A cake is hard to make. It is a calculated science of measurement and timing. That’s why I’ve never baked one, at least from scratch. But making cake has another meaning, in hip hop, it means to make lettuce, cheddar, skrella…money. This is also a science. It is also a calculated science of measurement and timing. Both for workers and employers, nation-states and capital.
Last week, the New York Times covered the Philippine phenomena of OFW and remittances. It seems like every 8 months or so, someone in the times writes about this particular topic. In the four years, I’ve lived in New York, I’ve collected some 15 articles from the Times and one cover story from the Times magazine.
I can’t really complain. I think that the fact that remittances went up by something like $10 billion dollars in under a decade is something to be impressed about and written about, since it is on the backs and sweat of millions of Filipinos working overseas that the Philippine national economy is floating. And the authors from the Times do a fair (but not critical enough, for me) job in scrutinizing the state for its systematic production and brokerage of global laborers. Other people do and are doing that research and critique way better (see Guevarra and Rodriguez‘s new books, learn em’!)
But what I wonder about when I’m reading these pieces on the times is the very social contradiction that OFW (Overseas Foreign Workers) or migrant workers face, when they go home, when they don’t, when they choose to leave, when they have to leave, when they send money back, when they don’t, I mean, you get my drift.
There are so many pros and cons to the situation of migrant labor in the Philippines. As demonstrated by AUTHOR, we see that remittances don’t only support families but it also builds community centers and supports infrastructure like schools.
But all in the same breath, the words “lazy” and “arrogant” become affixed to families of migrant workers. Parents that go abroad to support their families are stigmatized, valuing money over their families and obsessing over status symbols. They are judged for begin able to afford the things they once couldn’t but not being there to enjoy it. Sayang is the word in Tagalog.
For migrant workers, at least the ones who I’ve organized with and grown to love here in NYC, this sounds really lose-lose. They’re already away from their family and working ridiculously exhausting jobs here in the US and still, they are the “bad ones” for leaving homes in the Phils.
I think, and I really want to write about this in my dissertation, that its the idea of family (the heteronormative, catholic, feudal-patriarchal, colonial type) in the Philippines that dig migrant mothers and fathers into this deep whole of social contradiction.
I think another is what Anna Guevarra calls the “social heroism” hoisted upon migrant workers by the Philippine state, that then has no real substantial meaning outside of remittances, migrant workers’ investments into their hometown infrastructure (a responsibility the neoliberal Philippines state abandoned long ago) and the reputation of the Philippines as a productive 3rd world “developing” into another kinda world country via docile and disciplined global workers. And obviously these three are really only about the state as a fixture in neoliberal development.
And of course another is those agencies, like Atikha, mentioned in the article. The agencies, employment, finance management, etc., the intermediaries and mini-neoliberals that are constitutive of the labor brokering state that is constitutive of global policies of migration as development.
The last sentence of this most recent article states “They’re fully furnished with plasma televisions and ovens, but there’s no one to bake a cake.” Cake, huh? Its apparently more complicated than just buying ovens.
Ain’t nobody said that makin’ cake was easy, anyway? In hip hop terms or in baking terms.