- Women Who Stay: Seafaring and Subjectification in an Ilocos Town by Roderick G. Galam
Women Who Stay: Seafaring and Subjectification in an Ilocos Town
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2018. 238 pages.
Within the scholarship on Philippine migration, the historical prevalence of migration in the Ilocos region has been studied typically based on the male workers' experience of moving out of their village or province. A shift in the understanding of Ilocano mobility is introduced by Roderick Galam, a native Ilocano who has extensively contributed to the study of Ilocano literature, historical identity, migration culture, and family. These contributions are exemplified in his earlier work, The Promise of the Nation: Gender History and Nationalism in Contemporary Ilokano Literature (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2008). In Women Who Stay: Seafaring and Subjectification in an Ilocos Town, Galam offers a compilation of articles based on his doctoral dissertation, which highlights women's experiences and narratives as part of the larger field of migration studies.
The book contributes to the discourse on Asian migration at two levels. First, it addresses the bias of migration scholarship toward land-based migrant workers by paying attention to the marginalized narratives of sea-based workers and their families. Second, it examines the blurred categories of nonmigrant women within the larger domain of migration processes. Galam employs sociological and ethnographic approaches in looking at the "gendered subjectification" of Ilocano women who stay behind. He defines "gendered subjectification" as the process through which Ilocano women consciously—or are compelled by their circumstance to—engage in work that significantly defines and redefines their sense of who they are or what they can do (3) given the alternating presence and absence of their seafarer husbands. It also examines women's strategies to "negotiate and navigate" between spaces of power as well as the hierarchies and structures of relations within the family (3) in light of their constrained spatiotemporal context.
In chapter 1 Galam frames the "phenomenology of staying behind" based on the individual experiences of selected women from his fieldwork site in a certain town in Ilocos Norte. He limits his study to this anonymous town that he calls San Gabriel, which typifies the history of Ilocano [End Page 265] migration. In San Gabriel, 73 percent of those who have migrated are either working in Hawaii or the US mainland, usually California. Galam's data consist of interviews conducted with sixty women who have stayed in Ilocos. However, what Galam means by "staying" is not clear. Women who stay can be categorized as either former or prospective migrants, indicating that in the majority of the cases presented in the book staying is temporary: either a recent development in the lives of the women interviewed or a transition into eventual migration. Galam does not problematize the territorial aspect of staying, nor does he indicate a spatial scope to limit his study, and neither does he examine the possible shifts in attitude regarding migration. Instead, he pays attention to time, measured not in units but routines, and to women's mobility shaped by the spatiotemporal context of the alternating presence and absence of migrant husbands.
Chapter 2 elaborates on the history of the Philippine seafaring industry and the economic developments that have led to the international demand for Filipino seafarers from the 1960s to the present. Here, Galam points out the ugly truth: Filipino seafarers are well trained and yet are paid wages that are lower than that of their counterparts from other countries. He enumerates the judicial and legislative actions the Philippine government has taken to help bring the cost of employment down to protect the industry, yet at the same time making it prone to abuse by both employers and predatory law firms that take advantage of seafarers and their families, especially in cases of injury and death (40).
In chapters 3 and 4 Galam connects the previous discussion to the history of Ilocano migration to Hawaii and California and its impact on the contemporary seafaring industry in Ilocos Norte. He demonstrates that Ilocanos' economic aspirations are determined mainly by the prevalence of Ilocano migration to Hawaii, with emigration to that...