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Journal of Asian American Studies 5.1 (2002) 83-86
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Servants of Globalization:
Women, Migration, and Domestic Work
Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work. By Rhacel Salazar Parrenas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Servants of Globalization is an ambitious, important, and broad-reaching study of the way in which the lives of Filipina domestic workers in Italy and the United States are affected by and interwoven with broader patterns of global capitalism and transnationalism. Contributing to a growing literature on gendered migration and the Filipino diaspora, Rhacel Salazar Parrenas approaches the topic from three levels of analysis: (1) a macro level that considers how labor migration and gender are linked to global capitalism, (2) an intermediate level that focuses on the constitution of particular migration flows and the institutions of migration, and (3) a micro level that considers the way in which subject positions entail various "dislocations," and subjects simultaneously resist and reinscribe existing power structures. Based primarily on in-depth interviews and popular literature by and for Filipina domestic workers, this cross-national, comparative study reveals what Parrenas considers surprising similarities in the "parallel lives" of domestic workers, given the differences between the U.S. and Italian "contexts of reception." [End Page 83]
Italy and the United States are two of the most desirable and high-paying destinations for Filipino domestic workers, yet their demographics and government policies differ significantly. Filipino laborers, who began arriving in Los Angeles during the 1920s, now constitute the second largest Asian American group in the United States, with their numbers exceeding 1.4 million nationwide and over 200,000 in Los Angeles county alone by the early 1990s. Filipino migration to Italy is more recent and smaller in scale. Filipinos only became "visible" in Italy in the 1980s, but by the mid-1990s there were over 200,000 Filipinos, almost half of whom resided in Rome.
In contrast to the United States, where Filipinos occupy diverse positions in the labor market ranging from large numbers of skilled professionals to those in low/semi-skilled occupations, the Filipino population in Italy is almost exclusively women domestic workers (whose work includes house cleaning, child care and elderly care) working alongside women immigrants from Peru, Cape Verde and elsewhere. Government policies also differ. Like most Filipino immigrants to the United States, the domestic workers that Parrenas encountered in Los Angeles mostly emigrated through legal channels, and qualified for permanent residency and eventually citizenship. Stricter labor importation policies in Italy recently increased the number of Filipinos who enter through illegal channels, yet once employed they qualify for seven-year (renewable) work permits but not for citizenship or permanent residency.
Parrenas argues that domestic workers share four important experiences of dislocation as a result of their shared experience as low-wage laborers in global capitalism. These include (1) quasi-citizenship, (2) transnational households, (3) contradictory class mobility, and (4) alienation within the migrant community. Regarding quasi-citizenship Parrenas argues that domestic workers are not wholly citizens of the sending or receiving nation. Because the Philippine government lacks the power to protect its nationals, official and unofficial policies of the host communities often prevent the full incorporation of domestic workers as citizens. Racism and other factors in the host society in turn promote among the domestic workers the sense of the Philippines as their real home, which prevents them from claiming full membership or rights in receiving states, deters them from establishing localized families, and in turn increases the demand on their low wage labor.
Parrenas' chapters on the gendered international division of reproductive labor, and the dislocation of transnational families, are perhaps her most important and unique contributions. She asks how "gender stratification interlocks with other systems of inequality to determine the causes of women's migration" [End Page 84] and argues that migration is "a movement away from one distinct patriarchal system to another, bound by race and class, in transnational capitalism" (78). While privileged women purchase the reproductive labor of Filipinas, Filipinas in turn purchase or utilize the reproductive labor...