“Success is a journey, not a destination”…Arthur Ashe, US tennis hero
My editor asked me the other day, ‘Why don’t you write about the Filipino caregivers? It doesn’t need to be all about their successes, but more about their daily lives.’
I immediately agreed. It’s about time.
The hired help has never had much respect since the Biblical times. It’s been that way in the Philippines, too, for as far as I can remember, where TV shows and movies often portrayed the maid as a comical character – uneducated, eccentric, and sometimes not right in the head.
When I arrived in Vancouver thirty years ago, I observed a palpable divide between the Filipino nannies and the professional crowd. It was ‘them and us’. Because of my newspaper work, I was able to move freely between the two groups, and often the professionals forget that I was actually a domestic worker. Sometimes they talked about ‘them’ in unflattering ways in my presence. I didn’t blame them for such point of view. It was an attitude that even the foreign domestics themselves helped perpetuate. There was a certain feeling of embarrassment in admitting that one was ever a foreign nanny.
As time went on however, the divide slowly broke down. Thirty years later, I don’t see as much discrimination anymore.
Many of the Filipino workers who come to Canada these days are college graduates and professionals. The basic requirements of the current federal Live-in Caregiver Program include fluency in English or French, at least two years of college education, and a certificate from a 6-month practical caregiving course. People who have a diploma and experience as teachers and nurses are highly preferred.
A survey that I did in 2015 for a non-profit group revealed statistics that I’ve known since I came to Vancouver in 1988: Many of the women and the few men who took these caregiving jobs have worked in the Philippines as teachers, nurses, physiotherapists, bankers, accountants, engineers, even as veterinarian. They came here to escape the unstable political situation and prevalent corruption in the country; to avoid the relentless tides of violence and poverty which could swallow whole families. They all knew they were doing a temporary job. A stepping-stone. In most cases these people looked for a better-paid employment or started a business soon after they got their landing status. But these same folks would rather forget, if they could, that they had ever been domestics.
I know this because back in 1993, after I graduated from nannying and was working in a group advocating for foreign workers, a CBC news reporter told me so. She found it refreshing that I was straightforward about having entered Canada on a domestic worker’s visa. The reporter recalled that sometime in the recent past, she wanted to do a story on former foreign nannies who had become successful in Vancouver. She asked around for someone to interview. Nobody came forward. Sad, but understandable.
Back in the day, I was asked by a man from another ethnic group if all the Filipinos were poor. I looked him in the eye and asked him back, ‘is everyone from your country poor?’ He declined to say.
I took a 6-month desktop publishing course once, and graduated at the top of my class, which included about twenty white students. The director of the school told me he was very surprised that I did so well. He probably thought he was being nice. I got so angry at the inherent racism in his statement that I forgot to thank him for my certificate.
These people were judging others based on stereotype.
Personally, I am proud of having worked as a domestic because it helped me grow and become a better person. Domestic work is honest work. There is no shame in getting paid to help look after other people’s children. A nanny is entrusted with the most precious thing a parent could ever have. Besides, I think teaching these kids some Filipino values, and helping raise a generation of rice-eating, Tagalog-swearing little white children is commendable. Even a step towards eliminating racism.
But I digress.
My next series of stories will be about these Filipino women, these erstwhile foreign domestics in Canada, and how they helped improve people’s lives, both their families’ and others’. I’ll call it the Caregiver Chronicles.
Their successes aren’t exactly the material kind. It did not make them millionaires. What these women did was survive the challenges, learn from these experiences and empower others by sharing the lessons they have learned.
Next issue, I will tell you about an amazing person, a former caregiver who has helped change many women’s lives from the time she stepped on Canadian soil.
Her name is Rhea Villavicencio.