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A Family Abroad

Jessica Von Wendel

hOn any Sunday, along every street, park, and open public space in Hong Kong sit hundreds, if not thousands, of Filipino women.  Here in the center of the city the migrant Filipina domestic workers relax and enjoy each other’s company.   I see many lounging on flattened cardboard boxes or blankets on the ground.  Some are reading, playing cards or eating, but everyone is sitting in a group.  There is a sense of companionship and familiarity in these groups.  Perhaps this is a result of being the minority in a foreign country.  By coming together and making their numbers and situations known, these Filipinas are a transnational, migratory group struggling to gain a foothold in a foreign global city.

I talked with many of the women.  They all spoke English very well and were very polite.  In one group a girl was getting a manicure while the others chatted.  Two women in particular were eager to talk.  They were sitting on a wall watching the speakers and performers advocating for migrant rights.  They both wore yellow visors.  Julie talked about her family.  She has an eight year old son back home in the Philippines and her husband is working in the Middle East.  Her sister and her mother are raising her son back home.  I asked when she will see him again.  She shook her head and said that most of the Filipino domestics get only two weeks off to go back to the Philippians every two years.  She said, “This is why we are getting together and speaking out.”  The banner in the performing center reads “Defend our land, life, and livelihood at home and overseas.”

fIt was on every woman’s mind.  Their families back home were their number one priority.  I asked Julie if there was anything else beside her family that she missed, but they were all she could think of.  In Lisa Law’s article “Defying Disappearance: Cosmopolitan Public Spaces in Hong Kong” she describes Statue Square where most of the Filipinas gather, as being "connected to both Hong Kong and Philippine national imaginaries; a public space that defies routine analysis.”  A bridge is made between two nations, even if one refuses to acknowledge the other's presence.  In a way, the groups of women on the streets become a surrogate family; people to talk with in their native language and laugh with over the week's trials.  Transnational migrations and globalization may be splitting families apart, but they simultaneously are also creating new ones.

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