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Her journey, her voice

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Her journey, her voice

Launched last week at Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww) was “Many Journeys, Many Voices” (Anvil), a beautiful book (the concept, the stories, the design) that focuses on Filipina Overseas Workers (FOWs) from “the perspective of three interdisciplinary studies: sociology, literature and art.”

On the back cover is a blurb that was gently wangled from me by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, one of the book’s authors and Aliww founding mother. “Their lives, their stories, narrated in their own distinct voices. Reading—or rather, listening to—individual FOW stories is like accompanying them in their often lonely journeys in distant lands. We sense the uncommon courage, we feel the heartbreak, we also glimpse the hope. These women serve, sweat and strive to give their best while in strange climes and on unfamiliar terrain. For family and country, for good or ill, in health or sickness, in fair weather or foul—till they come home again.”

The 10 stories in the book were chosen from the oral narratives of FOWs gathered by the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC). The book’s mothers, Zapanta-Manlapaz, Czarina Saloma and Yael A. Buencamino, carefully handled the stories so that they ring as genuinely as when they were told in mixed languages (Filipino languages, English). It goes without saying that the 10 women whose stories are included in the book are coauthors.

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Other “midwives” who helped in the book’s birthing were noted artists Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi (for the cover), Imelda Cajipe-Endaya and Brenda Fajardo, as well as Aliww, IPC and Ateneo Art Gallery, institutions that supported the project. That’s why the book sells cheap at P295.

“Many Journeys,” the authors explain, “chronicles the “feminization of Filipino migrant labor and surveys the singular challenges faced by Filipino women compelled to work overseas.” The FOWs speak about their lives and their journeys that will elicit compassion and respect for their indomitable spirit and sympathy for their cause.

Part 1 presents the IPC’s findings on the FOWs’ “practices of connectedness, commitments and attachments.” In her essay, Saloma provides “a panoramic view of the temporal and spatial patterns of migration” that are the context of the study. What are the added burdens that the women have to bear? How do they keep durable their ties to family? Part 1 also features the FOWs’ host countries that participated in the study.

Part 2 is made up of the autobiographical narratives—portraits, if you will—of 10 of the 33 Filipino women who participated in the IPC study. Buencamino calls them “new heroes” but adds that unlike national or war heroes whose exploits are celebrated in literature, art and cinema, the lives of these women are not detailed. Are their sacrifices not worth exposing and emulating?

Saloma (who is in Germany) wrote the following introduction on the study, which IPC head Marita Castro Guevera read on her behalf:

“In 1961, Victoria left her job as a nurse at a Metro Manila hospital to work at the cancer nursing section of the New York University Hospital. In 1971, Lourdes traveled to London to be a personal assistant and caregiver. In 1974, Odette left Zamboanga City to work as a nurse at a hospital in Germany. In 1978, Fely left her husband and five children in the Mountain Province to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. In 1980, Hilda left Northern Samar to become a seamstress for a Saudi princess. In the 1990s, Bernadette, Nora, Miriam, and Sarah, along with many others, took on work as nurses and caregivers in the Middle East and the USA, as English tutors in Saudi Arabia and Singapore, as domestic helpers in Oman and Malaysia, and as entertainers in Japan. In 2000, Jennifer set off for Switzerland where she worked as a nanny for the next 10 years.

“They are but a few of the many Filipina workers who found jobs abroad in the past six decades.”

The 10 stories in the book provide more detail and context. In her editorial preface, Zapanta-Manlapaz explains how the recorded oral narratives were edited in order to make the women’s voices audible.

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Now here is another FOW story unfolding as we speak. Filipino-Canadians have sent a letter of appeal to Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration, Chris Alexander, to grant Ma. Victoria “Vicky” Venancio permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Her story can very well be in “Many Journeys.” Excerpts:

“Vicky is a 29-year-old woman who came from the Philippines to work in the service industry. In June 2012, Vicky was cycling to work in Edmonton when she was struck by a vehicle, leaving her quadriplegic. Her employer is not providing disability benefits and the government is now in the process of deporting her.

“Vicky is a hardworking woman and if allowed to stay she will be able to speed her rehabilitation and continue to work and contribute to Canadian society and support her family back in the Philippines. If deported, she will never be able to receive the treatment she needs to recover.

“Since her arrival in Canada, Vicky has been engaged not only in providing for her family… She is currently providing for herself with the help of the network of friends she has created. With strong conviction, Vicky continues to volunteer for experimental treatments at the University of Alberta’s ReWalk program. She has made significant progress and is helping the research group to discover new directions in making post injury recovery possible. Vicky is determined to recover, return to work and realize the Canadian dream.”

Sign the petition by logging on to https://www.change.org/p/minister-chris-alexander-let-maria-victoria-vicky-venancio-stay-in-canada.

Celebrate Women’s Month by listening to women’s voices and raising yours on their behalf.

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TAGS: Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings, Filipino women, migrant labor
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