Maid in Manila or Maid in America? | Pinay.com
Imagine a typical Pinay housewife’s day. She wakes up early to prepare breakfast and gets the kids ready for school before her usual chores: supervise the cleaning, go to the market, and plan the meal for the night. Another day accomplished with a lot of help: a kasambahay, a driver, and an over doting lola who insists on doing everything for everyone.
Now, move the typical homemaker abroad and the picture changes drastically. She doesn’t have a yaya or a lola. All she has is a microwave and a breakfast bar to get the kids out of the door in time. She doesn’t have a driver, so before she can shower, she has to take the kids to school. When she gets home, the mad cleaning starts while the baby is napping. There is no lola to hold the baby; the nearest relative is an eight-hour drive away. More than likely, she works too. When she gets home she hangs her blazer to put on the apron. In a way, she is a glorified housemaid. But she who cooks, cleans, and gets down to scrub floors used to be senorita back in the Philippines.
For some, it as a small price to pay to move to where the grass is greener. Ironically, in search of a better life abroad, Pinays endure hardship they never had to face back home. They become housekeepers and caregivers, cleaning floors and soiled underpants. They suffer abuse on top of the backbreaking and demeaning work and they to do all for green currency. It is their only way out of poverty.
For others it is a choice. Carina Reyes is a caregiver in New York. Back in the Philippines, she is a mother of two successful professionals. In her mansion in Bulacan, built by a fishery empire, she is surrounded by a crew of household help. But she enjoys her independence in New York.
Whatever the case, whatever the reason, they manage and they manage well. Many had never had to cook back home because even if they didn’t have a maid, nanay was more than willing to take the ladle. Now faced with the stove in front of her, the Filipina immigrant learns the ways of the kitchen on her own. Because contrary to popular belief, the Filipina as the quintessential housewife is a myth. The world would like to believe that she is submissive, reared to serve her husband and her home, making her the most sought after domestic helper, nanny, caregiver, and even wife, all rolled into one. This is a big misconception as many foreigners married to a Filipina would reveal.
Tim Harrison, an American, had told his Vietnamese barber that he’s married to a Filipina. The Vietnamese lady confidently replied: “You married Asian. Now you sit back and relax.” Harrison almost fell off his chair. His Filipina wife can’t cook. He irons her clothes for her.
Pinays are spoiled not only by household help. Those who didn’t have the luxury of growing up with helpers had nanay, tatay, ate, and lola who doted on them. It is after all our nature to nurture. And while we raise our little ones to learn how to keep house, it gives us pleasure to serve them.
But suddenly a fledgling abroad, the Pinay learns quickly. She learns to use technology. If her mother is not available via Skype, she consults the internet to make lumpia for an American husband who has acquired the taste for Filipino fare.
She improvises, learns to use her time wisely, and puts a juggler to shame with her balancing act. Anne Soriano, a physician’s assistant in Missouri, drives home during lunch to vacuum and get the crockpot started, so when she gets home later that night, she can spend more time with her family rather than do chores. The working mom learns to let go, to leave her newborn to the care of strangers in a daycare. There is no extended family living in the house to take care of the child.
Cora Agbayani in Manila had just given birth, but had to manage without a yaya for weeks, although family would come to help often. Still perplexed, she calls her best friend in Texas for advice. How does she handle a three-year-old, cook, clean, and manage a career without help? The answer baffles Agbayani and helps her little: “I simply do.”
Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes is a published writer, novelist, editor, photographer, blogger, wife and mother. She calls her blog, Ana Viajera, tracing my literary footsteps.
All photos here were taken and provided for by the author unless otherwise noted. To protect the identities of the Pinays interviewed, we did not provide the real names.