Second Place, Nonfiction: “When a Mommy Becomes a Nanny,” by Eunice Lee
Grade 10, Seoul International School, Seoul, South Korea
When a Mommy Becomes a Nanny
With her left forefinger, Pamela was carving her daughter’s name “Tala” into the snow. “This is my first time to see the snow,” she murmured. “It never snows in Philippines.”
In Philippines, approximately forty percent of households have an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) family member. It is quite common for parents and children in the Philippines to live apart. Children live with an aunt or grandmother because his/her mother works as a nanny in Hong Kong and father works as a seaman in Alaska. With a long history of over forty years, the idea of Filipinos working overseas had become established in the 1970s to serve as a rather impetuous solution for soaring unemployment rate and balance of payments crisis. Under the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos over twenty years the policies encouraging the export of human labor got established, embedded, and rapidly increased surpassing the Asian economic crisis in 1990s.
Mom told me that Pamela and I first met soon after I turned three. Both of my parents were working in New York back then and they needed someone who can take care of me during their absence. My parents found Pamela through a broker and luckily they were fond of each other instantly. Mom liked Pamela because she used to be a teacher back in the Philippines. “I was a very lucky one to meet your parents,” Pamela said. “I left the Philippines when my Tala turned three and I met you when you were three.”
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2018 alone, the number of OFWs was estimated at 2.3 million and percentage of female workers surpassed male workers, comprising about 55.8 percent of the total. In the early stage of its OFW migration policies, the Philippine government received positive reviews from the international community. However, it gradually created criticisms inside the Philippines and eventually from the international organizations, such as United Nation and European Union, because the Philippine government’s overseas employment strategy has caused unimaginable costs on the workers, whose rights were often not fully protected while abroad.
How tall is she? Does she hate cucumber like me? Don’t you miss her? All the questions that I asked Pamela innocently and sincerely out of curiosity must had hurt her so much. “Tala goes to the best preschool in my hometown.” Pamela seemed very proud and relieved. She also told me that her family back home could buy a cow after her working for my parents in about two years. The morning after her payday, Pamela always went to the bank to wire everything she earned back to the Philippines.
About 2.56 million children in Philippines have one or both parents working overseas. One of the major reasons for an OFW to decide to go abroad is the advantages his/her children will have economically, academically, and medically. However, the presence of a mother is postponed indefinitely as a cost of economic gain, and the time that would have been spent taking care of her children is used for watching over the employer’s children. Undocumented migrant workers do not even have the option to travel back to the Philippines to see their children. Majority of female OFW “bear a lot of guilt in leaving their children behind, and the fact that they care for other children while they leave their own in the care of others haunts them.”
“Ina (mother in Filipino), Find her! Now! You are supposed to take care of her so I can work without any worries and send money! What if she is kidnapped and never come back home!” Pamela rarely got upset or raised her voice. But that specific day, she looked like a crazy, insane, simply another person. Right the next day, Pamela went back to the Philippines. Tala was missing. And my vague memory of Pamela completely stops there.
“Children have different levels of acceptance or tolerance, depending on their cognitive development.” Infant and preschool children may accept their overseas working parents’ migration as a form of abandonment, especially when they are apart from their mothers. Adolescent and teenagers, on the other hand, could understand the situation and either be receptive or rather resentful of their parents. The rate of acceptance varies depending on the age. Such complex challenges and difficulties strike migrant parents and their children every day, constantly.
When I met Pamela again after more than ten years, fragments of my childhood memories burst out from somewhere inside of me. Pamela only recently restarted to work as an OFW again and happened to be designated in Seoul by the employment administration. There she decided to contact my parents to make an old apology regarding herself quitting and leaving her job so suddenly without any notice more than ten years ago. Pamela did not mention anything about Tala.
Traveling overseas for working opportunities and then migration back to the Philippines has become a cycle for OFWs, as they experience insufficient economic opportunities every time they return home. In the year 2016 alone, approximately 10 million OFWs all over the world remitted at least $29 billion back to the Philippines.
When the issues of OFWs are examined, often politics, labor, money, or GDP gets the most attention. However, it is rather the OFW’s collection of family and love stories that indeed requires more consideration. Among them exist the heartrending stories of family separation and bond, conflicting duties and loyalties, and difficulties of providing material and emotional needs under a big umbrella of global economy. The Philippine government’s oversea employment program has offered immediate work opportunities for the workers and enabled secure economic future for the worker’s families left behind. However, the exodus of Philippine workers to close by or faraway countries caused almost half of the Philippine families to become dispersed families with greater consequences. What has been practiced solely for the family has been threatening the fundamental root and core meaning of the family.
As a daughter, student, and woman myself, emotional turmoil and rights that are not protected for female Overseas Filipino Workers grieved me the most but impassioned me at the same time. Difficult choices these women had to make, such as being separated from her husband or recently born child, were only the tip of the iceberg in my research. The combined impact of the nation’s political strategies, economic fluctuations, and breaking cultural legacy has been shaking the lives of woman in the Philippines.
My research for the Writing for Peace Contest gave me an opportunity not only to delve deeply into the culture of my friend but also to reexamine the culture of mine as a Korean. As Korea also went through an accelerated industrial development in the 70s and economic crisis in the 90s, I was encouraged to compare how two different cultures formed themselves through such difficulties in utterly different manners. The role of women in different positions of the culture, lifestyles of international migrants in the society, and psychological health of adolescent in relation to their parents drew my attention.
Looking at artists’ photographs gave me great insight throughout my research. For example, Xyan Cruz Bacani, an artist who I found through this research, used to work as a Filipino domestic helper at Hong Kong herself. She recently started recording her life as a female migrant worker and stories of other helpers inside Hong Kong in black and white photographs. I have always enjoyed reading in all kind of different formats, whether it be books, online articles, magazines, or databases. However, her visual art gave me resonating sympathy and emotion at a different level.
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