A few Filipina migrants in Kabalikat Domestic Workers Support Network (now MIGRANTE New York) would often joke that they lived in a place called, Queenila. Their feet in Queens, their hearts in Manila.


This place in-between, not here, nor there, elsewhere became a sticking point for me in my research for the #LaborofCare. I often wondered what it was like to live in this space, an imagined place in between but two global cities. An imagined geography that had so much materiality.

Turns out Queenila was’t just a space or place. It became the first of many lessons Filipina migrants would teach me about conducting qualitative research with them, not on them. Queenila was an intimate invitation to step into the lives of Filipina migrants and their families. It not only described their social realities but the word, the concept, the worth of Queenila was an insistence on centering their experiences as Filipina migrants and most importantly, always tethered to the experience of the families left behind. A truly transnational dynamic.

In my most recent publication, “Researching Queenila and Living In-Between: Multi-sited Ethnography, Migrant Epistemology and Transnational Families” in the Journal of Migration and Development, I write about how Queenila was at the crux of my research methodology. I insist on engaging migrant epistemology to deepen our understanding of transnationalism. You can find a free e-Print of the article here. And if you can’t access it, feel free to shoot me an email at vfm@sfsu.edu


The Labor of Care on the New Books Network Podcast

I’ve been on a podcast tip on car rides home with my partner, Raul, and when there’s a lgood point to be made, I’m always like, “PAUSE THAT. Because if that was me…” So, finally, here I am on a podcast talking about all things #LaborofCare. Its origins story, more extra cuts and stories that I didn’t fold into the book, and some ideas around decolonizing methodology when working with migrant communities.

Christopher Patterson, author of two newly released books, Transitive Cultures published by Rutgers University Press and Stamped: An Anti-Travel Novel under his pen name Kawika Guillermo. I’ve known Chris for a long time as we were coming up through grad school and as junior faculty. I was so excited to hear that he might want to feature my book on his series “New Books in Asian American Studies”. I was a little nervous but he was a generous interviewer giving me a lot of room to digress and talk anecdotally about my research and findings. It was so much fun!

But of course, I didn’t get to say it all. If I were listening to my own podcast (but ew i don’t like the sound of my own recorded voice) I’d probably have some moments where I’d be like, “PAUSE THAT.” So if you have any questions for me about the podcast and interview, please leave it in the comments below.

Lastly, a giant in the field of Asian American Studies, Filipino American Studies specifically, Dawn Bohulano Mabalon has transitioned to be one of our ancestors. I was lucky enough to have Dawn in my life since I was a 16-year old Pinay just trying to find her way. More formally through the years, she became my professor, mentor, and most importantly, my friend. I read her book Little Manila is in the Heart when I got into a rut in my own book writing. She was the one that told me, “Val, I wrote that book 5 times over. You gon’ do the same.” My book wouldn’t have been written if it wasn’t for her sage advice. This one’s for you, Dawn.


A Remedy for Remedios

After a long day of work at the care home, Nanay–my paternal grandmother, Remedios, or Reme, for short–would sit in the laundry room with a contraption that looked like it was separating her head from her body. After years of working as a caregiver in a care home (or Residential Care Facility for the Elderly/RCFE), she had hurt her back and her neck. But without benefits, she could only afford a clinic visit.

After one fall where she had unbearable pain, Reme went to go get her back looked at. She came home with a contraption that clipped on to the top of the middle of a door, with a long rope hanging down that had a chin rest on the bottom. Reme would scoot a chair over to that door and with her seat back resting on the door, she’d hang her chin on the contraption for 30 minutes. She looked as if she was in a fight with gravity. Chin and face moving downward, only kept up by this neck and back stabilizer.

My 8 year-old self, an adoring fan of Nanay, would sit on the ground across from her, my back resting against the thudding of the dryer and I’d watch her read her prayer book. She’d shoo me away but I’d come back and just watch her. After all, she was pretty immobile stuck in her chin contraption.

Nanay’s day as a caregiver would begin at 5:30 am. Making a delicious breakfast for 6 elderly people, two who were developmentally disabled, and for 3 children (me and my siblings), and her husband. She’d spend all day doing her rotation of chores: cleaning the floors, vacuuming the carpets, dusting, changing linens, disinfecting bathrooms, yard work, tending to her vegetable garden which she then used to cook three square meals and coffee breaks in the middle of the snacks. Of course, she’d clean up her cooking mess, wash the dishes, set up and put away the kitchen. She’d administer medication, keep track of everyone’s medicines, call for refills if needed, make sure doctor’s appointments were set and rides were set for her patients. She would ensure everyone bathed, collected dirty clothes, wash and dry and fold and put away every person’s laundry. She’d make sure they had books and board games to bide the time with, or a TV show. She facilitated daily walks around the neighborhood and some garden time for her patients. She’d end her day at 9:30 pm and be in her chin contraption until 10:00 pm.

Of course, it didn’t end there. Because, Reme, she was a world class act. She’d sew frocks for the womenfolk. She’d sit and joke around with Uncle Joe, whose laugh echoed down the hall. She’d ask Uncle Harry about the new book he was obsessed with. She’d sit with Elizabeth and dust her porcelain collectibles. She was not just a caregiver. She was their friend, their maternal figure, their confidant.

On top of taking care of my siblings and I, Nanay was the ultimate caregiver, devoting so much of herself to her work and her patients. And still, she couldn’t get a medical appointment to help her with her back. Instead, it was the chin contraption 30 minutes a night and a big pill of Ibuprofen twice or three times a day.

This was the beginnings of the CARE Project 2.0, I suppose. I’ve always wondered about the conditions of caregivers: the logics and avenues under which they get their work. But recently, I’ve been more interested in what the occupation does to their body.

Often, Filipino migrants working as caregivers are at elevated risk for various health risks because of their occupation and worries about family in the Philippines. The CARE Project research hopes to understand the experiences of caregivers working in their jobs, physical and mental health outcomes and being a migrant to the US through online surveys and in-person interviews with Filipino researchers.

Are you a Filipino Caregiver or know one living or working in the Bay Area? All Filipino caregivers who participate will receive a $20 Target gift card for their time and participation.

Remedios won’t be able to take this survey, won’t be able to report how the job really affected her health. She passed away in 1995 but if you are a caregiver, please take the survey here: https://bit.ly/CAREproject

Help me find out the effects of this occupation on caregivers’ physical and mental health.

Duterte’s Kiss is a Kiss of Death

A couple of days ago, President Rodrigo Duterte kisses an overseas foreign worker at a press conference in Korea.

His administration’s spin excuses his behavior stating, “Malacañang sees nothing wrong with President Rodrigo Duterte kissing a married overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Seoul, saying it is ‘very [much] accepted in the culture of Filipinos.'”

The problem with this statement and Duterte’s action(s) against women is that he normalizes Filipino misogyny and patriarchy. When a whole administration covers for a president’s sexist buffoonery and machismo, it condones a whole host of other abuses against women. (Ahem, sounds like everything that a certain “pussy-grabber” does.)

In a macho-fascist state under Duterte, then, an ombudsman prosecutor named, Madonna Joy Ednaco-Tayag, dies in broad daylight, stabbed to death under the cover of the “war on drugs”. She was 5 months pregnant. She was a government employee. She was a fighter for the people investigating graft and corruption. She is slain, her unborn baby is slain, emboldened by the “kisses” of death blesses by Duterte.

Under Duterte, normalizing Filipino patriarchy and misogyny means women’s lives are devalued, consumable and disposable. So as debates go on about how “acceptable” it is for Filipino men to kiss strangers. We must understand these ridiculous excuses for a sexist and misogynistic president as a part of his impunity and tyranny. Women in the Philippines and in the Filipino diaspora have spoken loud and clear, #BabaeAko #LalabanAko!

Image description: Collage of Filipina scholars in the US sand Canada for #BabaeAko


Labor of Care on HellaPinay’s #GetLit

The Labor of Care is on HELLAPINAY, y’all! In May’s book review roundup from the brilliant Pia Cortez, my book is sandwiched among some pretty awesome titles in their series, #GetLit!

I’ve been following hellapinay on Instagram for a while now because its Pinay-centric content gives me my whole life. And when the infamous book-reviewer and homie, Pia Cortez aka the brains and beauty behind Libromance offered to review my book, I was over the moon. My hopes for my book was that people outside of the academy would read it and relate to it or find it interesting or see themselves in it. And when I read Cortez’s words, “In many ways, reading brought me closer to my mom. She spoke to me through the stories I read, as I understood her own pain. I saw my mom not just as my mother, but as a fellow immigrant, a Filipina, a woman of color trying to survive and thrive in this world.” At that moment, I wasn’t just hella pinay, I was hella crying.

Having Pia, a powerful Pinay writer, feature my book on her list on this amazing Pinay platform alongside so many bad-ass writers like Arundhati Roy and poet, Aja Monet, makes my heart so happy.


Bridge City

Often, when I deliver a talk about The Labor of Care, I can’t help but get choked up about the lives and sacrifices of the women in the book. And during my last stop on this semester’s book tour in Portland, it was no different. More so because I began with the story of my own mother, Mama Irma, and her journey to the US with three young kids in tow. I’ve dragged Cy to almost every book talk so I know the logistics entailed in traveling with an infant. So to think about my own mother’s bravery, audacity and tenacity to schlep all three of us across the Pacific Ocean, I give her HELLA props.

I think sharing my own biography and reflecting on the stories in the book allowed people to connect to the book in different ways. Whether it was their own migration story, their own epistemological truths, their own journey to seek out new knowledge production, the Portland crowd seemed to engage with my work in so many different ways.

Photo credit: Patrick Villaflores Image description: Copy of the evening’s paper program in the foreground and VFM speaking in the background

It was important to me to know that the book could relate to people who are non-Filipino, non-migrant. And many of the attendees were just that. Still they connected in some way.

More importantly though, a great showing of Filipino community and organizations came: GABRIELA PDX, Anakbayan PDX, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Kaibigan at PSU. And also colleagues and grinds too! I was so proud to share this work with them and because of them–they whose stories are parallel with the ones in the book. Especially told Center stage as a keynote in a city that often invisibilizes Filipinos.

For the Filipino community in Portland (yes, they’re there) and the comrades who helped watch Cy during my academic talks, I was so honored to represent their experiences.

Now, time to grade and sprint to the finish line of the semester!


Honoring mothering

On Mother’s Day, I’d like to honor those who are doing the work of mothering:

  • Migrant mother’s caring from afar
  • Mothers who are red fighters
  • Single mothers
  • Queer mothers
  • Nannies, domestic workers, childcare providers
  • Teachers
  • Single fathers
  • Aunties and Titas
  • Ates and older sisters
  • Mothers who have lost a child or children
  • Best friends of mothers
  • Godmothers
  • Mothers-to-be
  • Fictive mothers or Nanay-nanayan
  • Community mothers and kasama mamas

This is not an exhaustive list but it’s who I think about doing the WORK of mothering. The work is not always caring and loving, often it is difficult and we may not come to it fully but many people do it. So with my most grateful heart, thank you.


Nickel and Dime

Growing up in the Bay Area, I always fetishized the East Bay, the 510, the nickel and dime (as was referred to in voicemail intros back in the day), as the center of Filipinos in the Bay. In contrast to what was then a very homogenous (read: white) city of Concord, the East Bay was teeming with Filipino culture! My high school friends and I would drive to Newpark Mall and get our sepia toned pictures done–baby hairs combed down with gel with matching racer stripe maxi skirts. We’d run into other Filipino/a youth at the studio and all I could do was be jealous that they had more Filipinos in their neck of the woods than I had in mine.

Coming to CSU East Bay to talk about transnational families, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe the students there were 2nd and 3rd generation? Maybe they couldn’t relate?

Oh was I wrong. This group of students that so generously organized time, space and resources to host me and The Labor of Care, did so to learn more about family separation in our community. They were, themselves, members of transnational families–separated from parents then brought over. And if they didn’t relate, they sat together to listen about our community’s issues.

Photo credit: John Tolang Image description: VFM standing and addressing group of students

After an exchange about the book’s ideas and their own experiences, these gracious students of PASA who were in the midst of PCN season related their current theme to my work. They offered me dance in return and I was so happy to bare witness. Photo credit: John Tolang Image Description: VFM sitting listening to group of students

All these years later, the East Bay is still a geography of Filipino America that is quite under organized, underrated, understudied and underrepresented. I hope one day soon, someone will organize with and write about the brilliance of its Filipino youth and the deep histories of Filipinos there. There’s definitely more to it that sepia pictures and malls.


Today, in the East Bay!

CSU East Bay has always had a soft place in my heart, mostly because of my student organizing days with PACE, PASA and Akbayan, and the formation of Tri-Force back in the day. I’ll be back on the CSU East Bay campus after a decade to talk about my journey and how it informed my writing of the Labor of Care!


Portland, get ready!

A huge part of The Labor of Care was finalized in cafes, restaurants and community meetings in Portland. Organizations like Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, GABRIELA PDX, and Anakbayan PDX were political homes for my book and developing the manuscript. I’m so happy to be coming back to the PNW to share the book!


Patience and Fortitude

Did you know those lions in front of 42nd St library are called Patience and Fortitude? In grad school, I’d walk the few blocks from The Graduate Center and set myself on those steps to eat lunch and read my seminar’s assigned readings. I never knew they had names. Until so many years later, someone told me that finishing a book took both patience and fortitude.

Those words made so much sense as I finished up these two book talks in New York City. This place, a home to the words and ideas in The Labor of Care, often seemed chaotic and unruly. During research, I couldn’t figure out how all the pieces would fit together, if the work would every yield anything important, and even, if I’d get a job after all was said and done. Walking NYC streets and taking trains reminded me of the very visceral sensibilities that first formed the theories in my book.

And although there were times, I didn’t think I’d finish my PhD, much less transform the ideas into a book, it was patience and fortitude, the names of these lions roaring encouraging words to me, that got me to publication and back to New York. But instead of static statues atop a national monument, the roaring lions were the domestic workers whose stories I was telling, the community organizations that deemed the work important enough to invest time and effort, friends, mentors and family who believed I could turn the work into something important. I’m so grateful for them.


Image Description: Crowd standing next to one another with author for a post-event photo. 

Going to New York City to give this book back to those who gave me the responsibility of telling their stories was an absolute gift. Being in the Skylight Room at the Graduate Center talking the book’s ideas over with Premilla Nadasen and Michelle Saulon Luat of MIGRANTE NYC was delightful. We built out the ideas of scholar-activism and the importance of care work in community organizing. We recognized the neoliberal moment/crisis that forces so many families to be separated. And at the end, I felt so honored to have two amazing women, committed to the very same social justice values I hold dear, to discuss the work.


Image Description: Michelle Luat, Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, Premilla Nadasen sit next to each other discussing the book, The Labor of Care. Photo Credit: James Flores

Lastly, it was such a thrill to bring my children and partner, Raul, to NYC for this momentous occasion. We walked to road as a family of four carving out new roads and ways for our families to make sense of the city. Patience and fortitude was needed it that as well!


Labor of Care NYC launch

It is my great honor and pleasure to come back to CUNY, The Graduate Center to launch The Labor of Care in New York City!

When I first came to the Graduate Center to begin my doctoral program, I remember going to a lecture in the Skylight Room and knowing that one day, I’ll come back to this very room to share my work. More importantly, I get to share this launch in conversation with two brilliant women: Lorena McRae-Sanchez, a MIGRANTE NYC organizer and a pivotal figure in the book, and, Premilla Nadasen, an accomplished scholar and writer of Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a MovementBoth were super important in shaping this project and my current thinking!

I’ll be documenting my return to NYC in this blog!