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Women and Migration

 | 
Deborah Willis
, 
Ellyn Toscano
, 
Kalia Brooks Nelson

Part four. Reclaiming our time

18. Filipina Stories: Gabriela NY and Justice for Mary Jane Veloso

Editha Mesina

Texte intégral

1According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, there are over 10 million Filipino workers in over 200 countries all over the world. Women comprise over half of these overseas workers. Severe economic factors in the Philippines and a lack of sustainable policies to employ women lead to a shortage of opportunities, which drives women to emigrate. These women work worldwide in the domestic service industry as nannies and maids, and also in the medical profession, many as nurses. There are also a number who leave to become marriage migrants and au pairs. My current work has focused on the issues of these Filipino women, these Filipinas.

2I have been photographing a Filipina organization called Gabriela New York, a local branch of Gabriela USA. It works with the Gabriela National Alliance of Women, a grassroots alliance that includes over 200 organizations advocating for the human rights of migrant workers and oppressed Filipino women. On 28 April 2015, Gabriela NY, along with other Filipino human rights groups, held a candlelight vigil in support of Mary Jane Veloso. A migrant worker accused of smuggling heroin into Indonesia, she was subsequently jailed and sentenced to death. Mary Jane, a mother of two, maintained her innocence. She claimed that she was duped into carrying a suitcase into Indonesia by her god-sister, who convinced her to go to Indonesia after losing a job in Malaysia. The vigil was held the night before Mary Jane, alongside eight other convicted drug smugglers from Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria, was to be executed on 29 April 2015 at 1am. The case highlighted Indonesia’s extreme capital punishment and drug prohibition laws. More so, the case underscored the risks many women like Mary Jane face in order to secure jobs far from home and provide for their families. At midnight on 29 April 2015, while the other eight convicted drug smugglers were executed, Mary Jane was granted a stay of execution on the condition that she would serve as a witness during the trial of her alleged human traffickers. Currently, Mary Jane remains on death row in Indonesia, while her family and advocates continue to seek the commutation of her death sentence. Mary Jane Veloso’s case highlights the great struggle that migrant workers and trafficked victims face as a result of dire poverty and forced migration.

Fig. 18.1. Edith Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.2. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.3. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.4. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.5. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.

Filipina Stories: Gabriela, NY and NBC’s Mail-Order Family

3As an advocate for migrant women, Gabriela works to highlight women’s issues in the mainstream media and supports the education of the public through the positive and informed representation of Asian women.

  • 1 Lisa Belkin, ‘The Mail-Order Bride Business’, New York Times, 11 May 1986, https://www.nytimes.com (...)
  • 2 US Government Accountability Office, Immigration Benefits: Improvements Needed to Fully Implement (...)

4In October 2016 NBC announced the development of a new sitcom, Mail-Order Family, the story of a widowed father who buys a Filipina mail-order bride to take care of his children. The mail-order-bride industry thrives between consumer countries like the US and countries that supply potential brides. Asian countries are the most notable suppliers, with the Philippines being one of the largest sources of these women. This industry is contingent on global economic inequalities that drive impoverished women to desperation so that they seek a better life in the West. Attracted largely by stereotypes of docile and subservient women, Western men often seek Filipina women who speak English and are family-oriented.1 Unfortunately, many men exploit the needs of impoverished women who have few options in their own country. Since the passing of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) in 2006, Congress has still not implemented federal laws to protect mail-order brides from exploitation and abuse.2

  • 3 Tahirih Justice Center, ‘Report Finds Law to Protect Foreign Brides Has Not Been Fully Implemented (...)

5Unfortunately, many of these women suffer severe consequences in marriages to men they do not know. The sexual exploitation and violent abuse of these women continues to be documented.3 With exploitative irony, NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family, intended to use the pain of women living in dire poverty as content for comedy. Anyone with a conscience surely saw this as disrespectful and inhuman. In a world with increasingly diverse viewers, NBC should be in the business of portraying a more positive image of Asian women, instead of perpetuating tired racist stereotypes that display Asian women as commodities. On 6 October 2016, Gabriela NY held a protest rally outside of NBC Studios, which I photographed. After a robust social media campaign in which Gabriela USA petitioned for the cancellation of Mail-Order Family, NBC stopped further development of the planned sitcom. The protest at NBC illustrates Gabriela NY’s role in speaking out against the continued, unregulated mail-order-bride industry. Here, we see an instance where everyday people came together to voice their outrage, and in doing so made a difference.

Fig. 18.6. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.7. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.8. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.9. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.10. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.

Filipina Stories: Gabriela NY

6Gabriela is an activist organization named after Gabriela Silang, an eighteenth-century Filipino revolutionary heroine who struggled against Spanish colonization in the Philippines. Her name has become synonymous with any individual fighting for human rights; each member of the organization is commonly known as a ‘Gabriela’. Gabriela New York has worked to create a community for women of Philippine descent, educating the Filipino diaspora on the struggles of women in the Philippines. The Gabriela New York women I have met are unique individuals, dedicated to equality and action. Together they illustrate the complexity of the modern Filipino-American experience.

7My video piece, Filipina Stories, includes narratives by several Gabrielas that speak of migration and the dislocation of a people and their culture. This is a project in which I ask Filipinas, both recent immigrants and US-born citizens, to tell the story of their and their families’ immigration to the US. The stark realization of difference, the struggle to assimilate and succeed in the United States, these are their shared and common stories. These are portraits that ask, and perhaps even answer, questions about these women’s worlds, serving as an entry point into their lives, sensibilities and history. In witnessing these Filipinas’ stories, I encourage my audience to engage in an honest conversation about race, gender and immigration, hopefully revealing common ground for understanding and an appreciation of diversity.

Fig. 18.11. Editha Mesina, Azreal. Still from Filipina Stories, 2017. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.12. Editha Mesina, Joelle. Still from Filipina Stories, 2018. © Editha Mesina.

Fig. 18.13. Editha Mesina, May. Still from Filipina Stories, 2017. © Editha Mesina.

Notes

1 Lisa Belkin, ‘The Mail-Order Bride Business’, New York Times, 11 May 1986, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/05/11/magazine/the-mail-order-bride-business.html

2 US Government Accountability Office, Immigration Benefits: Improvements Needed to Fully Implement the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, Government Accountability Office, 10 December 2014, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-3

3 Tahirih Justice Center, ‘Report Finds Law to Protect Foreign Brides Has Not Been Fully Implemented’, Tahiri Justice Center, 18 December 2014, http://www.tahirih.org/news/report-finds-law-to-protect-foreign-brides-from-abuse-and-exploitation-has-not-been-fully-implemented/

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 18.1. Edith Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 273k
Légende Fig. 18.2. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 277k
Légende Fig. 18.3. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 247k
Légende Fig. 18.4. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 269k
Légende Fig. 18.5. Editha Mesina, Candlelight Vigil for Mary Jane Veloso. Indonesian Consulate, New York City, 28 April 2015. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 192k
Légende Fig. 18.6. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Légende Fig. 18.7. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Légende Fig. 18.8. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 141k
Légende Fig. 18.9. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 197k
Légende Fig. 18.10. Editha Mesina, Gabriela Action: NBC’s proposed sitcom, Mail-Order Family. NBC Headquarters, New York City, 6 October 2016. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 183k
Légende Fig. 18.11. Editha Mesina, Azreal. Still from Filipina Stories, 2017. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 163k
Légende Fig. 18.12. Editha Mesina, Joelle. Still from Filipina Stories, 2018. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 269k
Légende Fig. 18.13. Editha Mesina, May. Still from Filipina Stories, 2017. © Editha Mesina.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/8035/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 210k

Auteur

Editha Mesina was born in Quezon City, Philippines. Her photographs have been exhibited at the Cuchifritos Gallery, New York, Artist Space, New York; Clocktower Gallery, New York; Ceres Gallery, New York; A.I.R. Gallery, New York; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown; Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis; Palais De Glace, Buenos Aires. Mesina is a member of the Faculty at NYU, Tisch’s Department of Photography and Imaging. She is a 2006 Alex G. Nason New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Photography.

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