Monday, March 01, 2010

Self-bashing – a Filipino pastime

Bashing is a prejudicial or unkind attack on a person, group or even a subject matter. Originally understood as a form of physical assault, bashing now includes verbal or critical assault. It is worse when aimed towards your own group and perpetrated by one of your own, which we may classify as a form of masochistic bashing.

Take the following three examples.

Someone wrote to his chat group the following message: “It is crazy how newcomers, a few days after landing, are advised by their relatives to apply for work preparing coffee and handing out donuts at the nearest Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons, it seems, is the first rung on the Canadian career ladder for many Filipinos. Unfortunately, this ladder goes nowhere and the longer the newcomer stays there, the more difficult it is for him to later on switch to a new ladder.”

A publisher of a Filipino community newspaper in Toronto wrote: “Does anybody in the PPCO (Philippine Press Club of Ontario), or the whole PPCO itself, or any individual, or group in our Filipino/Canadian community for that matter, honestly say they possess the necessary muscle or clout to move the government officials to act on the workers’ abuses? Personally, I do not think so. The PPCO itself could not convince other Filipino/Canadian publications to join it.”

The president of a Filipino alumni association in Toronto, in his opening remarks to the participants of a job seminar, said: “There is more to Filipinos here in Canada than care giving. This is not to demean the care giving community or to debase the service they provide. On the contrary, I salute the hard working dedicated people who in many ways support both the Canadian economy and that of our homeland. But care giving is not where the Filipino community begins and ends.”

Perhaps, the intention underlying these remarks was not really meant to downgrade Filipinos. But looking at how the message was constructed, no matter how noble the intention of the writer or speaker, the message is clearly derisive and denigrating.

Let us set aside the emotional injury that those messages bring upon us. After all, there was no intention to do harm. What we cannot ignore or gloss over is the shallowness of the messages, their lack of understanding of the historical and socio-economic implications of the meaning they were trying to deliver.

For more than 60 years, Canada’s efforts to maintain its economic growth have spurred a big demand for migrant labour as its last resource. While globalization has contributed to a process of industrialization and urbanization in the South (or in the developing countries), it has also caused a deterioration of living standards and the destruction of the traditional means of subsistence. Migration to the developed countries is a by-product of the resulting poverty, which provides destination countries with a pool of cheap labour.

In the meantime, the economic and political elites of labour-exporting countries benefit as pressure for structural change is somewhat relieved by the remittances sent home to help family members by overseas workers. Workers experience a push to migrate and a pull towards hopes of better conditions in advanced capitalist countries and their labour markets.

Immigrant workers who have arrived in Canada in the past 20 years – mainly people of colour and from developing countries, have faced great disappointments. They brought with them high levels of education and training which under normal circumstances would lead to good-paying jobs. However, racial and other barriers in the labour market push new immigrants to the bottom, where they work in dead-end and menial jobs. Domestic workers like caregivers and nannies and farm workers are recruited through special immigration programs to perform specific kinds of work that Canadians are unwilling to do for the wages and work conditions they offered.

Thus, new immigrants are forced to accept survival jobs beneath their education and training, such as serving coffee and doughnuts at Tim Hortons or flipping burgers at McDonald’s. But to many of them, these survival jobs are only temporary in order to put food on the table and provide for their children. Eventually, many of them would transition to better-paying jobs. Some would also upgrade their education and skills to become more competitive in the labour market.

After successfully obtaining permanent residence, most Filipino women who came to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program would eventually have also upgraded their labour skills and their education and found better-paying jobs. Caregiving to them is only a pathway to Canadian permanent residence, not a dream career.

One needs a better understanding of the historical background of foreign domestic work in Canada to appreciate the explosion in the number of Filipino caregivers who enter the country every year.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canada used aboriginal women and black women slaves as domestic workers. By the turn of the century, Canada began recruiting domestic workers from abroad, at first, women from Great Britain, then later from poorer European countries. In the 1920s, mostly European women were recruited under the Servant-Turn-Mistress Program. Then followed by the Caribbean Domestic Scheme from 1955 to 1967. In 1981, Canada finally installed the Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program, which institutionalized the hiring of foreign women workers to do domestic and other household work. Canada replaced the FDM with the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) in 1992 and raised the educational eligibility to grade 12 in order to qualify as a domestic worker in Canada.

Canada Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney, in his speech before the Kababayan Community Centre in Toronto on December 12, 2009, described the vast majority of caregivers from the Philippines as “women of great compassion, who give of themselves.”

Kenny further said: “These (Filipino caregivers) are people who come to Canada to help families who need support taking care of the disabled, of elderly family relatives, of children. This need, as we have an aging population, will continue to grow because we will see more and more families who need to take care of seniors, who because of their own family structure, are unable to do so by themselves. Canada benefits hugely. Canada wins with the support and the help of caregivers.”

Kenney seems to have more respect for Filipinos than a real Filipino has for his own compatriots. The president of the Filipino alumni association should have refrained from expressing the first paragraph of his remarks if he did not intend to denigrate Filipino caregivers. Alternatively, for someone to say it’s crazy that Filipino newcomers would immediately jump at job openings at Tim Hortons, shows a lack of empathy for others who struggle looking for jobs.

But let’s not be deluded by Kenney’s kind words for our Filipino caregivers. The Live-in Caregiver program and whatever its limitations is not a Filipino issue but a Canadian issue. The LCP is Canada’s de-facto national childcare program that benefits only Canadians who can afford it. Kenny’s words may sound music to some but actually ring hollow. The LCP essentially perpetuates indentured slavery of our women workers, which in the long-term de-skills our women and other members of our community across generations. But that’s not a reason to degrade them.

The new Filipino immigrant in Canada does not only represent the graduates of a particular university or school in the Philippines. This is an exaggeration, if not inaccurate. All graduates from Philippine universities and colleges are treated the same by Canadian employers. No one is more intellectually gifted than the other.

Because our academic degrees and professional training in the Philippines are not accredited and recognized in Canada, our marketability in the labour market will be determined by our own circumstances, and perhaps by our personal drive to succeed. The profile of the Filipino newcomer in Canada may be younger, but not necessarily bolder or even better educated than most of us who have come earlier. To compete in the mainstream labour market, they, as we had in the past, must persevere and be always vigilant in helping remove barriers that keep minorities and newcomers from breaking the glass ceiling.

Putting ourselves down will not help us improve our lot in this foreign land. Let us not underestimate our local community press. In many ways the local press has contributed to the enlightenment of our community.

Our caregivers are deemed as heroes in the Philippines. Their dollar remittances have helped our local economy afloat. Yet, what have we contributed to our native land – we, so called “public scholars” and members of the cream of the crop, some of us who are still in a state of denial about their own struggles as immigrants?

We step on the shoulders of struggling generations who have come before us. To rise above the fray, we need not bash, but build on, the lowly beginnings that took some of us where we are now.

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