Filipinas in Canada
De-skilling as a Push toward Marriage
Editor's Note: This study focusing on the exodus of Filipino women as a workforce is an excerpt of a 30-page chapter by Dr. Deirdre McKay in WIFE OR WORKER?: Asian Women and Migration, edited by Nicola Piper and Mina Roces (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). The bibliography, footnotes and references in the text have been omitted. Reprint and excerpt permission granted by Dr. Deidre McKay, the editors and publisher, Rowman & Littlefield www.rowmanlittlefield.com/.
From Migrant Worker To Wife
Women migrate for many reasons, including offers of permanent jobs or labor contracts, anticipated improvements in their conditions of self-employment and trade, offers of marriage, and as participants in broader, household moves. This chapter complicates the distinctions between these different forms of migration in an exploration of the ways in which state policies, transnational economies, and migrant cultures play out in individual lives. Individual experiences show how the de-skilling experienced by migrant women as workers may push them toward international marriages. This argument is developed through an ethnographic analysis of the life stories of Filipina contract migrants in Canada.
|Because their only Canadian references are from domestic positions, most of these women find few opportunities to use the skills and training they bring with them to Canada in the broader workforce.
An interview in October 1999 with Luz, a Filipina migrant in her forties, is indicative of the experiential connections between de-skilling and marriage.
Because I don't want to be just a nanny anymore, I went for evaluation and my degree wasn't even recognized. And I became realistic about it. Even though we have a good education, it doesn't matter to them. Because we're Filipino we are only a domestic helper. . . So then I got married . . . to my employer.
Like Luz, many female immigrants from the Philippines initially arrive as migrants under the Live-in-Caregiver-Program (LCP) introduced by the Canadian government in 1992. LCP migrants provide in-home care for children, elderly, and disabled persons, thus freeing Canadian women to participate in the formal labour market. By placing entrants in contract jobs as domestic workers, this program creates a specific immigration category.
Selection for the LCP is based on professional training (nursing, midwifery, or teaching) or equivalent experience. Despite this, the program places women in jobs within the domestic sphere of the home, a type of employment that does not count as "proper" labor market experience in Canada. When domestic workers are assessed for employment in other fields, LCP work is considered to be "just babysitting." Because their only Canadian references are from domestic positions, most of these women find few opportunities to use the skills and training they bring with them to Canada in the broader workforce. Though their Philippine qualifications and experience have been recognized as appropriate for entry-level jobs had they arrived directly into the Canadian labor market, two or three years of "babysitting" means they need re-skilling. Because most LCP women are remitting money back to the Philippines and saving to support their families, they cannot afford to enroll for skills-training courses. Instead, they tend to remain in domestic work and related service occupations. In interviews, Filipina nurses, teachers, accountants, and journalists migrating under the LCP described their long-term re-identification as "housekeeper", "nanny" or what they glossed as a unitary category: DH-domestic helper.
International marriage is one option open to women trying to escape the DH identity and segregation into domestic work. In the context of their experiences of de-skilling, attitudes to international marriage are ambivalent: as both a kind of salvation from contract domestic work and a form of entrapment due to a process of "domestication" expected from both their Canadian husbands and the wider cultural environment.
To connect de-skilling and marriage, I offer an analysis of life histories that places the option of international marriage at the intersection of a racial political economy created by the Canadian state and a narrative of international romance attached to overseas work by domestic placement agencies and transnational Filipino culture.
The methodological approach relies largely on qualitative data and ethnographic analysis, supported, where possible, with social statistics. A database on LCP immigrants specially ordered for this study from the Canadian government and other statistics on the Filipino community in Canada are used to contextualize the ethnographic data. As far as possible, I wish to let the voices of the migrant women and NGO workers describe the situation of LCP migrants in Canada.
Given the paucity of statistical data on international marriage for LCP migrants, this chapter builds an ethnographic description of the context of such marriages, exploring both dreams of transnational romance and stories of deskilling. My goal in linking de-skilling to international marriage is to highlight the diverse ways that women may renegotiate their options within particular forms of migration, blurring the boundaries usually applied to categorize forms of migration as "family strategy", "reunification", "marriage", or "contract work". Describing international marriages here, the focus is on the factors that push women toward them, rather than the legitimacy or success of the resulting relationships. The theoretical contribution of this chapter is to demonstrate how discursive constructions of femininity and ethnicities overdetermine migrants' circumstances and blur boundaries set by official immigration categories.
Worker, Wife, or Sister? Blurred Boundaries in Migration Experiences
|This plurality of migration strategies arises from the personal histories of these women and the broader socioeconomic context of Filipino labor migration...
LCP migrants are understood by Canadian immigration authorities to be labor migrants, yet many are simultaneously following romantic or family reunification strategies. This plurality of migration strategies arises from the personal histories of these women and the broader socioeconomic context of Filipino labor migration, as illustrated in the story of Perlita, a Filipina interviewed by the PWC for their Mail-Order Bride project in 1999.
Perlita started but never completed a business administration degree in the Philippines. She ended up working as a secretary for one year in Manila, before leaving for Hong Kong where she was able to secure employment as a domestic worker through her aunt. She ended up working in Hong Kong for 10 years. . . .
In Hong Kong, she was encouraged by her sister, a domestic worker in Canada, to submit her name to a 'friendship' office in British Columbia. She was given the name of a man, Keith. They began corresponding. . . .
Perlita's application to come to Canada under the LCP was successful and she arrived in Canada. Perlita hoped she could eventually obtain Canadian citizenship.
Immediately she found employment . . . [and] worked for them for 21 months, falling three months short of the mandatory 24-month live-in requirement. . . . The reason . . . was because Perlita was already eight months pregnant by Keith. In fact, after her first year with her employer, she had moved in with Keith. . . . One month after the birth of her daughter, Perlita and Keith were married. Perlita never returned to work because Keith would not let her work outside the home.
Re-narrating these sections of Perlita's story exemplifies the way that an application to migrate as a contract worker may be linked to both family reunification strategies (joining a sister already in Canada) and marriage-migration strategies (following up on her correspondence with Keith). It's not clear from the interview data who Keith was, other than that he had registered with a "friendship office" in hopes of meeting Asian women who might want to come to Canada. While official Canadian statistics would simply record Perlita as another LCP arrival, her decision to migrate for contract work was undoubtedly influenced by visions of a future of possibilities suggested both by the presence of her sister in Canada and the potential of a romantic relationship with a Caucasian Canadian man.
Though Perlita's experience is not necessarily typical for a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong, it illustrates the fluidity between the status of worker and wife. The ease with which a migrant may shift between self-understandings as wife or worker in Canada is already anticipated by the play of possibilities offered up for the migrant's imagination in Hong Kong.
Good Wife is a Good Worker:
International Marriage for Contract Domestics
Domestic workers in international marriages are a familiar phenomenon in the Philippines. Rising rates of international marriage are popularly attributed to increasing flows of female contract migrants. Philippine-based academics have demonstrated the tendency for overseas contract work, in particular women's domestic labor, to produce increasing rates of international marriage.
|The crucial point
in understanding international marriage
is the way in which colonial histories contextualize personal desires, creating narratives
of transnational romance.
Reporting on this trend seems almost to pose it as problematic, yet there is no evidence that such matches are somehow less founded in love and desire than unions between persons of the same citizenship. While most marital relationships have an economic as well as an emotional aspect, it is the evidence of feeling between the couple, rather than an economic calculus, that is supposedly the sign of the "real" nature of an international marriage. Yet, in any cross-cultural encounter, desire has its cultural logics. The crucial point to consider in understanding international marriage is the way in which colonial histories contextualize personal desires, creating narratives of transnational romance. Filipina women form their own identities within colonial histories that privilege a particular form of Americanized modernity and imaginary of romantic love. "American" men (a category that includes Canadians and all Caucasians who are not Spanish or South Asian) are seen to be good providers, romantic lovers, and unlike Filipino men, not given to keeping mistresses. The logics that might support the other side of the attraction, the desire of Caucasian men for Asian women, are likewise a product of colonial histories. As exemplars of "Asian" femininities, Filipinas are described as "traditional" women, supposedly uncorrupted by the feminism of "the West."
The specific character of domestic work itself may be seen to contribute to this form of intercultural desire. Our interview data indicate that it is in the particular nature of domestic work and the de-skilling it implies for many migrant women that their desire for, or openness to international marriages may, in part, be understood. De-skilling of contract domestic workers is also understandable as a type of re- or hyperfeminization. Because domestic work is seen as the exercise of a set of "naturally" feminine skills and dispositions, it has often been un- or underpaid, usually provided as a set of free services exchanged between spouses in marriage. Since a "good" wife is a good (domestic) worker; a hard-working yet feminine woman makes a "good" wife. Thus a woman taking up a job as a domestic is also displaying skills and attributes that might be considered marital. In contrast, a woman getting her ticket to operate a bulldozer, for instance, might make far more money than a maid, but the job itself would not portray her to potential suitors as "wife-and-mother like."
Where women are domestic workers, their future partners can quickly come to identify them with domestic space and all the stereotypes that this identification might imply. Doing domestic work may appear to infantilize women, making part of their romantic appeal a perceived "helplessness" in the public space of their receiving society. International marriages between Filipina contract migrants and nationals of their receiving nations often have significant age differences between partners, with Filipinas marrying older men who are typically divorced or separated. Interviews with Filipina brides revealed that the women are aware of their stereotyping by their husbands "as domesticated, subservient, and faithful." If these women gave an accurate assessment, it appears that foreign spouses of migrant domestic workers also conflate domestic skills with marital virtues.
The LCP: Filipina = DH
In our interviews, Filipinas in Canada report that the distinctive aspect of their ethnic, gendered identity was the common assumption that they are domestic helpers, even when they are not. The origins of this stereotype lie in their visibility as an ethnic group and their overrepresentation in both the LCP immigration category and in the occupations classified as housekeeping and childcare.
According to immigration officials at the Canadian Embassy interviewed by the author in Manila in 1999, applicants for the LCP are predominantly Filipino (over 90%). The LCP immigration stream makes Filipinos a significant group of immigrants. In 1998, as the third largest group of immigrants to arrive in Canada by nation of origin, Filipino arrivals were a mix of independent immigrants, their spouses and dependents, and LCP applicants, their spouses and dependents.
|Thus, the LCP opens
a "back door" for those without the skills or education assessed as desirable by Canadian government labor market analysis. Among the general Canadian population, this creates the impression that LCP migrants are "unskilled" and "uneducated."
In the period 1990-94, the last period for which comprehensive data breaking down all classes is available, 51,885 immigrants from the Philippines landed in Canada (9.3% of total landings). In the LCP principal applicant group, 15,470 were born in the Philippines; of this figure, 98 percent were women. Thus, Filipinas made up 71 percent of LCP principal applicants achieving landed immigrant status, while women from other national origins represented 27 percent of this class. On the streets of upper-middle class Canadian suburbs, these immigration statistics translate into a visible presence: "brown" women pushing the prams of "blonde" babies.
On the Canadian "points" system, education, training, and work experience in nursing, teaching, and midwifery have not been awarded immigration points on the basis that there is a sufficient supply of skilled workers in the Canadian labor market. Thus, the LCP opens a "back door" for those without the skills or education assessed as desirable by Canadian government labor market analysis. Among the general Canadian population, this creates the impression that LCP migrants are "unskilled" and "uneducated." These impressions contradict the social statistics collected on the LCP migrants themselves, yet are widely believed, in part because immigrants are also known for misrepresenting their status.
The Murky Question of Marital Status
Filipinas arriving to do domestic work in Canada are typically in their thirties and forties. Despite what women may report at any given point, the actual marital status of many Filipina contract migrants arriving in Canada is difficult to define. From our focus group interviews and life histories, we learned that abandonment or relationship breakdown is one of the reasons behind the decision to go overseas for many Filipino women. Divorce is not possible in the Philippines, but can be filed for abroad. Leaving the country also removes women from the social stigma attached to being a "single mom," while allowing them to provide for their families in the absence of a male breadwinner's contribution-through abandonment, the absence of a legal marriage or of a meaningful commitment to the relationship. Many women who are in relationships apply to go overseas as "single" either because their de facto partnerships were never legally formalized as marriages or because they have been advised to do so by migration agents.
Nongovernmental agencies are familiar with this fuzziness of marital status. An NGO worker I interviewed specialized in filing "quickie" divorces for LCP migrants. Another NGO worker, Carla, explained the strategy of concealing marital history as one of expediency:
A lot of these women come here as 'single'-they come through the LCP and a lot of them are 'single'-that's one of the biggest groups here. They prefer single women as opposed to married, so a lot of the women, they have to lie and say they are single.
The "they" Carla refers to is a composite of employers, immigration officials, and nanny agents. Beyond its currency in gaining employment as a contract worker, being "single" is associated with the possibilities of a new life anticipated by the migrants themselves-starting life anew and taking on new forms of decision making as "single women" rather than under their old, Philippine identifications as "wives of . . ." After years of (metaphorically) "following" their husband, they are happy to take on the breadwinner role and manage their families as single mothers, though at a distance.
"Single" also means "single and available"-migration may offer these women a second chance in love. In Carla's experience, the idea of being "single" and independent reinforces the wish to marry internationally. Canadian men, in particular, are perceived as being more egalitarian in marital relations than Filipinos.
I guess for a lot, the minute they land here, they start making their own decisions. Which means they build more confidence in themselves because they are starting to make decisions so the confidence builds up. . . . I'd like to add something else to this. That's where we see a lot of inter-racial marriages as well-where a lot of Filipino women they say "we're single, not wives." When they come that's what they say. "Oh now that I am independent and I'm competent to make my own decisions, I don't want to marry a Filipino man.". . . So they end up marrying out of the Filipino ethnic group-let's say a white person.
|As opposed to the model of "dependent housewives," the women interviewed
in our study discussed their desire for freedom and independence as
an important part
of entering into a transnational marriage.
Carla goes on to explain that the relationship expectations of newly "single" Filipinas and Canadian men often do not coincide.
But then the white person says, "I prefer a Filipina because they are very domesticated." And they both end up with different expectations. We get a lot of those! Interracial marriages where expectations were different. . . . A Filipina marrying a white man because he is not Filipino, thinking "I'll be independent" and expecting she'll be freer and a white man marrying a Filipina because he thinks she is domesticated; she'll cook me three meals a day etc.
Here is an experiential example, where the image of Filipinas as domestic workers influences the nature of their international marriage. The construction of Filipinas as amenable, dependent, and "domestic" is linked to the actual circumstances of migrants' employment experiences in Canada, rather than their personal dispositions or professional training. As opposed to the model of "dependent housewives," the women interviewed in our study discussed their desire for freedom and independence as an important part of entering into a transnational marriage. As female partners, Filipinas were not focused on economic security. None of the women interviewed here had married Canadian men who were high-income earners and all of them kept working after marriage. Perhaps this was, in part, to continue to support their families back in the Philippines.
Labor Market Segregation and De-skilling
With such a large proportion of women entering the country under the LCP, many Filipinas in Canada come to understand themselves not as women or as Filipinos but as workers segregated on the basis of ethnicity. This segregation is a very real and demonstrable phenomenon. As workers, the disjuncture between their education and previous work in the Philippines and their current positions in Canada creates alienation and dissatisfaction. As migrant women, LCPers are in an anomalous situation-though contract migrants, they are unlikely to return home. Rather, they have the opportunity to become landed immigrants, conditional on their acceptance of working conditions not applied to Canadian citizens. Because they "accept" jobs that are unacceptable to citizens, Filipinas in Canada can be discursively constructed as being of lesser value than citizens and other European arrivals as employees and migrants (Pratt 1997). Discourses of racial inferiority and the "natural" domesticity of women intersect to create "popular" explanations for the prevalence of Filipinas in DH-type jobs.
The de-skilling of women who are already long-term overseas workers compounds and reinforces this stereotyping of Filipinas as DH. Just the DH job, on its own, is enough to marginalize a woman from the mainstream of Canadian society. Here is the work role of the LCP caregiver described by an NGO worker, herself an LCP entrant and former nanny, describing how the broader public understands domestic workers:
You're isolated . . . intellectual stimulation is very limited . . . and then the problem too when you are ready to go into the workforce. Most employers . . . will not recognize this as a Canadian work experience, being a live-in domestic worker. It is not considered as a job. It is not considered as a profession. The problem is domestic work is considered something anybody can do. In the general public, if you are a domestic worker you would be considered probably as intellectually a little bit limited. You have limited education; so the job that is left over for you to do is maid work.
|Geraldine Pratt's (1999) exploration of the discursive construction of Filipina domestic workers shows how discourses on race and gender and economy intersect in their lives
to produce de-skilling and labor market segregation in Canada.
The racial aspect of Filipinas' experiences of segregation is very marked in Canadian urban centers. Social statistics suggest that this segregation is not only perceived, but also the reality of the Canadian labor market. In Vancouver, for instance, statistics on labor market segmentation show that women of Philippine ethnic origin are found disproportionately in DH-type occupations. If all occupations were allocated without regard to ethnicity, the index of segregation would be 1.0. Looking at Vancouver, Dan Hiebert found that Filipinas had an index of segregation of 8.6 for the occupation labeled "housekeeper" and 6.9 for "childcare worker". This means that women from the Philippines were 8.6 and 6.9 times more likely, respectively, to be found in that occupation than if jobs were distributed regardless of ethnicity. Women from the Philippines exhibit the highest degree of occupational segregation of any group. This phenomenon is likely a result of the influx of Filipina women under the LCP and the social situation described in the quote above.
Feelings of expectations denied, social denigration, and limitations in accessing non-domestic work were expressed by Filipinas in interviews in the present study:
Lydia (teacher): I worked in Hong Kong for four years. . . . If I compare like my salary in Hong Kong as domestic helper and the salary as a classroom teacher in the Philippines, is triple more than I get here. I arrived here in 1991 under LCP; for my 8 years here I had four employers and until now I am still doing domestic work or working as live-in caregiver.
De-skilling is thus both a structural and a psychological phenomenon, created as much by the economic limitations of providing for dependents overseas as the undervaluing of Philippine work experience and qualifications in the Canadian labor market. Geraldine Pratt's (1999) exploration of the discursive construction of Filipina domestic workers shows how discourses on race and gender and economy intersect in their lives to produce de-skilling and labor market segregation in Canada. Pratt finds that "the effects of discourse emerge out of and further exploitative north/south international relations through the sedimentation of Filipina immigrants to Canada within a limited range of low-paid occupations".
Factors Contributing to the DH Identity
LCP migrants face major obstacles in moving back to training and professions. They find great difficulty in saving money, accessing Canadian training and social welfare services, and creating networks of contacts beyond domestic worker friends.
They are isolated in their workplaces, segregated in the labor market, and suffer from the social stigma of being DH both within their community and in mainstream Canadian society. While migrant women may try to be "altruistic mothers" and "dutiful daughters," as suggested in the quotes from Filipinas above, they also strategize to make choices that advance their own personal goals for a secure future in the face of segregation and stereotyping. Some of these women see that marriage, particularly to a non-Filipino Canadian, might offer a path out of their isolation and dead-end jobs.
To substantiate the PWC's claims that de-skilling under the LCP leads to marriage, here is Carla's comment on the marriages of her LCP friends to Canadian men:
Carla: A lot of them-like my friends for example-a lot of friends who came through LCP-the majority of them end up with Caucasian men because . . .
Author: I have yet to figure it out, but I know a large number of Caucasian men who prefer to date Asian women and are quite open about this. In terms of the stereotypes that they associate with Asian women-I wonder whether or not the women from Asia that they meet are living up to these stereotypes? What were their expectations around the relationships? It's something that is not spoken about much. . . . There's this stereotypical idea of Asian domestic femininity that seems to then be projected on to women-like the women who are coming here under the LCP.
Carla: I guess it has a lot to do with the Canadian Government not recognizing their educational background. . . . these LCPers are teachers and nurses and engineers. I even know one who is a lawyer back home and they come here as domestic workers and after working as domestic workers they are not able to continue the professions they had back home. Some sort of de-skilling going on. . . . A lot of them end up as nursing aides, working in group homes for the elderly, a lot of them ending up in service jobs-like fast food, hotels, restaurants but similar to what they did as domestic workers.
|Marriage to a Filipina on the part of a Canadian man seems to be discursively constructed around expectations of gratitude and exoticism and connected to her ongoing association with labor in a "domestic" rather than "public" space.
Carla connects the marriages of her friends with their experiences of de-skilling, suggesting that such marriages are, at some level, a way out of stereotyping and segregation, a way of prizing open the Canadian labor market. Where it appears that the LCP may lead to continued segregation into domestic work, international marriage becomes a competing strategy for a migrant woman to gain the right to settle permanently. While Carla does not deny the potential for love and affection in these relationships, she is troubled by the overdetermining nature of de-skilling.
Lastly, the double isolation of Filipinas doing domestic work contributes to their segregation by limiting their job search and social networks, as described by another, non-Filipino, NGO worker.
Author: What about entering into the workforce after the caregiver contract ends?
Sasha: That's another big, big difficulty because you come by yourself, being sponsored by an employer or your family. . . afterwards when you have finished with your live-in caregiver work you need to network to go into the other work field. But it's so difficult. You probably know very few people . . .in that other field . . . Because you have been working in isolation, mostly you work with other domestic workers. And I see that even more in the Filipina community . . . which is already landed immigrant-or people who came directly as landed immigrants-they look down on the domestic workers. There's a very strong separation. "So you're only a nanny; we don't really communicate with you or we don't really deal with you." And so the Filipinas have a tendency to stick within their domestic workers group.
From Caregiver to Wife in Canada
NGOs working to support Filipina migrants make clear linkages between the LCP and international marriages: "Government policy that constructs an image of Filipino women as domestic workers fuels the growing demand among Canadian men for Filipino wives"(PWC 2000,51). This section presents examples from the Canadian context that illustrate how the desirable qualities in a romantic partner overlap with the attributes of a good caregiver.
Our respondents reported that it was notable how Canadian men seemed to be searching for Filipina wives of a particular sort. Simple Filipino ethnicity was not enough-Canadian men wanted to meet new arrivals or women still in the LCP. The Filipinas interviewed thought that the Canadian men were expecting such women to be "unspoiled" and to live up to the ideals of feminine domesticity out of gratitude for being "rescued" from the LCP. Marriage to a Filipina on the part of a Canadian man seems to be discursively constructed around expectations of gratitude and exoticism and connected to her ongoing association with labor in a "domestic" rather than "public" space.
Many of the women interviewed in the project married Canadian partners fairly soon after their arrival in the country, during a period in which they felt vulnerable, unsupported, and financially insecure.
The PWC research team describes the typical experience of a respondent:
Out of economic necessity, she moved abroad to work as a migrant worker and ended up as a bride of a Canadian man. As she moved through the roles of domestic worker to wife and mother, her options constricted and her situation worsened.
Their analysis suggests that experiences of racialization and de-skilling are pushing women into marriages that may further restrict their economic and personal options.
Ally's Story: I Married My Employer
|She married her husband after realizing that she would not find the kind of work she wanted after leaving the LCP. Their relationship did not make the transition from employee-employer to marital partners and this weakened her self-esteem.
De-skilling works as a push factor for international marriages in Canada. This section builds on the preceding discussion of de-skilling and international marriage by presenting a single case of blurred boundaries to illustrate the ways in which state policies, transnational economies, and migrant cultures play out in a single life. Ally's experience of a failed marriage to her widowed employer reflects both her own strategies and desires and the broader set of legal constraints and social policies that construct her subject position as a contract domestic worker.
Author: How much is your salary and what year is that?
Ally: That was 1991. I'm receiving from my husband about $600 something and the minimum is $680. I worked long hours, too-hard to count.
Author: How many years did you work with him?
Ally: Two years but he paid me by cheque and I cashed it, used it in the house. My salary from my husband is actually one thing that is really hard for me because I could hardly send money back home to the Philippines. Because he uses my salary to buy diapers, milk for my stepson.
I'm already landed after two years. I got my landed status and he wanted to get married because I'm planning to move to the city, to get a better job. Because I don't want to be just a nanny anymore, because I know I can make it. I thought I can practice my degree here-be a nutritionist or a dietitian. But then I went for evaluation and my degree wasn't even recognized, even though I've passed my board exam. I proved to myself that, even though I'm not going to upgrading, I can probably be capable in whatever jobs are around. And I became realistic about it. I'm not shy to become a domestic worker. That I'm a Filipino woman, I'm not ashamed to anybody. Everybody is the same. (B)eing a Filipino . . . they look at us like we're small. Even though we have a good education, it doesn't matter to them. Because we're Filipino we are only a domestic helper. They can control us because they have the money and power, of course, here in Canada.
So then I got married. After a year of marriage, I got pregnant.
I have a daughter, but I find it hard, I feel like I was a maid-I don't have any power at all. I was isolated; I can't have a Filipino friend.
Then I started going to counseling and I had my self-esteem again. I'm a Filipina and I should leave my husband. I couldn't take it any more. I went to school and upgraded myself and I felt a lot better. It's not right that he says I'm good for nothing. I believe in myself-that I have skills, that I know I can do it without him.
In Ally's story we can see how the boundaries between the labor involved in domestic service and the economic relations of marriage are difficult to draw. As a domestic worker, she uses her salary to buy milk for the baby she is employed to care for. As a wife, she feels like a maid. Perhaps, for her husband, a good wife is a good worker, but Ally is not happy with her choices. She wants to have her skills and training recognized and to be able to access the broader Canadian labor market. She married her husband after realizing that she would not find the kind of work she wanted after leaving the LCP. Their relationship did not make the transition from employee-employer to marital partners and this weakened her self-esteem. After she went to retraining courses and counseling, Ally's confidence increased and she decided to leave her Canadian husband.
|As domestic labor, migrants can find their paid work subsumed into unpaid, "just helping out" through the rhetorics of "the household unit" or being "part of the family."
Ally's story is not necessarily a typical experience, but a revealing one. Any job situation where people work in close proximity could potentially lead to romantic intimacy. When Ally became romantically involved with her employer, she apparently forfeited the right to disburse her salary as she wanted. At this point, she was cohabiting pre-marriage, but still working for her husband-to-be as an employee under her LCP authorization. One condition of this relationship was that she would continue to perform her domestic work, but her husband would now appropriate her surplus and redirect it into the domestic needs of the Canadian household unit. Such exploitation would likely not happen, nor be seen as acceptable, if Ally were working and dating her employer in a public-sector job.
By offering this singular story I do not want to suggest that it is the personal relations between Filipina migrants and Canadian men, per se, that necessarily lead to exploitation. It is the wider socioeconomic context in which the LCP places migrant women that contributes to their vulnerability and stereotyping. Recall the comments made by the NGO worker on the presumed intellectual limitations of female domestic workers. In the Canadian context, the feminine nature of women's work and its unpaid status have not been effectively challenged by the change of category from domestic work to caregivers. The message has simply been that some women can do "skilled" work, so long as other women can be found to do the housework. Because their employment is in private homes and "normally" performed by female household members for free, migrants easily become invisible as workers. As domestic labor, migrants can find their paid work subsumed into unpaid, "just helping out" through the rhetorics of "the household unit" or being "part of the family." This makes it very difficult for LCP migrants to limit their working hours, get paid for overtime, enforce the provisions of their contracts, and generally demand to be treated as employees (Pratt 1997). Ally's story shows just how easily her job was subsumed into her new position as partner and wife without her explicit consent. In no other industry would it seem acceptable to redirect an employee's salary to the corporation if she commenced a romantic relationship with her manager.
Why Ally as a Filipina might have been particularly open to international marriage is also of interest. Transnational romance and international marriage are part of the Filipino imaginary of life abroad.
Dreams of Transnational Romance
Transnational romance is a familiar theme for migrant women, even before they leave home. Movies, radio programs, and comic books published in the Philippines tell the stories of overseas contract workers, making romantic versions of migration part of Philippine popular culture.
As an "ideal type" model, a Filipina migrant begins as a domestic helper in a desirable receiving country, often having to go "cross-country" to get there, and then moves through other roles-geriatric care worker, cleaner, service worker-to the final goal of permanent residency. Marriage to a host national was understood by these women as one way to shorten the transition from contract worker to resident and hasten the achievement of personal economic security (McKay 1999).
International marriage is also promoted as an enviable short cut to secure residency overseas by domestic employment agencies in Singapore and Hong Kong. The transnational aspects of the context for imagining relationships with foreigners are circulated through the migrant workers' networks, along with information on life in Canada, the LCP program, and Canadian dating agencies.
Photographs on the front windows of maid agencies in Lucky Plaza Mall, Orchard Road (such as Inter-Mares) portray marriage as the outcome of LCP migration so that citizenship and permanency are implicitly bound up in the marriage relationship, rather than associated with the LCP program itself. Posters that appear in the window include:
Corazon Fuller of Vigan, Ilocos Sur [wedding photo from newspaper]
Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you
If you apply to Inter-Mares
Cora came to Singapore in 1983 through (you guessed it) Inter-Mares. In 1986 she went to Vancouver. If you guessed that Inter-Mares sent her there, you guessed right, again! (Of course, she's no longer a Nanny!)
Erlinda Velosa Watson of Tarlac [wedding announcement card with message-Mr. Tom, with our real appreciation, Bill and Linda Watson]
|Equally, their understandings of their subject positions as worker and migrant are influenced by the perceptions of opportunities abroad...who appear to give the message that, while domestic worker is good, "wife" is somehow better.
Erlinda came from Tarlac in 1984. In 1986 she went to Toronto to work as a nanny. Bill said to her one day, "Why be a Nanny; marry me and my children will call you Mommy." Miss Velosa said yes, and she is now Mrs. Watson. Now Erlinda is the proud mother of three children of her own, and mother of six all in all. She now lives in her own home near the world-famous Niagara Falls.
What these photos and the accompanying captions illustrate is the way that middlemen in migration-the employment agents-pick up on the discourse of transnational romance as a marketing strategy. These narratives that circulate at the mesolevel influence women's perceptions of their options-of what may yet happen for them in a place like Canada. Women, like Perlita, may choose to pursue these options, not through an agency, but through independent or family contacts. Other women, like Ally, see, read, and familiarize themselves with these half-suggested stories as scripts of possibility. These narratives locate Caucasian men as desirable partners who control the economic future and life aspirations of peripheral women. Domestic work, LCP migration, or nannying is constructed in these poster narratives as a diversion on the path to the true success to be had in marriage.
Stories of domestic work leading to marriage establish distinct discourse on femininity and progress: from DH one can move through the positions of virtuous migrant to wife. While women who enact these dreams, like Ally or Perlita, are motivated by their own aspirations for a better life, these are, in many ways, scripted by the popular culture of their home and transnational workplaces. Equally, their understandings of their subject positions as worker and migrant are influenced by the perceptions of opportunities abroad held by their families and networks of friends, who appear to give the message that, while domestic worker is good, "wife" is somehow better.
Frequently, expectations of international romance are both developed and met through networks of women already abroad and happy to help out. Here is a story collected by the PWC that shows how an LCP migrant became a marriage broker:
Emma became a domestic worker seven years ago. She also wanted to bring her two sisters to Canada. However, despite Emma's efforts, her sisters could not meet the LCP qualifications. As they could not come through the LCP, the sisters got married to Canadian men.
Emma set her sisters up with Canadian pen-pals through connections of her Canadian husband. This shows how transnational marriage for LCP women might be, at first, about gaining permanent residency and maybe better jobs, but can also facilitate entry by marriage for female friends and relatives. Other Filipino migrants have created businesses built around this possibility (PWC 2000)-specialized dating agencies based in Canada recruit from among LCP women, as well as handling files from Filipino women in other countries and in the Philippines.
Nina, a former live-in caregiver, sees herself as assisting Filipino women when she sets them up in her dating service. She firmly believes that when she marries off one of her women to a Canadian man, she has done her duty to help Filipino women by giving them stability and a better future.
This LCP migrant thinks of herself as "saving" other women from the degrading work, economic struggle, and social marginalization of domestic work by offering them the solution she found for herself: stability and permanent residency through marriage. Thus we return full circle-labor migration under the LCP may yield marriages that later facilitate bringing in family members to Canada as labor.
|Through de-skilling female migrants, receiving nations such as Canada can develop "domestic" industries that rely on enclaves of immigrant women who do not benefit from even the most minimal regulation of working conditions, hours, or pay; do not vote; and have no presence in civil society-in other words, women who are functionally non-citizens.
These stories of Filipina contract migrants to Canada illustrate ways mobile women blur the boundaries between the categories of voluntary migration recognized by the state: labor, marriage, and family reunification. A single migrant woman's life story might criss-cross among all three categories. We could imagine a woman who moves "domestically" for work in the transnational public space of an export-processing factory in the Philippines, then takes up domestic work in the private space of an employer's home overseas-in Singapore. She may marry a foreign national, say, a Canadian citizen, and relocate again, this time working in a migrant enclave with co-ethnics in her receiving nation. Eventually she might herself sponsor female family members to join her work team and marry co-nationals. This imagined every-migrant was not interviewed, but, if she were found, her story might be quite subversive.
Stories of women's experiences of migration in the region expose the politics that demarcate the fluid boundaries between public/private and domestic/transnational spaces. Such stories also show up the political-economic use that receiving states may make of such divides. Here I have shown that blurring boundaries results in female migrants falling through the cracks of state policies and services. Because women's lives and migration experiences are marginal to the discourses that describe "proper" migration and thus "appropriate" citizenship, migrant women are disadvantaged as laborers. State agencies posit women as wives and families, not workers, yet migrant women are almost always involved in some form of the cash economy. Thus, migration moves women to the margins-the margins of state services, policies, and protection.
Migrant women's stories show up the boundary projects of states for the heteronormative power relations they impose on their populations. Through de-skilling female migrants, receiving nations such as Canada can develop "domestic" industries that rely on enclaves of immigrant women who do not benefit from even the most minimal regulation of working conditions, hours, or pay; do not vote; and have no presence in civil society-in other words, women who are functionally non-citizens. Individual women in this situation are stereotyped and denied a sense of "appropriate belonging" as a citizen of the receiving country. These women are ashamed of doing a "low" job, of not fitting in, of being identified with unruly, irresponsible, "problematic" migrants. This is the situation in which marriage to a host national emerges as a viable option for migrant women-a way of addressing the "shame" of domestic work and affiliating herself to her host society, while distancing herself from some of the stereotypes of her ethnic group. Thus, the employment and Canadian labor market circumstances of Filipina contract migrants, combined with colonial logics of desire and transnational postcolonial Filipino culture, come to produce international marriages.
This chapter discussed the results of a larger project: "Filipinas in Canada: Geographies of Social Integration/Exclusion in the Canadian Metropolis." This co-operative project between Dr. McKay and the Philippine Women Centre was funded by a grant from the Vancouver Centre of the RIIM (Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis) Project (www.riim.metropolis.net). Thanks to Professor David Ley of RIIM at the University of British Columbia and Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial of the PWC for their contributions to the project. Dr. McKay was supported by a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship. She thanks Sandra Davenport at the Australian National University for her research assistance in producing the chapter.
© Deirdre McKay
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