The next installation of the DIALOGUES series, Filipino Workers in the Middle East brings together the anthropologist Nadine Naber and literary critic Allan Punzalan Isaac to talk about the many ways in which Filipinos as caregivers have become part of the national family throughout the Middle East. As Naber’s experiences with Filipino nannies on the cusp of the Arab Spring and Isaac’s analysis of the Israeli documentary Paper Dolls reveal, Filipinos’ incorporation into the family is frequently ambivalent and always strategic. Drawing on the work of anthropologist Martin Manalansan, they consider how “frictive histories”—the distinct histories and experiences that trail migratory bodies into sometimes uncomfortable contact—mediate and complicate the possibilities for worker solidarity between Filipinos and Palestinians who are variously and unequally deployed by the Zionist state in its construction of racial and geographic hegemony.
Monday, December 10, 2012, 4:44 PM PST
Subject: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Dear Allan and Nadine,
I am so happy to introduce you to each other.
I know you are both CRAZY busy. But I hope that this dialogue will be a productive way to bring you back to your research. I know how hard it us for to carve out the space and time to write, but with this experiment, I hope that email will be a source of inspiration for your research rather than a source of distraction.
I wanted to bring you two together since you both have started doing research on the Filipina/o labor diaspora in the Middle East. Broadly speaking, your work touches on issues of migration and political conditions in that region. But when Allan and I were brainstorming last month about this CA+T dialogue, we thought that it might be better to not think strictly in terms of a defined region:
·Instead, how could we challenge static notions of the "region" and traditional notions of the comparative?
·Drawing on Martin Manalansan's [unpublished] work on "frictive histories," how could we think together about histories and experiences that rub up against each other?
·What happens in the places that Filipinos land, which these days are everywhere, from Israel/Palestine to Italy to Hong Kong to Canada? When people coming from different trajectories land in a place and then have to deal with one another?
But let me step back from the academese and start things off with two simple questions:
QUESTION FOR NADINE: As long as I've known you, you have had that special way of making friends with people wherever and whenever. Would you tell us about your recent experience in Egypt meeting Filipina nannies even as the Revolution was under way?
QUESTION FOR ALLAN: What made you turn to your current research on Filipina/o workers in Israel? What first caught your eye and ear about Tomer Heymann's 2006 documentary Paper Dolls?
Thank you so much for trying out this experiment with me!
More intro details: Allan: This is my sister-friend Nadine Naber. Nadine is an anthropologist and an Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is the co-editor of Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging (with Rabab Abdulhadi and Evelyn Alsutany, Syracuse University Press, 2011), Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects (with Amaney Jamal, Syracuse University Press, 2007), and Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology (as member and co-founder of Incite! Women of Color against Violence, South End Press, 2006); and author of Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (with Rabab Abdulhadi and Evelyn Alsutany, New York University Press, 2012).
Nadine: This is my comrade Allan Isaac. Allan is the chair of American Studies at Rutgers and an Associate Professor of English and American Studies. He is the author of American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), and a founding member of CA+T's board of directors.
December 11, 2012, 5:36 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Wonderful to meet you here as I have heard wonderful things about you. Thank you, Sarita, for the introductions.
I look forward to the experiment!
December 20, 2013, 4:53 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Dear Allan and Sarita,
Allan: Thanks for writing. I'm excited to be talking with you/writing with you on this.
Allan and Sarita: It took me a while to get started for a few reasons.
My stories are about my relations with a few foreign domestic nannies in Egypt—none of whom expected me to be writing about them—and about an incident that happened with someone I know in Jordan. I was staying at their house, and the incident involved how they treated their Filipina worker. Also, the story is about me—and I'm still not so sure about writing about myself! So I've been struggling with the idea particularly of writing about people who didn't agree to it. Then I thought just today, how about if I just write it out for now and we can strategize later about how to frame the piece and issues of confidentiality/anonymity, etc.
It took me a while to get started and I spent two single-spaced pages just setting the story up. I have to end for today, but I'll include it here [below] just to get some excitement going among us about this work together. I end at the part that will actually include the real issues related to Filipina and other nannies ...
Here you go, and thank you, Sarita, for getting us going!
I arrived from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Cairo in July 2012 for a six-month research trip. I was sub-leasing a flat from a professor who works at the American University in Cairo. The flat is located in the affluent neighborhood of Zamalek. I was there with my family, including my two boys, ages one (Nile) and five (Kinan). Having lived with my bouncing-off-the-walls-with-energy older son for five years now, I immediately looked around for what we would do with our spare time. I quickly realized that privatization since the Sadat years meant there were virtually no public parks, and the streets were full of too much traffic for running around outside. I recalled our life in the US when we had to take Kinan out for sports or just running around for another two hours at the end of each day even after seven hours of play and sports at his pre-school before we could even come home. I panicked over the potential challenges—and the tantrums—that might lie ahead if we were going to be spending a lot of time indoors.
It turns out that across Egypt, sporting clubs are the primary site for socialization and sports. In fact, as middle class people spend a majority of their time outside of school and work at sporting clubs, the relational ties built at sporting clubs come to operate as alternative forms of kinship. We joined the club closest to our flat, the Gezira Club, and we were thrilled that our son would be playing soccer in a country where soccer is a key part of the national popular culture and where the national soccer team ranks among the top in the African Confederation.
Founded in 1882, the original 150-acre Gezira club was leased to the British military under the British colonization of Egypt, and only the British army and their guests had access to the club. The Egyptian revolution of 1952 led to the nationalization of the Gezira Club. Since then, and after many changes over the years, it remains an elite club and offers luxurious outdoor gardens and restaurants for socializing as well as somewhere around twenty-six sporting activities ranging from golf and equestrianism to soccer, gymnastics, ballet, and swimming. At the time I joined in 2012, it was much easier and less expensive for people with a US passport, like me, to join than Egyptians. I ended up paying just what I paid for a middle class gym membership in the US. Yet most Egyptian members gained their membership only through their family name or through working within high-ranking military positions. The Gezira Club, through its membership policies, instituted its exclusivity by giving access to foreigners, in this case, Americans or Europeans, plus historically elite Egyptians.
I felt conflicted joining this club considering that I was about to gain access to the privileges of Egypt’s elite while most Egyptians are struggling for jobs and food and while Egypt was in the midst of a socialist revolution in which I had committed to participate. I prepared myself for how I would engage this context, and I hoped to find like-minded people concerned with the class injustices within the club even while our children played sports there. I did not anticipate that beyond the typical class hierarchies that I expected to encounter, I would also be immersed within the injustices that foreign domestic workers endure in Egypt.
Getting clearance from the massive security apparatus at the door and walking through the high stone walls, Kinan and I entered Gezira club and went straight to the playground. While Kinan blissfully ran off towards the bright red and yellow, highest twirly slide he had ever seen, I tried to wrap my head around the extreme differences among the kinds of adults accompanying the children around me: there were a few highly elite Egyptian parents and then a much larger number of poor women of African (Nigerian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Eritrean) and Filipina descent. While there was very little commonality between my life and that of the foreign domestic nannies who filled most adult spaces in the children's areas of the club and at the doors of many of the kids' sport areas (gymnastics, soccer, swimming, tai kwon do, etc.), it became clear that I did not have much in common—socially or politically—with the elite Egyptian mothers who I saw around me.
Throughout the club were signposts requiring nannies to distinguish themselves from the “real” members: “nannies must wear nursing attire.” On benches, outside of the sporting areas, nannies sat together in large groups while the few Egyptian mothers who took their kids to their sporting activities stood across the pathway that divided them.
In the meantime, Kinan had been making all kinds of friends in the playground. Nearly every day, while I supervised his play with other kids, an African or Filipina nanny was supervising the play of his playmates. And this is how I became close friends with three nannies in Egypt—Lubna, Anna, and Almaz.
Editor’s note: The names of the nannies have been changed to protect their identities.
January 9, 2013 9:07 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Dear Nadine and Sarita,
Many thanks, and many apologies for tardiness (MLA, holidays, admin and my own foolishness notwithstanding). Nadine, I am so pleased to read your account. Below I paste what begins our dialogue—with a cue in the end as Sarita suggested. I can elaborate and what not ...
Many thanks, Sarita and Nadine!
[PROMPT:] What made you turn to your current research on Filipina/o workers in Israel? What first caught your eye and ear about Tomer Heymann's 2006 documentary Paper Dolls?
Flying to Tel Aviv from New York, I sat next to another Filipino who was part of a tour, probably hitting the Christian sites. I visited Tel Aviv in the summer of 2008 to learn more about the 41,000-strong Filipino community there made up mostly of temporary caregivers and domestics after seeing Tomer Heymann’s Paper Dolls (Bubot Niyar). In the Philippines, Israel has been alluded to in popular and indie films as a migrant worker destination, though not as prominently as other Middle Eastern locales like Dubai or “Saudi,” as Pinoys say. I was pleased to see an Israeli filmmaker feature queer Filipino subjects onscreen. A.O. Scott [a New York Times film reviewer] described Paper Dolls well as a portrait of the friendship between the director Heymann and the five Filipino male caregivers featured in the documentary. As with his other films, Tomer Heymann does not argue for objectivity but is committed to documenting an intimate involvement with his subjects, in this case, as caregivers, as bakla,1 as performers, and as friends. Tomer and his family were as visibly and narratively part of the story as his Filipino interviewees and their employers. I found out later in my research that in the period of the documentary’s televisual and later film festival release three Israeli films, documentary and fictional—Do They Catch Children Too? (2003), directed by Hedva-Galili Smolinsky; Alila (2003), directed by Amos Gitai; and Meduzot (Jellyfish, 2007), directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret—and at least one Israeli music video—“Sleep without Dreaming,” by pop-singer Dana Berger—had prominently featured Filipino caregivers and labor issues. As with the films’ depiction, Filipinos are, not surprisingly, part of Israel and the Middle East region’s landscape and imagination.
My interest in going to Israel was also fueled by the fact that my father visited Israel/Palestine in 1963, with grant funding from the University of the Philippines, as part of the young Israeli government’s economic and good-will program that invited young African and Asian bureaucrats from newly emerging nations outside the Middle East to showcase kibbutzim, industrial goods, and how mixed economies worked. My father was a young lawyer then and worked for a union in the Philippines; other African and Asian representatives were in similar positions. I grew up looking at pictures of my father in Israel and Jordan with other Third World representatives during that tour. I visited Israel almost fifty years after my father. Unlike the early 1960s when the Philippine economy held so much promise, overseas Filipino workers have become commonplace and crucial to the Philippines’ economic and nation-building programs in the twenty-first century. Overseas remittances, as many scholars have pointed out, keep the Philippine economy and families afloat. In Israel, the turn to Filipinas specifically as caregivers, called the Filipino Plan (Ha Tokhnit Filipinit), happened under the Rabin administration in the 1990s as part of the plan to privatize some medical services and to tighten border controls.
The different historical moments and spaces my father, then a Filipino citizen, and I, as an American citizen, occupy in relation to Philippine history and the decades that separate our visits led me to think through divergent nation-building projects that have evolved and rubbed up against each other and at what and whose expense such were being implemented. Martin Manalansan, in “Queer Dwellings” [unpublished], has suggested that a consideration of migratory culture makes visible “frictive” relationships and, by extension, “frictive histories.” That is, not only do different peoples encounter and rub up against each other but so too their histories come into contact and exchange, often in uneven and uncomfortable ways.
Watching Paper Dolls, I found Tomer’s portrait of his relationship touching but also so heavily melancholic and sentimental. Having met Filipinos working as cooks in Italy, in domestic service in Hong Kong, in bars in Japan, in duty free in Morocco, in clerical jobs in Dubai, and in airports in Austria, I was missing the unrelenting humor even amid (or perhaps because of) unfortunate situations. (I should note that Manila theater had recently produced a brilliant musical that responds to the documentary’s sentimentality). I was also struck at how the film conflates the search for work outside of the Philippines with the search for sexual freedom and family belonging. While the documentary focused on the hard working and caring Filipino subjects, tropes of family and nation kept multiplying and overlapping in the documentary. This Israeli film about queer, foreign caregivers who lip-synched in drag on their nights off offered a complex of overlapping notions of performance. Targeted to an Israeli audience and originally broadcast as an eight-part documentary on Israeli television, the film continually framed the caregivers as part of the Israeli domestic (national and familial) scene while they were suffering from unjust racism in the gay and mainstream scenes. Alongside or against this visual domestication, the Filipino subjects in performing at migrant clubs and events were also invested in the recreation of home and belonging in other ways—“re-creation” in both its world-making and pleasure-making sense.
The Tagalog word palabas describes this double duty (on their time and performance) well. Palabas means both spectacle on the stage or screen as well as emotional display. Palabas is deliberate expression, with emphasis on deliberate. Using this double-meaning, we can read the Dolls’ lip-synch act not simply as an outlet from the drudgery of work but rather as a different “labor of love”—a type of care-giving that is not recognized nor funded by either the Philippine or the Israeli state—that catalyzes a temporary communality among other migrants. (This would explain that painful, though I think avoidable, scene at the large gay nightclub where they fail miserably as performers as that performance was largely based on capital and brand expectations.) However, the imbricated (rather than doubled/ duplicitous) meanings of palabas would cast doubt on the paid work of caregiving. Is caregiving as a “labor of love” simply an alienated performance, going through the motions of care without emotion? The imbricated meanings of palabas perhaps expose as false the binary of interior and exterior as well as the binary between authentic and inauthentic emotions.
As I read through Nadine’s opening account, I was struck by the notion of the conflicting demands of class, gender, nationality, and race and how these conflicting expectations are negotiated, physically manifested, embodied, performed, and perceived. Whether returning to Manila in the summers or walking in Tel Aviv on a workday as a Filipino male without a tour group or an older ward to justify my presence, I note the historical, cultural and political demands, depending on my interlocutor, placed (by me and others) on my speech and bodily movements.
Nadine, might I ask you to speak more about your observations regarding the care-givers’ and your own physical embodiment of “place” and belonging in such a class-charged space like the club?
1Bakla covers a range of gay male behaviors, relationships, corporealities, and genders, from cross-dressing to cis-gender behavior, from effeminacy to “straight-acting.”
January 25, 2013 5:08 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Dear Allan and Sarita,
Here is what I wrote. I don't know where to take it from here? After Allan's response, maybe we each have one more short response? So maybe Allan's next prompt/question for me could be a final question for brief concluding remarks? What do you think?
Allan, I read your reflections about Filipino caregivers and labor issues in Manila and Tel Aviv with great interest. For at least fifteen years, I have been acutely aware of the struggles of Filipina domestic workers in Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East, such as Lebanon and Jordan, but less informed about the struggles of Filipinos/as in Israel. I realized I am still immersed in previous research that accounts primarily for the racial hierarchies between Palestinians, Europeans, Africans, and Arab Jews as well as Russian immigrant workers in Israel.
One problem in many Arab countries and their diasporas is that progressive politics (including the Arab revolutions) tend to center issues such as Israeli colonization and expansion, US imperialism, poverty, dictatorship and repression, and sectarianism (issues that directly impact nationals and citizens) while ignoring struggles relevant to “foreigners”—particularly foreign domestic workers. While some organizations and activists have been linking the struggles of foreign domestic workers to other social justice struggles, these groups are few and far between. Sometimes I wonder to what extent progressive Arab communities become trapped within our own reactions to Orientalism. We have learned that Zionists, racists, and the like enjoy using our discussions of anything “negative” about our societies against us—as a justification for racist arguments about “Arab-Muslim backwardness and savagery.” Perhaps this historical pattern accounts for part of the relative silence on migrant rights and injustices related to domestic workers in public debate, particularly in debates involving “western” audiences. At the same time, it also seems that some of our progressive discourses (as we saw throughout the Arab revolutions) continually revert to nationalist paradigms that define “a people” through the interconnected concepts of language, land, and culture and therefore cannot account for broader concepts of community and community accountability—concepts that could, for instance, integrate the struggles of “foreigners” living among us into our own liberation struggles (even when some of these same “foreigners” are raising our children and sleeping in our homes).
Indeed we need more discussion of these issues—discussions that are historically specific and contextualized within local conditions but that can also account for transnational processes and cross-border similarities and solidarities. For instance, the realities of Filipino caretaking and labor in Israel to which Allan refers are distinct, considering that Filipinos entering Israel are entering a settler-colonial state founded upon and based in European constructs of race. Consider, for instance, the racial hierarchies between white European Jews, Arab Jews, and African Jews (see Ella Shohat’s essay, “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text 19/20 [Autumn 1988]). Racial formations and injustices that are indeed informed by European histories also structure Arab societies but in different ways, and the racial and immigration politics that Filipinos enter into in places like Lebanon and Jordan are complicated by the influx of Palestinian and other refugees (i.e., Syrians and Iraqis) displaced by the very structures of Israeli colonization and US imperialism. In this sense, we need a distinct analysis of how transnationalism operates in these different contexts. At the same time, keeping in mind Martin Manalansan's work on "frictive histories" that rub up against each other that Allan cites, we might also consider that Filipino/a caregivers are entering into a complex interplay between the empire (the US and its watchdog, Israel) and the various Arab nations (each with their own set of complicities and struggles with the empire). For instance, how might we envision social justice campaigns by and for Filipino/a caretakers within a colonialist state like Israel, or in alliance with Palestinian liberation movements, or in relation to Jordan’s puppet government supporting US and Israeli interests, or within the context of the Egyptian revolution for democracy and against US-led imperialism?
Returning to Allan’s question about my observations regarding caregivers in Egypt, I would add that in Egypt, the legal system helps explain the silence around the struggles of foreign domestic workers. Consider, for instance, that labor and union laws exclude foreign workers from membership in trade unions or professional syndicates, and that Egypt does not actually permit foreigners to work as domestic workers. Egypt’s labor laws do not recognize foreign domestic workers (unlike in Jordan)—even though more and more people are employing foreign domestic caretakers in Egypt. The workers’ having no legal status makes abusers less accountable to the law and also keeps the issue generally off the public radar. Changes related to the Egyptian revolution, including new laws against human trafficking, have made it slightly more possible to prosecute abusive employers.
These legal structures helped me understand why the nannies I interacted with at the Gezira sporting club in Cairo found it so difficult to challenge their employers’ authority. I spent time with Lubna on a weekly basis. Perhaps Lubna and I bonded over our political location as non-Egyptians or outsiders within the context of the club, despite our explicit socio-economic class differences. Because we were both at the playground and sports areas caring for children, we were able to talk. This was the only possibility for nannies to socialize with other adults: at the club, if there happened to be other adults nearby while they were chasing the young children they were caring for or feeding them in the restaurant areas. While running around with the kids, Lubna told me of verbal abuse from her employer (the mother of the kids she cared for). Her employer often yelled at her in public places and refused to give her money for food when she was taking the kids out for all-day outings. This was the same employer for whom Lubna was practically totally and completely raising her children (two boys, ages three and five). Like Lubna, Anna and Almaz, nannies who were often part of our conversations at the club, lived in limbo. They were in Egypt as a result of traumatic socio-economic circumstances, and they had the sense that they had no other option For example, Anna worked at a factory in China before she came to Egypt, where factory equipment and chemicals damaged her body. They had no family in Egypt, and they spent most of their time working as nannies so they had little or no opportunity to form friendships or intimate relations, even though all of them hoped to meet a significant other and/or have children of their own. They could not really change jobs as they were not allowed to be there in the first place. Sometimes, Lubna would joke about whether or not I could bring her with me to “America,” the apparent land of opportunity.
Amidst all of this was insurrection. The most vivid image in my mind is of the nannies caring for their employers’ children while listening to music with ear-buds in their ears. This was the trend in the playground at the club where oppressive structures produced a parenting strategy in which nannies miserably raised their bosses’ children: mothers and fathers did not exist, and children spoke, cried, and yelled to deaf ears.
I also recall a visit to Jordan. In an acquaintance’s home where I stayed, Cheri cared for an elderly Jordanian woman. The Jordanian woman’s family, using typical tactics that facilitate abuse, confined Cheri in the home and forbade her from seeing her sister (also a nannie in Jordan) and barely allowed her to speak to her son in the Philippines. Overworked, underpaid, verbally abused, and miserably depressed, Cheri decided to run away. She left. She was gone. The problem is that escaping abusive situations rarely leads to improved conditions. Her options might entail returning to her embassy or working in the informal labor market …without her passport … and if the employer did not apply or renew her permit … then she is also without a visa or permit … which then means she will accrue huge fines for overstaying her residency.2 Ultimately, as feminist critics of the mainstream trafficking discourse have contended, we need to stop criminalizing the workers and start holding the states, corporations, and employers accountable for the displacement and abuse of workers. I will end by also mentioning the Egyptian activists working in solidarity with foreign domestic workers, including Hossam Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Allan, your piece helped me think through what you referred to as “divergent nation building projects that have evolved and rubbed up against each other”—not only in terms of Filipinos/as in Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt but also in terms of my own relations with nannies in Egypt and the silence about their struggles in my interactions with the broader Egyptian revolution. Reading your piece, I wonder what you think of the political location of Filipino/a caretakers in Israel in relation to the history of Israeli colonization and Palestinian displacement? Or why this location may or may not be obscured in these texts/films? Previous generations of scholar-activists attempted to build alliances between the Arab Jews exploited within Israel and the Palestinians (Arabs) Israel has tried to displace from their land ... Are these two separate histories, Palestinians and Filipinos/as, in relation to Israel? How can we begin to talk about labor-based displacement to a settler colonial state or the different Filipino/a and Palestinian displacements? Is the concept of “frictive histories” useful in thinking about multiple colonizations and displacements that rub up against each other?
January 29, 32013 2:34 PM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Allan and Nadine,
At the risk of oversharing, I wanted to let you know that I actually dreamt about your email conversation last night! So much food for thought.
I know that it's a lot to keep this up when the teaching and meetings get going. But I think it would be so great to do about two more rounds of exchange. I hope that sounds do-able. If so, then I'm looking forward to Allan's response!
With my thanks,
February 8, 2013 9:41 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Hi Nadine and Sarita,
I wanted to send this out for time's sake, but I think:
1) I need a cue at the end for Nadine.
2) Nadine, if I misunderstood your questions, please tell me and I can revise.
3) Perhaps I should elaborate more on the Filipino community or personal stories about the encounter?
I will confess that quite a bit of the attached response (also pasted below) was cut from an article I just completed for a collection, Philippine Palimpsests, that Martin [Manalansan] and August [Espiritu] are putting together.
I await the blizzard here in NYC [New York City] and will tweak as you two see fit ...
Nadine, you make a crucial point about how resistance and social justice questions continue to be limited by the nationalist frame. Oftentimes this frame bleeds into affiliation and belonging as genealogical metaphors. Yet, this nationalist frame is a necessary anti-colonial struggle over borders that overlap, break, move unilaterally, through violent means. When you mention a defense against “Arab-Muslim backwardness and savagery,” you remind me of Fanon’s essay “On National Culture” [in The Wretched of the Earth, 1961] in that resistance against colonialism in the second stage requires a stand on national-cultural ground. The metaphor of blood as elision among the concepts of family, nation and sacrality is strong. Yet this erases subjects within disputed borders to create precarious subjectivities.
The foreign caregiver as household member (familia in the Roman sense) troubles those secure borders of nation, family and blood in discourses of security and opposition. As you say, “even when some of these same ‘foreigners’ are raising our children and sleeping in our homes.” Engels would remind the reader in Origins of Family, Private Property, and State (1884) that the original meaning of the word “family” (familia) is not that compound of sentimentality and domestic strife which forms the ideal of the present-day philistine; among the Romans it did not at first refer to the married pair and their children, but only to slaves.
You are absolutely right that we need to attend to localized discourse about this complex interplay. Distinct histories clash when a nationality is recruited as racialized labor to enter into a set of complex hierarchies. In the Filipino migrant case, an English-speaking people of a client-state and former US colony arrive as temporary labor in another client-state and settler colonial state. Filipinos join other non-Jewish groups—West Africans, Thai, Chinese, Romanians, among many others—in Israel, each group recruited for a specific occupational niche, from construction to agricultural to domestic work.
The Filipino community in Israel is quite cohesive with socio-cultural organizations that hold Filipino and religious celebrations, three community publications, and an embassy/consulate that keeps in continual touch with the community. When not living in Israelis’ homes, many have flats they share (with anywhere from three to ten other workers) on the weekend day off in the Central Bus Station area, a somewhat seedy (to the non-migrant) area inhabited by different migrant nationalities. Filipino goods and food items are sold at stores inside the Bus Station and in the nearby market. In many ways this area is marked off to recreate national lines in, but not of, Israel. Among the Filipino population, there is a separation between those women who have converted and married Israeli citizens and those who are temporary migrant workers. There is also a thriving gay community of nurses and caregivers within this community that I met at a club around the Central Bus Station. I should mention that a group called Kav LaOved [Worker’s Hotline] works alongside a few other groups on behalf of migrant careworkers’ rights in Israel, advocating against employer abuse and exploitation and illegal deportation of employees and their Israel-born children.
The documentary I was discussing [Paper Dolls] does not deal with the Israel-Palestine issue at all but depends entirely on extending the family/nation metaphor to Filipino/a caregivers who perform intimate tasks within the Israeli home. As Rebecca Stein in Itineraries in Conflict (Duke University Press, 2008) points out, the earlier Rabin era also put in motion representational practices in film production and tourism development to shore up the intelligibility of Israeli borders by making such Israeli cultural representation Palestinian-free. These policies effectively delineated state and private borders against undesirable internal migrations in material and representational terms. In the documentary, the Filipino foreign workers poised between belonging to a host family yet not belonging to the nation-state create this rift, finding resolution only in melodramatic familial emotionalism as its liberal exhortation. Thus, their assimilable racial difference in the familial frame produces the affective wall that makes visible the outlines of a benevolent Israeli nation-state at the same time that these guest workers are a dispensable part of it.
In terms of a different local perspective, I thought about the Philippine musical, Care Divas, produced in Manila last year  and the year before, about queer Filipino caregivers. It was wildly popular, produced by the left-leaning Philippine Educational Theater Association [PETA], and later produced by local celebrities. The musical captured the imagination of Manila audiences for two years. Inspired in part by Paper Dolls, the musical follows the protagonist Chelsea, by day a caregiver in Israel and by night a member of a Filipino drag queen troupe with other temporary migrant caregivers. Some in the group have overstayed their visas and are working illegally, while others have been working in Israel for many years. Chelsea finds romance with a Palestinian worker, Daniel/Faraj, who has entered Israeli territory illegally to work and initially poses as a Jewish Israeli. This romance becomes a cause of tension with Chelsea’s friends when Faraj, having lost employment, seeks refuge in their flat away from the immigration police. Thus, the musical maintains a complex view of migrants and migrancy, comparing the plights of foreign and sometimes legal migrants with that of a domestic, colonized and illegal-ized subject. The romance leads to Chelsea’s tragic demise at the end of the play when she is caught in a blast set off by a female suicide bomber while running after Faraj who is fleeing from the police. The smash-hit musical explored how multiple intimacies and histories rub up against each other and enable temporary collectivities and affinities. As a South-South or non-Western grappling with social and national precarity, the musical was able to articulate the frictive histories of Palestinians and Filipino migrants in Israel. I would argue that it also reveals alternative, albeit temporary, socialities based on a shared social precarity in relation to the Israeli nation-state.
Butler defines precarity as designating “the politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence and death … [and] exposure to violence without protection.”3 Retooling Benedict Anderson [in Imagined Communities (Verso, 1991)] slightly, social and temporal precarity could apply to migrant subjects who are not necessarily in sync with national homogenous empty time but who are continually compelled to conform to capital demands and social histories of two or more nation-states. I would suggest that this precarious time is non-identical with the national time effected by the negotiation with spaces and histories that do not necessarily belong to the migrant.
Since the foreign caregiver is at once part of the extended family and a national outsider, this insider/outsider position makes the caregiver an ambivalent figure at times of extreme border policing, and she can shift easily from invited guest to foreign threat, much like Faraj. In the context of refugees and border crossers in the U.K., Sara Ahmed, in “Affective Economies” [Social Text 79 Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer 2004)], has described how very different alien figures can be connected in state-sponsored paranoia. Thus, foreign caregiver and colonized subject both cast out from the national family remain under state custody. For a Filipino audience, the musical illustrates how the migrant situation continually rubs up against other precarious histories and conflicts, thus expanding the scope of what labor and migratory politics might mean for Filipino activists in the Philippines.
February 8, 2013, 6:15 PM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Hi Allan and Sarita,
This is really powerful, Allan. I learned so much, and the way you've framed the issues is really useful. I think you understood the questions. I have to confess, though, I'm sort of at a loss. Since I don't do research on this issue (don't have very much knowledge ... historical context ...) and only interacted briefly with a few Filipinas while in Egypt at "the club"… I'm sort of at a loss on what else I can possibly say on this.
So maybe it’s a good thing that Allan didn't write a cue ... Sarita, as someone who knows me and what I "do" and as facilitator or editor guide, do you have any suggestions on Allan's potential cue for me and/or how I could add to this discussion at this point? I feel I’ve said all I can on this topic in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon ... i could try to push myself to reflect more ... but sort of struggling. i was thinking maybe i could shift into something else i'm more familiar with … but not sure how to do that or what to take up? i'm trying to think of how to connect this to broader studies/research on gender violence and since i'm teaching a course on gender violence and moving into issues of "trafficking" over the next few weeks (through March 1), it may be best if i think about this over the next few weeks and then write after I teach those sections? That’s one option, i guess.
what do you think?
April 17, 2013, 10:24 AM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Dear Nadine and Allan,
I'm so sorry for the very long delay in pulling together another “prompt” or “cue” for this dialogue. But I do hope you know how deeply grateful I am for your participation in this dialogue.
Nadine: Would you like to pick up the dialogue in relation to your broader research on gender violence? It'd be wonderful to see where you're at especially after the past couple of months teaching your gender violence course, particularly the section on "trafficking." But I've also included some prompts below for you and Allan to consider.
I asked Matt Andrews, a sociologist and newest staff member at CA+T, to review the dialogue, and we agreed that the main questions in the dialogue center on a theme sparked by Allan's reading of the Philippine musical Care Divas. This quotation in particular stuck out to us:
“Since the foreign caregiver is at once part of the extended family and a national outsider, at times of extreme border policing this position makes her [Chelsea, the Filipino caregiver] an ambivalent figure that can shift easily from invited guest to foreign threat, like Faraj,” who Allan describes as "a Palestinian worker … who has entered Israeli territory illegally to work and initially poses as a Jewish Israeli.”
This led us to wonder: What is “displacement” in the “frictive” experiences of Filipino and Palestinian laborers in contemporary Israel? Can the displacement of the Filipino foreign caregiver, brokered by the Philippine state to labor in another country, be compared with the displacement of a Palestinian worker who has been rendered an “immigrant” and “illegal” in his/her homeland? How can we talk about solidarity/alliances with "frictive histories" while avoiding the trap of making false equivalences?
We think that these are key points in this dialogue that warrant further attention and stay true to an honest discussion of using “frictive histories” as a critical comparative lens.
So here are two prompts to consider:
1. How would you—Nadine and Allan—consider these questions via your personal experiences (Nadine in Egypt and Allan in Israel)?
2. Are there analogous cases of the struggles of foreign laborers in other settler colonial states (e.g., US, Canada, Australia) that you would like to point to?
May 18, 2013, 7:10 PM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Hi Allan and Sarita,
I wrote a reply but frankly, my head started spinning, so I needed to spend a bit more time with it. Here you go!
Thanks to you both. This really got me thinking—as you will see.
I have been thinking about Allan’s discussion of the social and temporal precarity of Filipinos in relation to the Israeli nation-state and the idea of the foreign caregiver as at once part of the extended family and a national outsider and as both invited guest and/or foreign threat. Allan’s contextualization of Filipino caregivers’ positions in Israel can open up possibilities for thinking about solidarity or alliances between Palestinians and Filipino caregivers. If we are to take Martin Manalansan's idea of “frictive histories” as a starting point, then we might consider these questions simultaneously: what brings Palestinian and Filipino histories in Israel into a similar political frame, and what renders them distinct? These questions (with the concept of “frictive histories”) are crucial for envisioning solidarity in ways that avoid making false equivalences.
Indeed, the same political structure that has been fundamental to maintaining the Zionist colonization of all of Palestine (that is, the establishment of an Israeli state for Jews only and maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel) has also structured the exclusions of Filipino caregivers in Israel—in different ways and to different degrees. Thus, to discuss solidarity we must look at Israel’s distinct nationalist discourses and practices as well as their roots in the establishment of Israel as a settler-colonial state created out of the context of late nineteenth century European expansion and based upon displacing indigenous people from their land. Yet it is not enough to map Palestinian workers and Filipino workers’ differential entanglements in this structure—as truly avoiding making false equivalences will require distinguishing between Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza working in Israel and Palestinians living in present-day Israel. (These Palestinians are the indigenous people of present-day Israel, the Palestinians who remained on their land when the state of Israel was created and became second class citizens.) We also need to consider how varying Palestinian and Filipino histories rub up against the multiple racial and hierarchical Jewish communities in Israel who are also hailed into Zionist settler colonialism differently and to different degrees.
For Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli settler colonialism has meant expansion (control of the majority of land through settlements, Jewish-only roads, the apartheid wall, checkpoints, and so on) and displacement (many Palestinians are refugees displaced from their original homes and villages). But it has also meant a continued and massive increase in poverty, unemployment, and starvation. As a result, Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza have travelled to work within Israel in larger numbers, particularly before the start of the first Palestinian Intifada [uprising] in the late 1980s. Once the first Intifada began, Israel limited the entrance of these Palestinian workers into Israel and replaced them with foreign workers, such as Filipinos. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, brought in as cheap labor, were easily pushed out, disposed of, and replaced. Filipino guest workers have entered Israel as the nation’s new disposable labor. While assimilable within the realm of family (as Allan illustrated), at least half of the Filipino workers in Israel do not have legal papers and face the threat of arrest and deportation at any point. Beyond this reality, today there are currently around 30,000 Palestinian laborers living in Israel without permits who face similar struggles as Filipinos who do not have papers—labor intensive jobs, poor pay, few rights, hazardous work conditions, and limited opportunity to claim rights due to the fear of arrest or deportation.4
A look at the structures of gender and sexuality that permeate dominant Israeli nationalism sheds more light on these “frictive histories.” While Israel requires Palestinian men to be fathers in order to legally work in Israel, Israel demands that Filipino workers be childless in Israel. Especially since Israel began decreasing the number of Palestinian laborers allowed into Israel, Israel has required most Palestinian men to be married fathers and over the age of thirty-five to obtain a legal work permit. For Filipinos, Israel encourages the deportation of workers after five years or when they have children. Filipino workers’ children rarely obtain legal status and are often deported. To insure that Filipinos who have children in Israel do not stay, Israeli recruitment companies are paid only when they recruit new workers, not workers already living in Israel. Within Israel’s colonialist-nationalist concepts of gender, the Palestinian man working as a day laborer from the West Bank and Gaza (constructed as potential enemy terrorist) is only allowed entry as father—as if heternormative family and reproduction make him “safe.” The Israeli colonialist-nationalist logic renders Filipinos (constructed as foreign threat to the [European] Jewish-only national identity) safe when they have joined an Israeli family (as temporary caregiver). With children of their own, they threaten the Zionist necessity for a Jewish majority and must be expelled or replaced.
The Zionist project of maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel also permeates the “frictive histories” of Filipino workers in Israel, Palestinians living within Israel, and the multiple hierarchical Jewish communities in Israel. Filipinos who have obtained legal papers are required to assimilate—including by speaking fluent Hebrew—yet they cannot join the Israeli army, a pre-requisite for full citizenship and national identity in Israel. Israel treats Palestinian workers in Israel as second-class citizens through its budget and economy, laws, political representation, and the general framework of Zionism (which requires the state to empower and maintain a Jewish majority at the expense of its non-Jewish citizens). And how do Filipino histories run up against the different histories of Jewish settlement in and displacement to Israel (European, African, and Arab Jewish, for instance)? The dominant Zionist narrative relies upon a nationalist binary of Jews vs. Arabs to maintain the idea that Israeli is a homeland and safe haven to all Jews who face the threat of the uncivilized Arab terrorist enemy. This is also the binary discourse that justifies Israeli military violence against Palestinians through the logic of protecting national security and self-defense. This framework defines Jewishness in terms of an idealized European Jewish identity, obscures the existence of non-European Jews (African and Arab, for instance), and marks non-white Jews as not-quite the right kind of Jew (unless they assimilate).
September 2, 2013, 5:50 PM PST
Subject: Re: CA+T Dialogue: Filipina/o workers
Allan and Nadine,
Hello from southern California! The moving dust has started to settle. And I finally managed to piece together our Dialogue about and beyond Filipino workers in the Middle East, which were (fittingly) scattered across my several email accounts. Thanks so much for your patience!
I think that the last thing that happened with our Dialogue was that, on May 18, Nadine sent us an updated reflection that responds to Allan's February 8 email. (Yeah, I know, can you believe that this Dialogue now spans over nine months?? We started this in December!) If you two feel okay about this, I'd like to issue a "last call" for your thoughts, questions, suggestions, declarations and/or conclusions. Shall we attempt to wrap up this Dialogue in about three weeks by Friday September 27?
For my part, I'll clumsily attempt to convey the richness of what I've learnt over the past nine-ten months of witnessing this conversation unfold. I really hope I'm not completely misrepresenting your writings and interchange when I say that I simultaneously take heart in and I am devastated by your different accounts of instances of what Allan calls the “shared social precarity” between Filipinos and Palestinians who live and work under a plurality and range of conditions of dispensability. But it's precisely what is not shared—what is different and what is “frictive”—that seems to be crucial to the maintenance of the dominant Zionist framework. Thus, the highly gendered representation of the “assimilability of Filipino racial difference” seems to do the work of rendering invisible not only Palestinian migrant and indigenous histories but also, ironically, Filipino institutional exclusion. (I say “ironic” because certain representational forms of Filipino visibility seem to secure the systemic invisibilization of Filipinos, according to Allan's account.) In her recent blog post “New Grass,” the poet-historian Kimberly Alidio summed up this paradox with the question: When do Filipinos land? I think it's brilliant of Kim to move from the question of "where" to the question of “when” because we—in Filipino and Filipino diasporic studies—are then obliged to interrogate how our current dominant historical narratives of migration and settlement are not sufficient when it comes to the frictive and violent interplay between the dispensability of bodies and the obfuscation of the land. Indeed, Nadine reminds us that “‘exclusion’ in its multiple forms [is] fundamental to the continuity of the Israeli state in its current form.”
What you've woven together here is an invaluable reminder about the high stakes of “alliance-building.” How to share lives and spaces. Why dominant forms of both familial and state power are so invested in prohibiting and destroying those tentative, fleeting, and powerful moments and movements.
October 8, 2013, 1:19PM EST
Subject: updated piece
Thank you, Nadine, for your thoughtful and generative response. You have made me rethink some of my objects as you remind me of the specific intersecting differentials among the various groups, such as that between Palestinians in the West Bank and those inside the territory and how both these groups mesh with the racial hierarchy within Jewish Israeli citizenry. So, we would think about settler-colonial discourse and practices as consolidating multiple, flexible narratives and technologies of exclusion to produce its many (and protean) subjects and borders. These intersections shape how nationalist discourses imagine cultural and physical borders and, therefore, how oppositional nodes coalesce (or could share a political frame, as you say). Solidarity is as much about the coalescing of different histories into what people perceive as a material, organized body or cause. Frictive histories remind us that solidarity is about diverse bodies at a political crossroads negotiating the meaning of the various trajectories.
Two thoughts come to mind in reading your latest response. First, border-making technologies of settler-colonial discourse include narrating national time. Official histories and timelines delegitimize outgroup claims. As Fanon’s work suggests, colonial spatial and temporal dislocations create narrative and psychic conditions for negotiating and imagining multiple spaces and times. Colonial and postcolonial conditions establish the coexistence of nonsynchronal and hierarchized temporalities. The coexistence of these spaces and times embedded in dominant representations provides alternative channels for imagining alternative political frames. Second, as Devon Carbado has demonstrated in “Racial Naturalization” [American Quarterly 57.3 (2005)], naturalization into citizenship is also naturalization into a racial hierarchy. A migrant body is read or comes to have a meaning only in negotiation with pre-existing national narratives about her/his difference. To reside in a place is to take one’s place in the evolving racial structures of the national imagination, a national history beyond one’s personal one. The two ideas involve national others—migrants and colonized—to assert continually creative translations of their place in the nation.
I find the gendered aspect of the border quite fascinating. As you astutely point out, the closing of the Israeli borders or restriction against Palestinian workers brought about the selection of gendered and sexualized, not just racialized, bodies to perform various labor: Eastern Europeans, West Africans, and Chinese for construction; Thai for agriculture; Filipinas for caregiving, among others. The legibility of non-Middle Eastern bodies serves as visual markers for internal security and surveillance. For Filipinos, the privatization of health needs in the early 1990s made possible the entry of mostly female migrants to be integrated into Israeli homes. Many migrants continue to stay without legal papers and become targets of xenophobia alongside Palestinians from Occupied Territories. You add another dimension to this selectivity as regards reproductive sexuality. Male Palestinian workers are to be middle-aged fathers, while Filipina caregivers are to be childless and part of an extended Israeli family. As Care Divas, the Philippine musical, stages, the queer romance between the two illegal workers, Palestinian and Filipino, may be read as similar struggles for home and belonging emerging from different trajectories, the Palestinian alienated and illegal in his own homeland, the Filipino/a bakla once invited as family member then alien as soon as his family sponsor dies. Here I wonder if the perception of non-reproduction by queer subjects added to the appeal of Tomer Heymann’s documentary Paper Dolls.
My visit in Tel Aviv years ago coincided with the celebration of Philippine Independence there. The celebration took place in a park and was a makeshift, well attended event with shows and, of course, a beauty pageant, in which contestants dressed in western, traditional Filipina, and indigenous Philippine attire. Many children of Filipino and Israeli Jewish parentage were around. There were at least two types of Filipinas participating. The Society for Asian Ladies is comprised of long-time residents of Israel since the 1980s who married Israeli citizens and converted to Judaism. They converted so that the children are Jewish, thereby maintaining the genealogically Jewish character of the state. The other Filipinas, post-Intifada migrants, were younger and more recent arrivals, with and without families, who are temporary workers. Each group, workers on one side and Jewish-Israeli wives and mothers on the other, was subject to different forms of belonging and roles regarding reproduction and reproducing the nation-state.
In the meantime, the view from the outside differs greatly. I return to NYC [New York City], and I find the advertising efforts of Israeli Tourism to be actively creating something of a multicultural face of Israel. Right before a movie here in the upper west side of Manhattan, the invitation to visit Israel as a tourist features prominently a female Israeli, most likely of Ethiopian descent, wearing her Star of David. Of course, in Tel Aviv, the Ethiopian face is commonly found working in grocery and convenience stores, Russian faces as sherutim [service] drivers for public vans, etc. For the American touristic gaze, the multicultural face with a Jewish genealogy was the entry and foreground to the picturesque landscape background-- free, of course, of physical and cultural borders, checkpoints, and conflicted bodies.
October 9, 2013, 11:56 AM EST
Subject: updated piece
This is amazing, Allan. Thank you.
For me, the conversation between you and Nadine compels me to re-engage anew with words like “multiplicity,” “flexibility,” and “solidarity” that have become so hackneyed and abstract because of the way they often get tossed around (including by me!)
And I appreciate the way you circle back to our opening gambit about “frictive histories.” I'm not sure if you and Nadine would agree, but I think that the idea of friction in relation to solidarity also permeated this Dialogue. There are very real differences between your and Nadine's work and approaches and positionalities. And I am so grateful that you both gave so much of your time and heart, for lack of a better word, into making this Dialogue possible. More than that. What becomes clear over the scope of this conversation is that we need and deserve the space and time to build trust and build coalitions with one another. And I look forward to the three of us meeting up face-to-face in real time one day soon!
Nadine: If it's alright with you, I'm going to close the Dialogue unless you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share.
October 9, 2013 at 12:28 PM EST
Subject: Re: updated piece
Thanks for your beautiful e-mail, Sarita. I have nothing to add at this point and yes—what you've said about solidarity and frictive histories is right on and exciting to think about. I've learned so much, and my eyes were glued to the screen when reading Allan's last piece. It’s fabulous. I do think we've really started a genuine-organic intellectual conversation here—enriched by the ways we were not restricted by institutions (publishing/funding and so on). To be honest, reading Allan's last piece, I wanted to keep writing ... replying ... and continue. More and more just keeps opening up with each post among us. How cool!
Thank you, Sarita, for bringing our work and ideas together and giving me this very new, challenging, and extremely generative writing experience.
October 9, 2013 at 3:24 PM EST
Subject: updated piece
Thank you, Nadine and Sarita, for the kind words and encouragement and for making this exchange possible. I have learned quite a bit in the process and look forward to more discussions.
My deepest gratitude.