WORM’S EYEVIEW: Typecasting OFWs as caregiver/domestic worker

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) — It’s been an awkward source of pride to many of our countrymen that OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are stereotyped abroad as domestic service providers.

The stereotype is viewed with discomfiture, in some cases with a sense of humiliation, as if it was an affront against nobility. That it springs from a positive appreciation of the Filipino’s fastidious and reliable service does not assuage the unease about such (to them) a “lowly” branding of our compatriots, especially among the snobbish elite and social-climbing crowd.

“That’s not fair; we’re better than that!”—the class-conscious, elitist Pinoy may exclaim at the thought of being associated with (to them) the underclass.

They may even cite the many successful professionals, entertainers, wealthy urbanites, classy entrepreneurs—and yes, beauty queens and fashion plates!—here and abroad as the better stereotype.

They wish! But it can’t be helped anymore; the stereotype has stuck. The care-giving connotation of the word “Filipino” has entered some modern lexicons—as in domestic helper, housemaid, or caregiver.

So what? It has nothing to do with the Filipino’s intrinsic worth or dignity as a person. It’s only an observation of reality based on occupational numbers. They’re all over the place, they’re mostly domestic workers, and who can deny that?

No denying a sociological phenomenon. It’s readily verifiable in urban parks where they like to hobnob or congregate on their days off. From Hong Kong and Taipei to Oman and Riyad to Madrid and Paris you can seek them in their favorite park on weekends and holidays.

Remember when the term “Chinaman” was associated with being a coolie, a cook, or a personal servant? Back then, “not a Chinaman’s chance” was the way to characterize someone with zero odds of success in any ambitious endeavor.

The Chinese then, like today’s Pinoys, were all over the world—famously as coolies, hawkers, cooks, laundry service workers, and the like.

The same phenomenon is being acted out in today’s working world by overwhelming numbers of Filipinos abroad—care-giving, housekeeping, domestic servicing.

But why worry? The term “Filipino” is not likely to denote a person down on his luck, utterly bereft of a chance to succeed as “Chinaman” used to imply. That’s been taken care of by the glory of Edsa ’86, the allure of Lea Salonga at Broadway, the renown of Dado Banatao in Silicon Valley and Manny Pacquiao on the ring, and behold our beauty queens!

They and countless others including ice-skating star Christian Martinez of the Sochi Olympics have already given us a shine that overpowers the “shame” in being Filipino and an OFW. Ask Simon Cowell, Oprah Winfrey, or Harvard University which has just recruited an outstanding Filipina to join its law faculty. The Filipino has arrived on the world stage, gloriously!

Kaya, relak lang, mga Bosing! The Pinoy image has been refurbished.


In fact, Pinoys have had a long record as OFWs in many, many more fields than caregiving and domestic servicing. They’re known as great sailors and adventurists, and fortune seekers: nagsasapalaran, nagbabakasakali, mangitag kahigayonan ug nindot nga kapalaran.

They’ve been doing the rounds, sailing the seven seas, manning foreign vessels, for over a century already.

Visit Louisiana and find there a seaside village off New Orleans that testifies to the adventurous spirit of Pinoy Galleon sailors who jumped ship en route to Mexico in search of their destiny in early America. They did so over two centuries ago, even before America became a state or country!

The outflow of OFWs started in trickles at first, increasing as domestic demand for foreign workers rose abroad. It gained momentum with the inflow of American soldiers and civil servants in the early 1900s as our status as an American protectorate and commonwealth got underway.

In no time, America’s farms and plantations, canneries and urban industrial plants developed an appetite for Pinoy labor and were hungry for more. Naturally, our forbears were only too eager to oblige, readily striking out to fill demand in plantations, vineyards, and assorted work places.

It was a felicitous development: the prospect of earning real wages from honest labor appealed to an age-old yearning among Filipinos who were patronizingly viewed by Spaniards who called them indios. Victims of Spanish colonial exploitation, they suffered three centuries of oppression, forced to render free labor for the regime and its arrogant overlords.

There was plenty of work and high demand for laborers during the colonial period—but no pay! The Castilians actually thought they were entitled to free labor and took advantage of the Pinoy’s obliging nature: always willing to help, helping smilingly.

The abuse was in fact one of the issues that fired up the Philippine Revolution, leading to the eventual downfall of the Spanish regime and the takeover of the America.

In any case, there’s really nothing new about the Pinoy’s renown as overseas worker, service provider, or domestic. Like the Chinese before them, they practically invented this overseas occupation.

Manny among others is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, member of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. valdehuesa@gmail.com