This is the inaugural post of our new series, Authors on Issues, in which UIP authors weigh in on current events.
Valerie Francisco, author of the forthcoming book Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in a Global Digital Age, responded to the recent cover story in the Atlantic by Alex Tizon entitled “My Family’s Slave”. Labor of Care examines the impact of global care chains on the families of migrant women from the Philippines and the emergence of new forms of intimacy and care work as the women navigate and negotiate the emotional and material consequences of family separation. Labor of Care will be available in Spring 2018.
Eudocia Tomas Pulido was her name. In Alex Tizon’s recent cover story in The Atlantic, he revealed that his family called her Lola. In his melancholy and beautiful writing, Tizon captured what Lola’s life was like from his gaze. She was “gifted” to his mother at a young age; a practice stemming from a history of colonialism and the ongoing system of feudalism in the Philippines. As Tizon traces Lola’s life braided into his mother’s marriage and his upbringing, his heart wrenching account demonstrated that she was mostly isolated, subjugated and dejected. Her role as a domestic worker in his family, although essential, was often constrained by abuse and exploitation. At the end of Lola’s life, and sadly with Tizon’s untimely death as well (the story was published posthumously), Lola was a solitary character who lived a life that was hard and desolate.
There are and have been millions like Lola. Filipinas who have been bought, sold, traded and have chosen domestic servitude as work. The current politics and economic systems in the Philippines treat Filipinas as if they were goods, shipped all over the globe for the price of remittances. In fact, the Philippine’s labor export policy has made a $25 billion-dollar industry on Filipinas working as domestic workers in over 150 countries. So in all intents and purposes, Lola was not alone.
This is the tricky part for me.
Tizon captured Lola as a lonely and alone character in his life. And for the most part, I would agree that the lives of Filipinas working as domestic workers are often exhausting and back-breaking with little to no reprieve. But there were and are so many of them. So why was she so alone? Lola’s life was tiring and grim, like perhaps so many other Filipinas working as domestic workers.
But they are also indefatigable. Their spirits bafflingly resolute. Persistent. And often, in the midst of the mundane tasks of sustaining the life of a family—whether it be picking up or dropping off children from school or daycare, or collecting groceries for meals, or washing and drying laundry—Filipinas are also keen, almost strangely skilled, at finding one another. In aisles of grocery stores, benches in playgrounds, and pick up points in front of schools, they assess one another’s faces and accents sniffing out provinces and dialects. They find respite in one another, even in the ten-to-twenty minute wait before their charges come charging out. They exchange phone numbers, and before then letters, to connect with one another.
Maybe because Filipinas feel alone in the doldrums of their daily work; when they see someone who could be remotely Filipino, they are quick to throw a “kamusta?” out into the crowd like a fisherman casting a line out to the water. I’m sure Lola did this. If not her, someone must have done it to her. After all, she raised four children in a major U.S. city on the west coast, known ports of entry for Filipino migrants. A conversation must have started about her situation. Lola must have met someone she confided in. Someone she shared the contradiction of loving the family she worked for and hating that she couldn’t—wouldn’t—be able to imagine her life without working for them.
In my book Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in a Global Digital Age, I found that Filipinas in similar situations as Lola—trapped in domestic servitude by co-ethnic employers who brought them here to the U.S.—were often weary. However, it was a “community of care” that brought them respite and even, laughter, if they allowed it. Filipina migrants working as domestic workers would pool together in shared geographies of play dates and pick-ups. They’d share their daily tribulation mixed with their often transnational victory—a child’s graduation, a parent’s medical bill paid or a house bought in the Philippines. But they would share their innermost feelings over a train ride or a waiting session.
So perhaps Lola was lonely in her eyes, in the eyes of the family she served, in the words of Alex Tizon. But what if Lola was to tell her story? Maybe even a Filipina from her community? How, then, would her story be told?