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Help For Our Married Nannies

Rosita is a nanny who came to Regina in the late 1980s. Her arrival in Canada was like a window of opportunity that opened up to her and her family. She is a married woman with two children and a husband who could hardly support the family. Leaving the family was heartbreaking because the kids were still young. But there was her mother and the extended family who would look after them in the Philippines. So this did not complicate things. She was happy to leave for another reason. In seven years of marriage, her relationship with her husband had deteriorated partly due to poverty and partly due to sexual inequity.

In the Philippines, when a man engages in any form of vice such as smoking, drinking, gambling, or womanizing, he is considered macho...

In the Philippines, when a man engages in any form of vice such as smoking, drinking, gambling, or womanizing, he is considered macho or siga-siga as we would say. When a woman as much as touches a cigarette or a glass of wine or hard drink or fools around with men, she is compared to a prostitute (parang puta). I am sorry to say this as a man born and raised in the Philippines but that is the moral norm, perhaps perpetuated by men. In Rosita's case, her husband had three kulasisi which literally means chicks but is also used colloquially to refer to mistresses.

It was therefore a blessing and an answer to her prayers and rosaries when the offer of a housekeeping job in Canada came. She planned to save enough to bring her family to join her later. She lived frugally and was able to send a small sum of money regularly. It took a while, a good eight years, before the family started to make arrangements to immigrate to Canada.

In the meantime, Father Time had not been kind to this poor family. Despite the constant exchange of letters between Rosita and her family, there was creeping in an alienation of sorts. Rosita has found some freedom as she was changed from a house-bound housewife to a self-supporting woman who even drives her own car, has her own telephone number, her own stereo and is familiar with modern appliances and other labour-saving devices. She had escaped the household drudgery of doing things by hand. Also, her two small kids are now young teen-agers. And she was suddenly and miraculously spared the daily verbal jousts with her husband. In the many years living alone, she had also made some relationships that are detrimental to her marriage.

So there was some tension when her family finally arrived in Canada this year. She managed to find an apartment and furnishings with the help of friends. The two kids were placed in schools. Her husband who was a teacher back home managed to find a job even though it only pays minimum wage. No, he could not get a teaching certificate and besides, there were really more teachers now than positions. They survived but it did not take long before the family quarrels began again.

The above situation is more common than we hear about. In a similar reunion of husband and wife after many years of separation, the husband resumed his role as a wife batterer following a short second honeymoon. So much so that their teen-age son began to lose interest in school and was showing signs of a mental breakdown. There were also instances where the incompatibilities resulted in separation or divorce.

It seems to me that the ideal thing is for a family to immigrate together. In this way, both husband and wife, as well as the children, will learn the new way of life...

It seems to me that the ideal thing is for a family to immigrate together. In this way, both husband and wife, as well as the children, will learn the new way of life and adjust to the culture shock and struggle together. But of course, the family economics do not allow this situation in most cases. In many instances where the separation has not been very long, Filipino resilience and community help bring about a successful reunification. One might also say that a lot depends upon the individual immigrants. Those who have an open mind to accept the new life, who have tiis at tiaga (patience and perseverance), who are more giving and forgiving are more likely to succeed than not.

But the problem of alienation is with us considering that we have thousands and thousands of nannies among us. The pressure of poverty and unemployment will push some wives to try their luck elsewhere. The social problems attendant to the fracture, albeit temporary, of the family have to be addressed. What do our governments, both federal and provincial, do in this regard? It is not enough to rely on self-help programs that appear sporadically in the agenda of organizations such as the Immigrant Women of Canada. A ministry in the government, perhaps Labour or Social Services or Immigration and Manpower, should take the problems by the horns and wrestle them.

Here are some avenues of possible solution:

1. Make it easier for nannies to bring their families to join them; e.g. in two years or as soon as their contracts are over.

2. Allow them to get interest-free loans for transportation costs.

3. Make it easier for husbands to find jobs in Canada while their wives are still under contract.

4. Provide free government counselling services for newly arrived families.

5. Help with immigrant settlement such as housing, job-hunting and other services.

© Eusebio L. Koh

Reprinted with permission from The Filipino Journal, May 1997, a Canadian news publication.

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Help For Our Married Nannies
by Eusebio L. Koh

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by Isabel Escoda
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