Your Filipina Pen Pal!

But seriously, folks: it's all about dialogue...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On domestic abuse and japayuki

I recently came back from Atlanta and the annual Asian American studies conference. I noted a couple of things that I learned at the conference that I thought would be interesting for us to think about on this blog.

The first is factual:

Professor Linda Pierce, a mixed-race Filipina who teaches multi-ethnic American literature at the University of Southern Mississippi, told a roundtable of Filipino Americanists that in southern Mississippi, there are quite a few Filipinas with white husbands and therefore a large population of mixed-race Filipino children. She explicitly said that "penpals are the majority of the Filipino American community" here. She also said, and this was really disturbing, that one of the major problems in this community is domestic abuse. It has gotten so bad that the Filipino Society of Mississippi, which Pierce said is in no way a political entity, has had to stage rescues of these Filipina wives from domestic abuse.

The second is more theoretical:

In her discussion of her research in Japan as a japayuki (Filipino slang for a Filipina working as an entertainer in Japan) alongside Filipina migrant workers also working as japayuki, Professor Rhacel Parreñas of UC Davis made some comments about how "the moral panic embedded in" anti-sex trafficking discourse doesn't take into account the desires of the migrant workers themselves. She noted that when Japan, responding to pressure from the United States (presumably including Filipino Americans in league with others working against the sex trafficking industries), re-designated the Filipina japayuki as "trafficked persons" and therefore wouldn't allow them to renew their contracts to work in Japan, many migrant Filipina japayuki in Japan protested against this bill.

I think that Parreñas brings up an important contradiction between these two sides of the trafficking issue, but I was upset by her dismissive term "moral panic" when talking about those who are anti-sex trafficking. The contradiction or tension is something that we've been talking about on this blog already in relation to pen pals, but I think we can all agree that it is a very complicated and thorny issue -- so complicated that it warrants more than a dismissive comment about people having different moralities. On the one hand, we don't want to deny Filipinas agency, but on the other, we also don't want to ignore the structural problems that present them with the narrow choice of living in poverty or marrying a foreigner they barely know (and as the Mississippi example above indicates, this latter can be quite dangerous). To describe anti-sex trafficking discourse as instigating "moral panic" seems to me an uncritical attempt to shut down further investigation of the issue. Sure there were japayuki who protested the bill, but did all of them do it? Who started the protests? And were they protesting because they thought they weren't trafficked people, or simply because they needed the money and the re-designation was a hindrance to this? There are lots of questions I would have asked before making a judgment.

What do you all think? About either of these things?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ninotchka Rosca

Hello all!

Yes, I'm still in orals mode. Apologies for using this blog for announcements. I promise that I'll have more interesting things to contribute after the mayhem. I wanted to let you know that I just received this announcement about a talk by Ninotchka Rosca. Here's the info in case any of you are interested in going.

The Center for Southeast Asia Studies, UC Berkeley presents a lecture

"Labor Export: Institutionalized Trafficking"

Ninotchka Rosca
Writer & co-founder of the GABRIELA network

Trafficking is not simply a criminal activity. For nations and countries, it is an economic strategy -- only it's called by some other name.

Ninotchka Rosca is a contemporary writer, human rights activist and feminist. Her novel, Twice Blessed, earned the 1993 American Book Award for excellence in literature. A political prisoner under the Marcos regime in the Philippines, Rosca is a founder and the first national chair of GABRIELA, an important Philippine-US women's solidarity mass organization.

Talk organized for the Townsend Center's Geballe Research Opportunities for Undergraduates Program (GROUP) Spring 2006 course "Using People: Human Rights and the Transnational Commodification of Women" (Prof. Pheng Cheah, instructor)

Monday, April 10, 2006
4:30 - 6:00 p.m.
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley

This event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I believe that one of the most dangerous traps we fall into is when we begin attacking each other’s differences of opinion, instead of locating and directing our voices towards the bigger cause of decolonization and critique of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy/WSCP (thank you, bell hooks!). I do not apologize for the jargon because, to me, it speaks of the invisible paradigm of modernist values that implicates all of us regardless of how we are located – whether by geography, class, ethnicity and race, religion, political beliefs, religion, sex and gender and sexual orientation.

What we do have in common in this group is that we have a connection to a homeland’s history and a people – the Philippines and Filipinas. This connection is one of deep affection, empathy, compassion; we have nurtured our sense of Kapwa and our Lakas ng Loob. Decolonization is a belated project for many of us, including old me, but we are growing in our capacity to trust our instincts and intellect as we talk back at this WSCP.

We have always lived “under western eyes” but the power of that gaze is waning.What we know of Empire is that it always destroys everything in its path on its way to self-destruction.

According to Chandra Mohanty, in Feminism Without Borders, white western feminism (which has influenced so many of us) has, in the 21st century, become more conservative and is being challenged by the decolonizing, postcolonial perspectives of “third-world” feminists and indigenous peoples around the world. The potential of a global feminist movement, she writes, lies in making visible the machinations of capital and power that “eats” everything in its path through commodification and consumption.

We know whose bodies get commodified and consumed in this age of corporate globalization: women and children from the “two-thirds world” – trafficked, seduced, compelled, encouraged to enter the global labor market as mail-order-brides, nannies, domestic workers, prostitutes, doctors becoming nurses elsewhere, surgeons ending up as butchers at Safeway, engineers as pencil-pushers, etc.

As I think about the maid of the world (I am the maid of the world and the world has made me dirty – Irene Duller), I think about my sister. As I understand my own location of privilege not only under western eyes, but within it as well, what sorts of questions should I be asking about the kinds of issues and causes that I can embrace so that I am not only a “feminist-as-tourist/voyeur or feminist-as-detached explorer” of “otherness” and “difference” but a feminist whose solidarity with the women and children of the two-thirds world is informed by a critique of this corporate global machinery. What sort of alternative destinations can we imagine for this place that we take up (blog-world)?

Some of the folks we encounter along the way who are either sitting on the fence or on the other side of the fence that I describe above, can be invited to this dialogue. But let us not be shocked or surprised if they do not join us in solidarity. At least they know they can enter the dialogue (respectfully, we hope) and all I can wish for is an awakening inspired by the babaylan spirit.

In Our Own Image

So who are we and what are we doing on this blog? The fact is, we're all different, and we're not even all women! Because we are all individuals, however, we each approach the issue of the portrayal of Filipinas and Filipinos displayed on Pen Pal and other online sites somewhat differently. One area in which I think we all more or less agree is that we hope for dialogue. And it's true that, at some point, we have come to this dialogue because we have been (will will probably continue to be) angry and saddened by the stereotypical portrayals we've seen of the portrayal of Filipinas online. Emotions tend to run high on this topic. Yet, speaking for myself, in the process of delving into the topic, I've begun to see problems and complexities that I hadn't originally considered.

It's a learning process, and I don't come to this site thinking I know it all, already. Anyway, I've been thinking about the fact that much of what angers me are the stilted, hyper-sexualized and often pedophilic images of Filipinas and Filipinos. After all, a LBFM website would be nothing without its images. --But one can present counter-images, no?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Craving the spotlight?

Hello all!

Apologies for being MIA. I'm in the THICK of orals prep. Anyway... a dear friend sent this to me and I thought the "pack of coyotes" and our disciples would be interested (that was a joke). If anything, the show itself should be interesting. I'm not sure if the show date is set, but I was told it was sometime towards the end of April. Can the selfish me persuade Miss Gladys to make a bay area trip so we can all get together and watch?

wishful thinking,


San Francisco State University Women's Center and GABRIELA Network is hosting a San Francisco Bay Area wide CASTING CALL for the premiere production of...


No Theatre Experience Necessary, but definitely a plus.

All proceeds go to benefit Women in the Philippines - The Purple Rose Campaign Against the Sex Trafficking of
Women and Children.

When: Wednesday, March 22, 2006 5:00-8pm
Where: Women's Center, Chavez Student Union @ San Francisco State University
Who: YOU!

For more information please contact Megan-– or Katrina
Or call the SFSU women's center at 415.338.2486

Speaking of Mutya Power...


IN CONCERT, a rare double feature!
Experience the spellbinding dance theatre of ancient Pilipino rituals and tribal arts: MAGUI MORO ARTISTS & THE MUTYA PROJECT

Alleluia Panis Dance Theater (APDT)
APDT performs a new project called The Mutya Project. Mutya is Tagalog for the essence of creative power, the prana, the chi, the breath, the pearl, life’s pulse in all being. Mutya, a female energy, is a most sacred & powerful magic, the artist’s muse & inspiration. Mutya is also the pearl-like object said to issue from the heart of a banana plant during the holiest day of the year and is believed to be a powerful amulet. The concept of Mutya is often co-opted by enterprising beauty pageant organizers. Collaborators: Ana Hortillosa - Video Art; Anthony Legarda - Costume Design; Francis Wong & Herna Cruz – Music; Jean Vengua - poetry.

Director Alleluia Panis' vision is to create dance/theater works that define the artistic identity of the American Pilipino people. Ms. Panis has received commissioning awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, New Langton Arts, and Brava! for Women in the Arts. She received the Choreographic Fellowship from the California Arts Council. She is an American Pilipino choreographer in the forefront of contemporary American dance theater informed by issues and concerns of American Pilipinos.

Dancers: Fides Enriquez, Helen Sarafino, Lisa Juachon, Nerinna Valera, Patricia Ong, Stephanie Sampang.

701 Mission (@ 3rd Street), San Francisco, CA 94103

BUY ADVANCED WALK UP: TIX Bay Area box office located in Union Square on Powell Street between Geary and Post.
More information:
Kularts, 415.239.0249, or
Spring Forward! press release (PDF)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

LBFM: Lightly Balding Fucking Males

OK, I had to bring this comment and post to the top level cuz I want this site to rise to those all important search engine charts.

What I said...
Can we do a photo series where the husbands of the Filipinas are naked in pictures of every day life like at "NAKED! AT f-64"? And then title the website LBFM "Lightly Balding Fucking Males" but then used LBFM all over the site, I bet you we could get on top of the search hit lists!

I looked at the LBFM site and of course these women don't need the "extra money" to be on these sites and OF COURSE they're at least 18! I mean, everyone in the Southeast Asia carries around an ID showing their birthdate and no one ever carries forged documents. That's like saying everyone in a porn video is 21. I don't think I've ever heard anyone admit to any other age than the "legal" one.

10:51 PM

Jean said...
hahahah!! What a great idea, Gura! Something similar to the "kitchen series" in f-64? They can be stirring a pot of pinakbet or something.

But hey, you've done something here: now I can't think of LBFM without displacing the original meaning of it with "Lightly Balding Fucking Males!"

10:57 PM

Various pictures we can have on the LBFM site:

-we can have a scene where they are mowing the lawn and his wife is tending to the flower beds

-a scene from the Philippines where he's standing next to the lechon on the spit, but not the fully cooked one, the pale, just killed lechon pig (this is absolutely my favorite image)

-in a Chinatown or Ranch 99 type marketplace. he's carrying the bags while she's shopping.

-a group of them standing together drinking beer while their wives gather at the other end of the room

What else should we have the LBFMs doing?

Monday, March 13, 2006


Speaking of e-infiltration, as posed by Eileen (see previous post) or subverting the SEO or Search Engine Optimization process -- thanks to one Mr. Beckett I have found an amazing website featuring NAKED WOMEN! NAKED! at f-64.

Both the pictures and the narratives show and tell a lot, but they also raise a lot of questions. Like who ("A ghost in the machine. The only real Jane is the Jane that cannot be known, like the Tao that cannot be known"), how ("We're tired of the Popular Photography look"), what and especially why. I'm interested in how this nakedness and the voyeurism it stimulates differs from the voyeurism we might find on various LBFM websites. Well, to start off with the obvious, there's a feeling of warmth and participation in the f-64 site, that you won't find in the LBFM site...

In the meantime, come on, let's hit that SEO: LBFM! LBFM!

Saturday, March 11, 2006


In the great tradition of our friends at BagongPinay who I am relieved to see is the first line that comes up in a Google search of "Filipina" (followed, unfortunately, by all sorts of sexualized Filipina links), our blog is now inserting its activism in e-space. Here are some of the phrases that have brought visitors to this site. In fact, if you cutnpaste any of the phrases below into a search engine, our vagina dentata shows up amidst sordid company! But it's great to e-infiltrate and subvert from the inside! E-Onward!

Some internet searches where this blog rears its Gabriela head:

filipina sex

disciplining filipina domestic workers

find a pen pal for a child under 11

pretty filipina

filipina organization

filipina wifes websites

secret pal blank form

Defer to men

extremely young filipina

filipino mail order brides


filipina sex scandals

hospitality industry different table settings in the philippines

18 year old asian penpal


men penpals website 2006


american man seeking filipino pen pals marriage

submissions about beautiful filipinas

women pen pal

when a married woman gets gifts from another man

pinay penpal

"when the warships left manila"


IMBRA feminists


lbfm* tennis thai

(*LBFM, of course, stands for "Little Brown Fucking Machine")

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Announcement of film screening: SAY I DO

[I'm sorry about displacing Ver's excellent post below!]

For those of you in the Bay Area, Say I Do, the documentary on MOBs that Gura posted about last month, is going to be screened at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, March 8 as part of the International Women's Day celebrations. So it will be free, although donations are encouraged. Being in So Cal, I unfortunately can't be there, but I hope at least one of us is able to see it and give a report. I believe there will be an opportunity for discussion at the screening.


"A paid-for-wife is a slave for life."

Hosted By:
GABRIELA Network, Berkeley Unit

Refreshments served.
Donations of $3-5 welcomed

"I need to find myself a nice submissive young lady who wants and needs to have me control and direct her life. I am age 52, divorced after a long marriage. There is nothing so pleasurable to me as teaching a young woman to submit fully to my wishes... If my wife does not obey me, then I am perfectly willing to punish her in whatever way I think is right...”

Every day, womn and children exported from the Philippines into the mail-order bride and sex trafficking industry are sent to men much like the one described above.

Every day, their plights go unnoticed, ignored by the government.


In honor of these womn and all womn fighting for their rights, we celebrate INTERNATIONAL WOMN'S DAY on March 8.

Please join us for a fundraiser and film screening of the mail-order bride documentary, "Say I Do" on

Refreshments served.
Donations of $3-5 welcomed and go back to
GABNet's Purple Rose Campaign and other work.

In light of what's going on in the Philippines, it's important for us
to come together to learn, to discuss
and more importantly,
to act.

For more information, contact

And Now For A Short Commercial Break

I’ve been wanting to contribute a post to this blog since the day Jean (with inspiration from Leny) opened the door for business. So to speak. The experience was not unlike trying to get a word in edgewise during a cocktail party at which the only guests are erudite, well-spoken, and not at all shy. Not surprisingly, I’ve been hiding in a corner with the potted plants.

But now I think the time has come here at Your Filipina Penpal! for a short literary break. And I can do that! Like many other writers, I write in part to make sense of what I’m feeling. And like all of you, my feelings on the subject of MOBs, interracial relationships, poverty, corruption, economics, domestic abuse and whatnot are often really fucking complicated and confusing. And so the only thing for me to do was turn to a story.

I wrote “A Late Lunch at the Lemon Grass Café” sometime last year. It’s narrated by the young twenty-something male child of a Filipina MOB and her American husband. I don’t post it for feedback or praise or criticism, but rather to say what I can’t seem to say nonfiction-ally. I was able to empathize with unlikable characters in a way that took me completely by surprise, and the writing itself helped to clarify my feelings about all these heady subjects. Even if I still can’t quite articulate what they are. And now I’ve gone on too long! Anyhoots, here’s an excerpt:


Before I was born, my mother had all of her teeth. This was, in fact, one of the criteria—neatness and literacy being among the others—that my American father used when choosing her for his wife. “Well, Nita, you’re not so pretty, but you sure are sweet,” he used to say. This scant praise, combined with the fact that mom was already thirty years old, was enough to sweep her off her feet, out of Bayawan, and into a ranch-style house forty minutes east of San Francisco. Never mind that dad was twice her age, twice married, and twice before engaged to other small, dark women he’d wooed while on various vacations to the Philippines, Negros Island in particular.

I was conceived immediately following the wedding (which, much to my mother’s permanent shame, did not take place in the Catholic church), and seven months later her teeth started to fall out. Someone told her I leeched all the calcium right out of her chompers. She claims it was worth it to have a son like me.

I bear little resemblance to the half-and-half kids with muted brown skin and pale green eyes who look like rare, exotic birds. This one Filipino-Swedish guy in high school had the girls crying and on their knees he was so damn handsome. Hated that guy. And I’m fat. “Gordo!” my mother screams, happy to have fed me so well. “Like your father, talaga.” She laughs for a moment and then, of course, starts to cry because my father is dead.

My mother’s situation—and how she ended up in it—was obvious to anyone who cared to observe my parents for a few minutes. Whenever they were out together, she endured rude stares and whispered comments from women, especially other Filipinas. I often wondered how many of those superior bitches realized the one simple truth about my mother: she was happy with Dad.

Once, shortly after he died, I asked Mom if she wished she’d just stayed in the Philippines, with people she knew, in a place she still referred to as “home.” “Oh, honey,” she had said, “nothing was gonna happen to me there. No one was gonna love me. At least your Daddy loves me. Oh, sige, you go now. Go have fun,” she said, shooing me out of the room as her eyes began to puddle.


I eat in a Thai restaurant on Clement Street—a street that could be mistaken for a street in any Asian city—almost every day. The Lemon Grass Café. It’s three blocks from my “office,” which is really just a dirty apartment converted into an art studio by three greasy-haired pothead guys, average age twenty-two. They publish underground comics and hired me because my drawing samples revealed a “deep understanding of female breast curvature.” This was an important qualification because—without exception—the characters I was being hired to draw would have enormous breasts squashed into lace-up, corset-type garments.

I was honest and admitted to them that my understanding of the female breast was based entirely on my dead father’s extensive collection of pornographic magazines: Mound, Hustler, Twice As Nice, Lust, etc. They just looked at each other and said, “Cool.” It’s a pretty good job.

It’s past three, so the lunch crowd is long gone. The owner’s daughter, a 10-year-old whose pants are always too short, is folding napkins and filling small vases with white flowers to prep for the dinner rush.

I don’t even have to order; my favorite waiter, Pong, just brings me a big, steaming plate of Pad Thai and smiles. I nod and dig in, stopping every once in awhile to take a swig of my iced tea or spit out a shrimp tail. Pong turns the TV channel from home shopping to ESPN and the cook, free for now, ventures out from the kitchen. The other customers leave so that it’s just the three of us, sitting together watching NBA playoff highlights. The two of them high-five each other throughout a Michael Jordan montage that showcases several impossible-to-defend fadeaway jumpers. They look over at me and we share a good laugh. Jesus, what a great lunch.

As usual, my eyes eventually focus on the far wall, where instead of the serene artwork typically found in Asian restaurants—boats floating down lazy rivers, caribou grazing, men in straw hats with scythes slung over their narrow shoulders—Pong likes to hang pictures of pretty flight attendants carefully cut from assorted airline calendars. He’s got Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Philippine Airlines, you name it. The girls either wear an uptight navy blue blazer with a little red scarf tied at the neck, or the native garb of their respective countries. Sarongs, colorful headwraps, garish gold earrings, stuff like that. My bosses love it when I spice up a comic book girl by angling her eyes or giving her tawny skin. So when I’m done with my noodles, I pull out my Strathmore sketchpad and a 2B pencil. At the last minute, I grab a 3B, too; it’s good for dark hair.

As I block in the eyes, it occurs to me for the hundredth time that my mother never looked like these women. Not even at, say, the age of 20 when any beauty a woman is likely to be blessed with is on full display like a peacock’s tail. Douglas MacArthur once talked about the “moonbeam delicacy” of Filipinas, and damn if he wasn’t right. No jutting cheekbones or noses that end in a point, just everything soft, soft. I sense Pong staring over my shoulder; hear him gently grunt his approval of my work. He says something in Thai to the cook, who scoots his chair over next to mine.