I WAS GLAD TO SEE THE D.C. media acknowledge the existence of Filipino-Americans in Washington with a cover story (“Capital Slaves,” 5/12) about female domestic workers. But I was disappointed to find the story’s complexities reduced to a typical victim narrative, complete with good Samaritans and evil employers.
This is a many-layered story. Domestic workers hired by people from their own country are involved in a unique employer/employee relationship that is a mix of “intimacy and power” (the words of Cynthia Enloe in Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics). They often live in the home and are often treated just like one of the family. This has benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are that they are invited to familiy parties and taken on family outings to movies or the mall. On the other hand, in becoming one of the family, extra services and overtime might be expected without extra pay. Domestic helpers end up doing more work than they are paid for.
The familiarity of the Filipina maid and the mundanity of her work belie the significance she has in the Philippine economy. The income domestic workers send back to the Philippines each year helps the Philippine government balance its trade and pay off international debts. Don’t be so quick to label them victims. They are heroes to their families back home. I know too many strong, don’t-mess-with-me Filipina domestic workers who work overtime without pay, who agree to watch the neighborhood kids as well as their employer’s kids after school, and who would definitely slap me if I called them “slaves.” These are real people with hopes and hangups, who may be working in potentially exploitative circumstances.
Rockville, Md., via the Internet