Saturday, February 9, 2013


Entitled “Chain of Love,” Dutch documentarian Marije Meerman’s 2002 movie attends to one of the most difficult things that any Filipino mother in the Philippines has to do to avoid having her family stray into the darkening hand of hellish poverty: to do the inconceivable by leaving their children behind so that they can travel overseas to find stable, good-paying employment as domestic laborers.

The numbers of Filipino women who assume this sacrifice overseas has continued to account—since the release of “Chain of Love” in 2002—a great deal for the ever-increasing numbers of Filipino overseas workers (OFWs) currently at large, with many of them aiming to work as domestic workers. With the rising demand for domestic workers in more affluent societies, there is almost always bound to be a place for a willing Filipina. So off they go every year to faraway lands in Europe, Canada, and the United States, many of them ending up as nannies to Western children.

Some of the things that Filipina domestic workers have going for them is how well they can converse in English. Being kind, bright, and amenable—characteristics that are commonly attributed to a typical Filipina—also enhances their appeal to Westerners. Even being Roman Catholic can be an advantage depending on which country and family is involved.

Meerman packs a punch in citing how so many Filipinas who reply to job opportunities overseas find their lives turned upside down by the need for childcare in the West. As more independent-minded women in the developed world follow their career aspirations, their being parents can impose limits on how far they can pursue these aspirations. Hence, they require dependable and economical care for their children.

Thus, a market for overseas childcare services and an industrious supply of Filipina labor unfolds into a lucrative and essential ritual stretching from one side of the planet to the other. Aside from the childcare requirements of Western women, there are the duties of the Filipina women themselves to consider. A majority of Filipina women working overseas are doing so to provide sufficiently for their own kids at home, an option not readily available or worth it to them in the Philippines. One has to admire what is a distressing sacrifice for any mother, but it is a sacrifice that comes as part of a Faustian bargain. In return for steady employment and sound compensation, the Filipina mother is forced to leave her children behind thousands of miles away.

We discover that, in Meerman’s “Chain of Love”, a startling yet understandable thing tends to happen once a Filipina domestic assumes her childcare duties in a foreign country with a foreign family: by the time a self-sufficient relationship between caregiver and child is established, a motherly bond with her charge(s) takes hold. It is the inverse of the Filipina’s moral and familial connection to her own children back home in the Philippines. It is a development that Western mothers find favorable as it creates a two-dimensional advantage for them: their child receives optimal childcare from a trusted, caring provider.

But it doesn’t always come up smelling like roses for a Filipina childcare giver in the West. There has been more than enough publicity about how many Filipina domestic workers suffer abuse from their foreign employers. This is something that Meerman neglects to mention in “Chain of Love.” Meerman also offers an ideal, rather than a descriptive, impression of the social lives that Filipina domestics have in their new country. It’s not enough to leave their homeland and loved ones behind. Filipina domestics must also trudge along on the slippery path of assimilating into their new culture and society. Misleadingly, Meerman makes this look effortless in the film.

“Chain of Love” is an enlightening and gripping documentary that gives us an intimate look at the life of Filipina domestic workers. Despite its shortcomings, Meerman’s film catechizes Western perceptions of that divisive profession and meshes the succession of emotional hardship that sweeps over domestic hirelings with the sensitive subject of their day-to-day existence.


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