earn almost four times the amount she is now making through her beauty shop. This is her chance to start over far away from her husband and alone to provide for her children’s education. She silently rehearses what she will say to obtain a tourist visa to enter the United States. “I’d like to visit friends, see Disneyland, and visit Hollywood,”she explains to the officer behind the window. “This is my dream. I have never been to the U.S.” The officer looks at her skeptically. Undeterred, Lita continues,“Of course I won’t stay very long. I have my business as well as my four children here. But still, I am looking forward to a vacation with my friends.”The officer nods briefly and gives her a date to return for the decision. Returning a week later, Lita learns that the officer, ostensibly convinced that she will return to the Philippines to care for her children and run her business, has granted her a six-month tourist visa. Lita walks out breathing a sigh of relief, mentally running through a “to-do” list before she leaves for the United States. Back inside, the consular officer watches Lita walk away, sighs, and remarks to no one in particular, “See you in five years.” This opening scene of Lita’s first steps on her journey to the United States is a fictionalized account based on twenty oral histories and in-depth interviews of Filipina transmigrant workers employed as live-in elderly caregivers (home healthcare workers) in Southern California.1 Live-in caregivers are“domestic workers”who care for the terminally ill and the elderly while living in their patients’ homes, assuming the companionate and light medical care of elderly persons but also the household care, cooking, and grocery shopping. For many reasons, including a growing demand for eldercare in the United States as well as U.S.-Philippine neocolonial relations, which have laid the groundwork for chain migration, in the last two decades of the twentieth century, 301 Philippine women have been emigrating in increasing numbers to fill this specific economic niche. Upon their arrival, they find themselves negotiating the demands of providing care for both the elderly in the United States and children left behind in the Philippines. The case of Filipina transmigrant domestic workers illustrates the enduring centrality of social reproductive labor in women’s lives despite migration. While social reproductive labor refers to the “array of activities and relationships involved in maintaining people both on a daily basis and intergenerationally,”2 it becomes“transnational”as the women engage in this as they cross national borders. It is this labor, paid and unpaid as well as underpaid, that Filipina live-in caregivers provide on a daily basis in their work lives in the United States and for family remaining in the Philippines. Yet, historically, migration studies have overlooked women. Evelyn Nakano Glenn writes, “When women are looked at in relation to labor migration, they are usually treated as a marginal category: as dependents of male migrants or as part of the debris left behind in the home country when the males depart.”3 However, as contemporary Filipina women illustrate, far from being left behind, women are migrating alone to provide for families as men did in earlier decades. The migration literature’s myopia also renders near invisible the unique experience of women migrants who experience labor stratification shaped not only by race/ethnicity but also by gender.4 Further, women’s migration experiences are largely absent from recent scholarly work on globalization .5 Yet the imposition of destructive structural adjustment policies that plunge developing countries further into debt disproportionately and negatively impacts on rural and working-class women of nations such as the Philippines. Rural-to-urban migration , as well as overseas migration in search of work, has been one of the inevitable results.6 This chapter examines how on one level, despite globalization and independent (im)migration, women from the Philippines are unable to...



Subject Headings

  • Pacific Islander American women -- History.
  • Asian American women -- History.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • Pacific Islander American women -- Social conditions.
  • Asian American women -- Social conditions.
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