ADS & ODS 1992

Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong (March 1992)
Improving Education For Minorities (June 1992)
A Rediscovery of Philippine History (December 1992)

Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong

By Sally Vergara and Ryan Azada

Go to any park in Hong Kong on a Sunday, and one will notice a multitude of Filipino women. These women are domestic servants who are very much an invisible part of society.

According to data from late 1987 and 1988, female migration from the Philippines has grown to 180,000 individuals, or 47 percent of all Filipinos. Currently, up to 50,000 Filipino domestic workers are in Hong Kong, the financial center of Asia.

This influx of foreign domestic workers is a result of changing conditions in Hong Kong. These changes include an increase in the age at marriage, decrease in number of child births, and an increase in years of education for women resulting in an increase in skilled workers. This greater number of skilled laborers has resulted in a demand for unskilled and semi-skilled workers-the demand for domestic workers from the Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh and India.

Simultaneously, the economic situation in these countries has led to an increased demand for work outside of the home. The Philippine economy is in flux. There is a shortage of foreign exchange, with a high inflation, high national debt and a high unemployment rate. Of the 65 million individuals in the Philippines, approximately 50 percent are unemployed. This high unemployment rate translates to poverty.

The current economic state is what makes migrant workers so important to the Philippine economy. This massive increase in contract workers has had a positive impact on the Philippine economy. Approximately $1.5 million American dollars are exchanged annually, accounting for 25 percent of all foreign exchange.

A 1984 Department of Labor release in Hong Kong reported that a typical Filipina is age 30, single, affiliated with the Catholic church, with at least a high school degree. The main dialect is Ilocano, and 75 percent had worked in unskilled jobs.

Although the phenomena of migrant workers is well known, what has yet to be documented are the experiences of these migrant women. Potential workers must make a down payment of approximately $ 1,500 in order to have a middle man negotiate a two-year contract with a potential employer. This contract protects the local population while placing the women workers in situations of servitude and potential abuse. The contracts do not specify the number of hours of service required per day or the type of work. The workers may not change employers, and must leave Hong Kong within two weeks of the contract expiration date. Despite these restrictions, Filipina workers continue to work because the $410 they make per month is three to four times what they can earn in the Philippines. And despite their vulnerability as workers, Filipinas do not seem interested in working together to fight for their rights. Instead, Filipinas rely solely on their ethnic group for social and moral support.

These are the purposes for the Sunday gatherings at the parks. Unfortunately, these Filipino women remain an isolated group prone to negative stereotyping by the Hong Kong culture. Perceptions of Filipinas include being overpaid, lazy, spoiled, over sexed and sulky.

Filipina domestic workers take many risks in exchange for financial gain, yet they are survivors who provide income for their families as well as the ailing Philippine economy.

Information in this article was provided by Ludmilla Kwitho, Assistant Professor in the Department for Women's Studies.

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Improving Education For Minorities

By Grace Lazaro

From May 9, 1992, almost a hundred people attended the 14th annual National Association for Asian and Pacific American Education (NAAPAE) conference in Chicago, Illinois. Educators and students gathered together to talk about what they could do as a team to help better the quality of education among Asian and Pacific Americans. The theme of the conference was "The Asian Pacific American Mosaic: Vision, Mission, Values Refined."

Cion Billena, Clement Bautista, and Grace Lazaro attended the conference with hopes of learning and sharing new ideas about the future of education and meeting new people.

Clement Bautista did a presentation on multi-cultural education and educational diversity in which he described Hawaii's current problems in education. One of the problems facing minority students today is that knowledge taught in the American school system is handed down from the perspective of a euro-centric authority, which many minority students cannot relate to. Minorities are taught to memorize names, places, and dates relating to Western culture which bear no significance to their own personal and cultural history. When students are enlightened about various ethnic cultures like Japanese, Filipino, or Spanish, they are only taught to memorize heroes or holidays that are significant to that culture without learning the meaning behind these events. According to Clem, these events need to be taught in the classroom, but instead of looking at them through a euro-centric perspective, the material should be understood from the perspective of the ethnic group that is being focused on. By handing down knowledge from a perspective other than a mainstream source, Clem suggested that students be encouraged to create their own knowledge. In this way, education would start from the students and their social environment and experiences, not from an imagined past or place.

Discrimination was a major issue at the conference, and a common theme among the keynote speakers was the struggle for equality in education. This conference proved that many people have questions and complaints about what is going on in society. In education, everyone needs to understand each other and language and culture can be a barrier to that. Therefore, the educational system and curriculum needs to be revised and improved all the time.

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A Rediscovery of Philippine History

By Susan Helm

Almost everyone is familiar with the year Columbus discovered North America: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue." But what many do not realize is that about the same time Columbus "found" the American continent, other discoveries were going on in the Pacific. One significant discovery, only 29 years after Columbus' adventure, is that of the Philippine Islands in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan.

But was this really a discovery, and if so, by whom? Did places like the Philippines, Hawai'i, and America exist before their "discovery" by the Europeans? Or, did the Filipinos all of a sudden discover themselves in 1521?

Throughout October and December, the Center for Philippine Studies sponsored a panel of six scholars from the University of Hawaii at Manoa who explored these questions. Entitled, "The Age of Discovery: Impact on Philippine Culture and Society," the forum coincided with the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus' discovery.

The panel members commented on the differences between a Western versus a Filipino's perspective of Philippine history, Magellan's discovery, and national and cultural identity. In exploring these issues, the forum attempted to reshape an understanding of the European conquest of the Philippines to include the injustices and inequalities it created. It also attempted to recapture the sensitivities and perspectives of native Filipinos. One tragic effect of Magellan's discovery, according to Dr. Belinda Aquino of the Political Science department, is that generations of Filipinos have been taught, and are still being taught through textbooks, that Philippine history begins with Magellan's "discovery" in 1521. The textbooks virtually neglect pre-colonial history and culture; and therefore, they are biased in nature and ignore the Filipino's own cultural history. Most historical accounts do not depict the "Age of Discovery" as Aquino defines as: "a series of invasions beginning in the 15th century of territories outside of Europe."

In actuality, the Philippine Islands had always existed with its own cultures and religions. Aquino claims that Magellan simply "stumbled upon them and upset the whole native ecology." In fact, what has often been termed a "cultural encounter" to describe Magellan's discovery is really a euphemism for conquest and domination, claims Aquino.

In support of the theory that the Philippines had its own pre-colonial culture and history, Dr. Wilhelm Solheim and Dr. Robert Van Niel presented findings which showed that a trade route and linguistic similarities existed between the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries such as India, China, and Thailand. This information is significant because it supports the notion that Magellan's discovery was only a discovery for the European world, and that previous to 1521 these islands and its people were mutually influenced by the Southeast Asian world.

These findings, along with those provided by the speakers, uncovered the biases and misrepresentations of Magellan's conquest. As a result, a new perspective of Philippine history came into light and will hopefully reconstruct the way we view history and ourselves.

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