So This is What Domestic Slavery Looks Like
Maria: My Reflection in the Mirror
By Mona Lunot Kuker
You’ll see their faces in the subway train, in shopping districts, in grocery stores, inside the bus, or in the park. I hear them talking in my native tongue (Tagalog), and every time I see them, I feel as if I am looking at my own reflection in the mirror.
Domestic workers are often women who leave the Philippines to pursue dreams for their family by working in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East. We work as nannies, cleaning ladies and caregivers around New York and across the globe. These are jobs that are possible to hold without regard to immigration status; there is little enforcement of such arrangements, and fear among workers that they can be deported. Each of us has an interesting story to tell—usually a story that most likely, we would rather keep from our families and friends, not for reasons of pride, but because we don’t want our loved ones to worry.
We usually want to impress those at home with news of a better life abroad. After all, this was the reason why we left the country in the first place. But there are trade-offs for many of us.
The balikbayan box, or package of goodies delivered door to door, that we fill and dollars that we send to our families are simple joys to shake off our sadness. The backbreaking work is better than having loved ones suffering from chronic want. It is better to face discrimination in our new country than fail to provide children with a college degree. We are better off even suffering isolation than seeing children suffer from unimaginable poverty.
We left because poverty in the Philippines for us was like a bubonic plague that could cause death and stunt growth of the majority of the people. We also experienced government incompetence and corruption that made things worse for ordinary people. Thus, to many Filipina women like me, the solution was – and continues to be – to migrate. That decision has launched our interesting journeys oftentimes sad and perilous.
* * *
Meet Maria (not her true name), who is one of the many persons whose life I have witnessed. Her experience made me think and touched my heart, perhaps explaining why many Filipinas feel they must suffer in exchange of a better life for family. To make her eligible for emigration, a relative who worked as a Philippine diplomat to Canada agreed to sponsor her. For a couple of years, she worked as the all around domestic worker, then crossed the U.S. border to Ohio, to work for the ambassador’s daughter. A high school graduate, she was in her early 40’s when she left the Philippines. Continue reading