On the OFW Phenomenon, Mail-order Brides, Prostitutes, and More
Domestic helpers. Mail-order brides. Exporters of human labor. Scammers.
These are how people the world over have come to know us, Filipinos. And sometimes, I can’t blame them. For though it’s not completely true that these are what constitute us as a people, it’s not completely false either.
Our main export product is our people. A big chunk of our population — roughly ten percent — are Overseas Filipino Contract Workers (OFWs), many of whom are working abroad either as domestic helpers, construction or factory workers, nannies, and health workers, among others. The government calls our OFWs “the modern-day heroes,” because they have saved the country’s economy many times over through their remittances. Without our OFWs, our economy would have long gone under.
We also have mail-order brides — women who have become wives of foreign nationals through dating sites. I do not think this phenomenon is true only among Filipinos, or South East Asian women for that matter, but our case seems to be out of proportion. Just type in the word “Filipina” in the search engine, and you’d see sites advertising Filipinas as if we were commodities.
Being a Filipina, this situation affects me greatly, more so because I cannot claim that the conception that Filipinas are mail-order-brides is entirely false. Many Filipinas have actually taken the easy road to financial security — by marrying a foreign national they met only through the internet and who they have never met before tying the knot, and someone they don’t — or at least, didn’t at first — love.
And so that’s what our women have come to be known — not just mail-order brides, but brides for sale.
When I was a sophomore student in the university, one of my professors, a tall, young, and light-skinned mestiza-looking woman once related to class one of her experiences in an Asian country during a get-to-know party among international scholars. A friend jokingly introduced her as a European, and everybody believed him. Then this friend introduced her as Chinese, and again, everyone believed him. Then Latin American. Again, everybody believed him. Until this professor told her friend to cut the game out, to tell everyone the truth: that she was a Filipina. So he did; but this time, no one believed him. They thought he was joking. No, it wasn’t because she didn’t look like a Filipina, but because they couldn’t believe there’s a Filipina who would be intelligent enough to be part of that group. They thought Filipinas were only either nannies or prostitutes.
Just recently, a friend of mine who works as a marketing assistant in Qatar told me that if only she had a job to come back to in the country, if she weren’t thinking about how difficult their financial situation back home was, she would have quitted her job. “It’s different here, Sis,” she told me. “They have very poor opinion about Filipinos. They would tell you face to face that Filipinos are stupid, and loose. It’s degrading. But you know what? Sometimes, you couldn’t blame them. There are really quite a number of Filipinas here who are… uhmm… misbehaving.”
There are many other related stories about discrimination and misconceptions about our country’s womenfolk; all disheartening. Mary’s sin is not necessarily Ann’s, but for some reason, their common denomination — nationality — make other nationals think they are the same. Logically speaking, this thinking is fallacious, but perception is not the domain of logic. Right or wrong, logical or not, this perception remains, and we shall be viewed through the lens of that perception, whether we like it or not.
I wouldn’t deny that there is a tinge of truth to other nationals’ misconceptions about us. We do have mail-order brides. We do have women who have become victims of the sex trade. We also have countrymen who have falsified their documents to gain entry to other countries. There are also those who do fishy business. We have women who shamelessly ask (demand?) financial support from their foreigner boyfriends. We have bar girls who do dirty tricks on their costumers. But still, I can’t help but wish that when others look at us as a people, they would look deeper than the skin color, beyond the one-word entry in the passport that reads ‘Filipino.’ Because while it is true that a number of our people had made mistakes in the past, and are committing the same mistake now, it doesn’t mean we are all the same. We share many things, but every person’s actions reflect the choices he or she made alone, not the choices his or her comrades made, are making, or shall make.
That we export labor is a sad thing. But I don’t think it should make me hang my face in shame. And no matter how “lowly” the jobs Filipinos hold abroad, I don’t think we should be ashamed of them. OFWs have gone to work overseas to do the things their employers hate doing, or can’t do. They care for their employer’s elders. They fix their mess. These jobs, though seemingly lowly and menial, are respectable. They care for their employers’ children, while inside they are hurting… hurting that their own children back home whom they left long before they were old enough to memorize their parents’ faces, are left uncared for. And the OFWs wonder, and hope, and pray, that the money they send their kids would be enough to pay for their absences (though knowing full well it won’t be), that the material comfort their remittances could buy their children would be enough to nurture them until they go back home to care for them, never to leave them again.
It’s true, there are thousands of OFW success stories, but for every thousand happy endings, is another thousand wrecked homes and children gone wild. Very sad, indeed. But sadder still is the fact that our government is doing nothing to solve the problem. Instead of creating jobs right at home, our government encourages its people to leave and find work abroad, and of course, send remittances. The saddest part of it all is the lack of realistic government programs to support our OFWs who, instead of finding success, meet up with failure abroad.
Yes, we Filipinos are up for sale. And we’re a bargain, with our medical specialists who work as nurses abroad, lawyers who work as hotel janitors, and professionals who work as nannies. But what can we do? For most of our countrymen, not having the guts to leave the country in the face of scarcity of employment opportunities back home is tantamount to succumbing to failure. For most of us, working abroad has become a matter of survival.
Ah, if only our government would wake up from its drunken stupor, if only it would finally learn to put its act together, it would cease being the hearse that leads the nation to its cavernous pit.
//SEBenosa; 03 August 2008
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