Insecure Workers, Secure Labor Brokerage State

Last week, I was alarmed to see that the brand-spanking new Aquino administration put OFW assistance on the chopping block to be cut. The Inquirer reported that last year’s P50 million legal assistance fund would be cut to a meager P27 million this year. Why was I surprised?

Because, as you may have noticed, I’ve been reading Anna Guevarra and Robyn Rodriguez’s book these past few months while I’m writing the book review for both books and I was thinking about what kind of labor brokerage system would cut its own institutionalized regulation of migration.

Yes, I know that neoliberal immigration policy requires the cutting of social services for any and everyone but I thought that the management of migration would top the list of a neoliberal state, such as the Philippines. Cutting assistance for their biggest money-making machine seems crazy to me. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t they want to have some contingency plan for the very migrants that are turning the wheels of long-failing national economy?

Of course, the response of workers is fury and outrage.

And then yesterday, on Bulatlat, I read some news that a group of Filipino women migrants in Dubai were jailed for their expired visas when their negligent employer abandoned them in inhuman conditions. These women who were brought to Dubai to work as “cleaners and office assistants” and trying to keep things together when their boss took off were called into question because male members of Filipino community were aiding them medically and with food.

The sad truth of the 46 women in Dubai is that their migration and deportation spins on the formidable axes of gender and unstable jobs in the informal labor. They got shipped to Dubai to work because they were women and they’ll get shipped back to the Philippines, essentially, because of their suspicious womanhood.

Then, synapse.

Perhaps the cuts on legal assistance, leaving a (gendered) migrant population vulnerable is complementary to the unstable, insecure, informal jobs that demand for their labor. That leaving migrant workers out there in the world without help, ensures the security of the Philippines as a permanent revolving door for global workers.

Same problem, different places

“Nearly 190 million people, about 3% percent of the world’s population, lived outside their country of birth in 2005.” says the mighty NY Times.

I’ve been thinking about how this “migration” problem isn’t just a Filipino thing. Duh, Val. But really, what I was thinking about is how Filipinos aren’t alone in the problems they face in and during migration.

Yup, just like any good sociologist would do.  I’ve been trying to categorize different themes that where migration becomes a contradiction. Well, migration under a neoliberal political and economic climate, to be specific.

I mean how many states are wishing to be better labor brokering institutions, how many governments are aspiring to be good wells of indispensable and disposable labor, and more importantly, how many people in the 3rd world are looking to get out via migration, how many families are getting shafted because of it, how are countries sustaining the absence of its citizens.

Here are some themes I’ve come up with:

WANTING TO STAY HOME, NEEDING TO GO

Malaysian people sound a lot like women in my research who desire to stay home but realistically cannot.

SURVEILLANCE AND THE DISCIPLINE OF MIGRANT BODIES

One thing I thought that was super helpful when I read Foucault was when he wrote about the disciplined subject and the surveillance of population. Sure looks like that in China.

MIGRANTS AS CULPRITS

http://www.altoarizona.com says it all.

There’s more but they’re hiding in my brain.

Lesson of the day, pals: Migrants of the world have, now more than ever, many things that they are experiencing together, albeit apart. We, immigrants and migrants, have to stand together.

Here’s a good way to do that: IAMR3. Peep.

Making Cake

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.

Racism & Homophobia in a Ring

A lot of Filipinos, friends and otherwise, have expressed their disappointment and sheer disgust for Floyd “Money” Mayweather on their respective interwebs interfaces. And rightfully so.

Manny is an icon in contemporary Filipino culture. He’s a great fighter. Sometimes people misunderstand why he’s a congressman, and sometimes I think its because he’s got money and therefore, following Filipino corruptionary, he should have some power.

Still, young and old, FilAms, Filipinos in the Philippines and Filipinos everywhere, really, love him because he put us, our face, our country back in the American popular, mainstream culture like no one has been able to before.

The contention around the anticipated and suspended-in-sports-promotion-purgatory Mayweather and Pacquiao fight has always been about race and masculinity. I remember a conversation between me and an African American friend of mine, and he said, “I love the Pacman! Manny is an amazing pound for pound fighter, but…I gotta go with Money Mayweather because we gotta stick together.” I said, “Right, right.”

But what ain’t right is when people are racist and say racist things. And Mayweather did that. And that’s wrong.

ESPN writer, LZ Granderson, writes an amazing commentary about, 1) how Mayweather’s apology is an afterthought and insincere, and more importantly, 2) how his racist epithets are excused by Black organizations and Black leaders because he is, in fact, Black. Granderson makes a good argument that highlights how people of color, not just Black folks, internalize and distribute racism as well.

But this whole debacle is also dripping with homophobia and masculinity.

Jamilah King of the trusty and always on-point Colorlines also provides a provocative commentary on the situation highlighting that Mayweather apologized for everything but his homophobic slurs. And why would he? All he was criticized for in popular media and the surrounding technologies was his racism, not so much on the homophobia he so effortlessly used and probably immersed in as an athlete.

The practice of hegemonic masculinity in this particular incident is through violence, homophobia and sexualization of another man. And it is all informed by the different ways brown men are pitted against one another in a roped cage for the amusement and entertainment of others. This is no current phenomena. It’s an old trick in the white supremacist, patriarchal, heternormative book: divide and conquer.

The racialization of masculinity in boxing has had one of my friends call it, “The Oppression Olympics.” Everytime 2 brown men are slated to fight one another in the ring and they happen to be Black versus Filipino, or Mexican versus Filipino, or Mexican versus Puertorican, there always seems to be this triumphant claim to nationalism and ethnicity that have people ready to ‘rep their set’ and say disgustingly hateful things to the ‘other.’ We (Filipinos) all participate in this, especially during a Manny fight–thinking that if we all send him good thoughts all at the same time that it’ll make him stronger. Or if we chant his name at the same time from our living rooms in California to Tondo to New York and Hong Kong, that his opponent will hear us and he will collapse from our global booming voice. But really, at that moment, we’re really hoping that the other (insert ethnicity) contender will lose and all we can see in our narrowest target is that contender, their brown face, their nation, their people. And we want them to lose.

This affect of hate and pride, puffed up chests and grunts are part of a masculinity that can only be a loose iteration of hegemonic masculinity, a masculinity of power, capital, control (political and economic). It’s about a horizontal violence against other ethnicities. It’s about a violence that not only puts a contender to the ground for 10 seconds, but its about a violence that reduces that contender’s body into the weakest being: a homosexual, an effeminate, the feminine, the deviant.

But, then I pause, and really ask, for whom is all this hatred stirred up for?

It’s really a produced and reproduced cycle of people of color exacting hate and violence on one another because they are who one another sees in the ring, in the streets, in the bodegas, in the neighborhood. I wish I could say that Mayweather’s remarks about Manny can stay in the business of boxing ring, but unfortunately, its bigger than that.

And perhaps, someone, should remind both Mayweather and the Pacman that regardless of if they fight or not, violent masculinity is still tearing up my brothers out there in the street, day in and day out, uStream or not.

Un-Warren-ted Assumptions

Last week, wrote a bit about the Filipino nurses in California, via California Nurses’ Association (CNA) filing a lawsuit against California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) about hiring discrimination against Filipino nurses.

After the news of this discrimination suit spread through local and national circuits, Warren Browner, the CEO of CPMC released the below letter to Terry Valen, the organizational director of San Francisco’s Filipino Community Center and the co-signed folks who are in support of the campaign.

Today, I’m writing about the assumptions Warren Browner writes with in his letter response to the case and campaign, and his blog posting about the issue. You might want to browse through that as well, here.

Dear Mr. Valen,

Thank you very much for your letter sharing your concerns. It’s unfortunate that you waited until after the news conference to ask us about these claims. Had you approached us earlier, we would have been able to reassure you that the California Nurses Association’s allegations are ridiculous and based on non-existent numbers.

As you know, many of the nurses at our St. Luke’s Campus, and at our other campuses and medical clinics in San Francisco, are Filipino. We are honored that our nurses choose to work at CPMC and greatly value their skill, compassion and commitment to caring for our patients. We are also proud of our long history of diversity in hiring and our commitment to being an equal opportunity employer. We would never discriminate against any individual or group, nor would we allow any member of our staff to order anyone else to do so.

The allegations made by CNA are serious, but they are also dishonest and without merit. The union claims that, based on CPMC’s own numbers, it can show a pattern of discrimination in the hiring of Filipino nurses. But those numbers do not exist. We have no way of knowing how many of our nurses are Filipino. We know how many are Asian and can show that 66 percent of the nurses at St. Luke’s today are Asian by self-report (up from 63 percent in 2007) but we don’t know how many are Filipino any more than we know how many are of Chinese or Japanese or Korean origin. We do not ask about country of origin.

In the news release that we sent out in response to the allegations, we quoted two Filipino nurses who have worked at St. Luke’s for a combined 31 years. Both were shocked and dismayed at the union’s desperation in making those claims. Here is what our nurses had to say:

Emilia Maninang RN, Clinical Nurse Manager in the Skilled Nursing Facility/Sub-Acute care unit at St. Luke’s: “I have worked at St. Luke’s for 19 years and no one has ever told me not to hire Filipino nurses. I’m Filipino, and if I had heard anyone say that I would’ve been appalled. I think the claims are part of CNA’s agenda to try and make CPMC look bad.”

Rose Duya RN: “When I heard the allegations made by the union I thought, ‘They must be desperate.’ I’m Filipino, most of my colleagues here at St. Luke’s are Filipino and I have been to many of the other CPMC campuses and have seen many other Filipinos there as well, so I don’t see how the union can make those claims.”

It’s also important to note that Emilia Maninang is on the hiring committee at St. Luke’s, so she would certainly know if there was any policy not to hire Filipino nurses. She says no one ever said anything like that to her, and if they had, she would have reported them.

The truth is the union is making these claims is to cover up its failure to win a contract for its nurses despite three years of negotiations. We recently offered to give our nurses a 2 percent raise. We believe the nurses deserve the raise for their hard work and dedication to patient care. However, union leaders have fought against our offer to provide a raise to nurses and we believe their discrimination charges are designed to divert attention from their own failure at the bargaining table.

We share with you in having a deep and abiding disgust at any form of discrimination and we welcome an investigation by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. We know it will show that the allegations are false and without any merit and that CNA made these false claims knowing full well the numbers they were citing were concocted.

We stand by our record as an employer committed to diversity. Our goal is to attract and recruit the very best employees who reflect the diversity of our patients and our City.

I have let all CPMC employees know exactly how I feel about this issue, and encourage you and the co-signers of your letter to read what I wrote (http://talktowarren.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/some-are-harder-than-others/).

I hope this addresses your concerns and answers your questions. If you would still like to meet with CPMC, please contact Kevin McCormack atmccormkd@sutterhealth.org or 415-600-7484.

Yours truly, Warren Browner, MD, MPH CEO, California Pacific Medical Center

Here are 5 things wrong about this letter and Mr. Browner’s weird and patronizing blogpost:

1. This letter is condescending. Don’t call a concerted, community effort to bring to light an issue that is obviously of utmost importance to them, their families and their livelihood “ridiculous.” Because then you’re ridiculous.

2. A “long history of diversity in hiring” in an institution that has over 50% Filipino employees is not diverse hiring. It is an investment in hiring of cheaper labor, cutting cost and working in cahoots with a country (the Philippines) and its labor export policy for extracting migrant labor for American niche economies. More broadly, induced migration due to the underdevelopment of a country, like the Philippines, coupled with a “labor-brokerage” system (see Robyn Rodriguez‘s break down of that there) means that first world, ahem American, needs for service and health industry jobs are met with priority.

3. Mr. Browner is engaging in a very familiar ‘management’ tactic of putting workers against workers. Just because there are 2 other Filipino nurses who were willing to co-sign on to Mr. Browner’s defense, doesn’t mean discrimination isn’t happening. It means that discrimination is nuanced, and perhaps multi-faceted in the forms it takes and the scope it reaches.

4. Hatin’ on the unions and demonizing the good work they do to maintain the rights, wages and welfare of workers isn’t gonna make you look like a fair boss. It only makes you look like a type of employer who is threatened by worker power and collective bargaining power.

5. Mr. Browner, just because you’ve been to the Philippines and have eaten your share of lumpia doesn’t mean Filipino nurses are not discriminatorily exclude nurses in new hiring cycles under your administration. In his blog post, I’m not sure if it is in some effort to prove his allegiance to the islands, and therefore to the Filipino people, thus Filipino nurses. Mr. Browner writes an unnecessary and patronizing write-up of his tour of the Philippines where he points to tourist destinations and food as a notes to his public about his appreciation for all things Filipino. This is exercise in multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism as some sort of proof of awareness of the country is, at best, insulting and, at worst, voyeuristic.

Can’t get a break: Story of Filipina migrant workers

Often, in the spheres of the Global Forum of Migration and Development and/or the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, icons of migrant workers are those that look like the pictures below. Smily. Shiny. Happy. Eager. 

But in the real world, the one that’s not smily. Not shiny. Migrant workers are dealing with some really complicated issues.

Most recently, in California, Filipino nurses filed a discrimination lawsuit against Sutter Health-California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) and St. Luke’s Hospital in the Bay Area. Administrators claimed that they were told not to hire Filipino nurses. Even though, Filipino nurses comprise more than half of nursing staff in any given hospital in the Bay Area. And heck, many hospitals in any major city in the US.

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure to view an uncut version of the documentary, “The Learning” by Ramona Diaz. It’s a moving documentary about Filipino teachers from the Philippines moving to Baltimore, Maryland to work, their struggles with being away from home, the transition of dealing with American students and, America, and the contradictions in the process.

A couple of days ago, Colorlines magazine writes about an alarming trend among Filipino migrant workers in the US. Michelle Chen writes, “Filipina workers just can’t get a break these days.” Damn right.

There’s definitely something up with Filipina migrant workers and the type of discrimination they’re facing in the US.

I’m gonna think and sleep on this more tonight. I’ll write through it tomorrow morning.

Hostage

Headlines about the Philippines peppered many of today’s international news circuits (NY Times, Reuters, BBC, Examiner, etc.) with the words “gunman”, “hostage”, “standoff” and “(insert number here) dead.” The most I’ve seen the Philippines on the news since the presidential race.

55-year old Rolando Mendoza was recently laid off as a senior police officer in Manila, due to charges of extortion and robbery in 2008. A day ago now, he decided to hi-jack a bus load of tourists from Hong Kong at a frequently visited landmark in Manila called Luneta. His main objective for staging the hostage was to get his job back. The story ends with  bloodshed, at least 7 tourists and Mendoza, dead.

Mendoza’s standoff reminded me of Raymond Red’s “Himpapawid” or in English, Manila Skies.

Based on a true story, Red’s dark and compelling movie is about a man who loses his job, tries to get a visa to work abroad, gets caught up in a bad, petty criminal situation, ending up hi-jacking a plane to get home to his province so that he could work in the fields instead of struggle in the city. Throughout the whole movie, the main character (whose name escapes me now), is shown sewing together the strike banners of workers at a picket line. He uses this as a parachute to jump out of the hi-jacked plane, which inevitably fails to save his life.

Of course there’s more to the movie, and everyone should go see it. But..

Both these stories have been tragically inspired by common ills in Philippine society:

First, the fundamental and structural problems of unemployment and corruption leaving thousands jobless, desperate and always-at-the-brink-of-crazy. Regardless of which president sits on the throne of Philippine governance, the truth is that the neoliberal policy of migrant export coupled with the weight of political and economic intervention, is killing the Filipino people.

Second, the raw and unrestrained need for survival. On a much personal level, the emotions of the 2 men, one in real life and the other, fictive (but might as well be real), were of frenzied hopelessness. So much so they were grabbing at nothing.

Lastly, the gendering of both t/males, made available to us here in the “West,” points to such a significant loss in masculinity. So much so that the only way to gain back a job, respect, and dignity, was to go assert a violent masculinity. They both convince themselves that the way out of desperation is to spiral off into an even deeper situation. In essence, a lose-lose situation was the only solution.

To me, the circulation of this story is the dangerous part. What are the consequences of this narrative being told over and again about Filipino men, brown men, desperate, brown men? What is it connected to? What work does the circulation do?

At certain points, I think it serves to counter-act (or counter-balance?) the production of the overly disciplined, obedient Filipino female body: the migrant worker, “ilaw ng tahanan,” light of the home, stalwart mother. It definitely produces the Filipino male as unruly, savage, and fanatic.

The circulation of his story as an undisciplined brown man on a killing spree, holding up hostages, and acting against a just and rational police force and a just and rational president, Noynoy Aquino sounds a lot like an extension of the rational for Islamophobia. Its widening grip on anyone and anything that seems to be in opposition to good governance: terror-ists, resistors, and now, disgruntled employees. Really, the pre-emptive strike on anyone and anything that moves to challenge “just and rational governments”. Never the unjust and irrational conditions under which people live without water and food (Pakistan), jobs (Philippines), security and safety (Gaza), homes (New Orleans’ Katrina).  Thus everyone becomes a threat, the desperation becomes threatening and then, perhaps, it makes sense for people to play the part, the role of hostage-taker.

No justifications for Mendoza here. I mourn with the families in Hong Kong who lost their loved ones on that bus. And also for Mendoza’s family.

Moreover, I mourn for the many men’s desperation in the Philippines that may or may not hold another hostage. And those who are held hostage by the conditions of unlivable life.

IWA!

My organization, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) (see http://www.firenyc.org), just went on a summer field trip to Montreal to participate in the Montreal International Women’s Conference and the founding assembly of anti-imperialist, grassroots women’s organizations from around the world, called International Women’s Alliance!

This is what happened in Montreal last weekend:

There are more action pictures but these were kinda my faves. That’s me in the red polka dot dress!

maligayang pagdating

so really this is the first time, i’ve actually sat down and thought about my trip to the philippines with some type of reflection and reflexivity. and the funny thing is, i’m already here.

in the real time hustle and bustle of my life in the Big Apple, i was super uber still trying to do work, tie up loose ends, save files, get folks out prepped and ready for the summer (expo and stateside), etc. etc. right up until i almost missed my flight out of JFK on sunday morning. what followed was a blur of two–or was it three-days in the Bay Area despedida-ing, barbeQing, laughing, packing and still knotting up or putting on ice the gajillion things i try to stay on top of in my life.

the only real preparation i had for this trip was when i got bit up by 78,000 mosquitoes after the t-storm during the sandiwa conference, and R. took me to get some anti-itch cream and repellant. we walked hand in hand in the humidity from 69th all the way to 61st + 2 long blocks over, and while i held back the temptation to get on the floor like a flea-ridden dog and scratch the skin off my legs, he asked me ever so non-chalantly, “are you ready for the trip, my love?”

i could barely ek out the words, “i’m not sure,” as another mosquito try to feed on my calf.

both he and i knew, i wasn’t ready. even just to muse about the summer. i wasn’t about to sit there an dpretend that i knew nann about my trip and how i felt about. he paused a second, smiled and gave me a reassuring hug. picked my hand back up and bought me some benadryl for my bites. he’s gonna have my back, i know it. i just couldn’t even get anything out.

7 weeks. it still seemed so far away even though the clock was ticking on my sunday morning flight. i would get on that plane the next day.

===

“iba talaga ang pilipinas.”

my immigrant narrative is a tale of perpetual returns and departures.

i’m as conflicted about being as i was last year. yearning for my family but ecstatic that i’m out of the belly of the beast. wishing i could share all of this with R. but excited for the lessons we will have learned at the end of our annual sabbatical from each other. kicking myself in the culo for not bringing my FiRE sisters back with me but knowing that they are doing growing with each other on that side of the world. crossing my fingers that i learn something but knowing already that i’m changing already.

all of these, dialectics. internal and external. material and metaphysical. i, then, am situated. roots growing. concrete set. beaten path familiar. i’m here in my elsewhere. between homes and making a home in between.

===

the emotional train wreckage that followed me last year has been detailed, journaled, neatly folded up and stuck in my back pocket. i wouldn’t say i wasn’t feeling all my heart strings all through and while flying over the pacific, but i wasn’t a sobbing mess when the airplane landed at NAIA.

perhaps i didn’t have a knee jerk reaction to coming back because i now know what to expect a little. and perhaps still, it hasn’t hit me that i’m here. even now.

===

the humidity here is not so different from new york (minus the fucking batallion of insects that attacked me in Queens a couple of days ago). yes, you are right. i have yet to show off not a one philippine grown bug bite yet. do i think i’m fucking invincible right now. HELL TO THE M-FKN YEA. and i was steady outside in the pollution and smoke yestereday too! booyah.

===

today, i’ll tralala off to QC hug a couple of good friends and be back in time for galunggong at dinner time. (hopefully) imma do like mel gibson and braveheart the public transpo system in metro-manila in about an hour from now. wish me luck comrades.