Your Filipina Pen Pal!

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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Say I Do... an overdue review

Now that orals are over, I have some spare time to catch up on commentary about the documentary Say I Do, which I saw a while back. Before I begin, I would like to clarify something... as clearly stated in my own blog, I do not have the time, energy, or effort to respond to stupidity and ignorance - enough said.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Say I Do is a documentary that follows three Filipina mail-order brides and one Filipina who is in the process of getting married. If you want a better synopsis, you know where to click.

I'm not sure where this quote came from, but in my notes, I recorded this phrase: "A paid-for wife is a slave for life." In the film, I felt this phrase was the underlying message. The three couples that were followed were all from Canada, and all lived in remote, snowy parts of Canada. In their respective towns, the Filipinos were mostly mail-order brides. Naturally, when many of these brides found each other, they formed their own small networks.

The first couple is then 39 year-old Bascel and 50 year-old Linden. Of the three, they seemed to be the most happy and stable. They have two daughters and Bascel seems to be a really cute, funny spunky Pinay. Some things that struck me about her interview was when she mentioned that she was sad because for her, she dreamed that marriage was about love and partnership. However, when she got married, she knew she was marrying someone she wasn't in love with. Instead, it seemed like she saw her marriage as something she had to do - like she was just stuck with the guy. On the other hand, she said she was happy because, as she said, "it could be worse." When Bascel said this, it was in reference to her being lucky that her husband didn't abuse her. This struck me because it showed me that she as well aware that many women in her situation undergo various levels of abuse (bet it physical or emotional), and that she was thankful her husband wasn't like that.

They also featured some guy named John who ran an "island girls" website. He explained that the easiest thing to sell a man was a woman - an exotic island woman at that. He showed how they re-touch some of the photos and edit some of the profiles to cater to the demands of the make clientele. I prefer to not elaborate on this.

The second couple was Rick and Gertrude. Gertrude was clearly sad and hated her marriage. Rick is previously divorced and she described him as controlling and violent, but wouldn't elaborate further. For me, her expressions were enough. I don't think I've ever seen someone that miserable. Gertrude stated that she regrets her marriage because she feels like she is hired help and a babysitter to their son. Rick is so controlling that he doesn't give her money or allow her to buy things on her own. She ended up taking babysitting jobs in order to earn money on the side and send balikbayan boxes home. If I remember correctly, she sends a balikbayan box (and money) every month. However, she does this behind Rick's back because she says he'd be angry/violent if he ever found out. Another scene that struck me was watching her with their son Jerod, who looks just like Rick. She speaks to him in Tagalog and when Jerod throws a temper tantrum, she tells him that he's violent just like his dad. I felt horrible for her because you can tell that there's a lot of abuse in her life and she feels trapped. While watching the footage, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if Rick actually saw this documentary and found out about the balikbayan boxes and such. It was really disheartening.

The third couple was Helen and Chris. Chris has been divorced two times before, and they have one daughter together. Although I don't know how old they are, they did have the biggest age difference, as Chris looked like he could be her lolo. Like Gertrude, Helen felt like she was a laborer, a slave as opposed to a wife. Their home didn't have power or running water, so she had to do a lot of manual labor. She also said that Chris was extremely violent and very abusive. In fact, Chris was arrested for spousal abuse. Helen and Chris are now divorced and Helen was granted Canadian citizenship. They were divorced because Helen was eventually taken to a women's shelter because Chris was so abusive. She said that a lot of people tried to help her situation - from nurses in the hospital to neighbors, but she never reported his abusiveness (typical, since many MOBs feel like their citizenship is on the line). In the end, Chris was convicted and while the divorce was underway, Chris filed an order that made it impossible for Helen and their daughter to leave the country (to visit the Philippines). Chris claims that he filed it because he didn't want Helen selling their daughter over there. He claimed that was the kind of woman Helen was. I don't know what type of punishment he received. However, the film did mention that he was in the midst of finding another Filipina wife. (This makes me wonder about his two previous marriages and any of the other women he has and will most likely abuse.)

Finally, the film looked at Emma and Stan, who were currently engaged. It was clear that Emma didn't want to leave, but she has a large family who was depending on her help when she does get married. Stan's ex-wife is also Filipina and he says they had a very bitter divorce. He also said that his biggest fear is Emma meeting other Filipinas in town and them telling her about his ex-wife. However, there is no mention of what was wrong with this first marriage. There was also a scene where Emma was reading letters (I'm not sure if they were from Stan) from possible suitors. Some of these letters were atrocious! I remember references to religion - these men writing to her because her profile said she was Christian and they were looking for a God-fearing, well-behaved Christian. One of the letters even said that he was looking for a woman who understood that a good Christian wife should be submissive to her partner and understand that if she is out of line, her husband has every right to beat her because he is doing it out of love. Their immigration situation is complicated because Stan's first marriage happened in the Philippines, which means he's still legally married to his first wife. That means they can't get married until they get to Canada. Again, Emma, for the most part (even when Stan visits) seems to be completely miserable.

Toward the end of the film, they showed a community meeting of local MOBs to talk about their problems and such. It seemed to be a positive meeting because it was safe space for these women to meet, vent and share their problems, lives, etc. Bascel and Gertrude were at this gathering and I swear, it's the only time you ever see Gertrude smiling. There's a point where the meeting leader says, "Okay, so do we know what we need to do when we go back home to our husbands?" Gertrude happily chimed in, "Yes! File for divorce!" The women laughed, and it was good to see that this church-based community group managed to get these women together just so they could form community and support for each other. I hope the meetings continued.

During the Q&A, I was a little bothered by their opening question, where the organizers mentioned that people are trying to change the term "mail order brides" to "marriage migrants," and what do we think about the name switch. While I respect the question, I kept thinking to myself: So there are clearly issues of slavery, abuse, servitude, depression, etc. that's presented in the film, but all we can begin to talk about is nomenclature?! WTF?! In my anger, I responded that a difference in terminology isn't going to change the situation these women are in. It's not going to change the level of abuse and exploitation they experience. One of the guests in the audience whipped her head around and kinda' snapped at me and asked, "Then what term would you use?!" I turned to her and responded, "I don't believe in sugar-coating a situation. If you really wanted to be correct about this, then this system should be called what it really is: marital slavery. That way, if we call it slavery, there is a chance that people would mobilize towards ending it." For some reason, she didn't seem happy with my response.

Some other things I picked up from the discussion that bothered me was that these women don't have the access to background checks on these men, yet these men do extensive background checks on these women just to make sure they are who they say they are. Also in the case of Chris (and potentially Stan), these men can have multiple mail-order brides (not simultaneously, but from Export Quality, there is a case of this happening) even though, like in Chris's case, they have track records of abuse.

If any of you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend you watch Say I Do because it will give you an understanding of how complicated this system is. It will also (hopefully) give you (us) some sense of what this blog is for. For me, I participate with such an incredible set of women because I feel that we're invested in engaging in critical dialogue about this subject.

Anyway... I've blabbed long enough. Orals are over and passed. Yea! I'm off to get some rest. I'll post more later about Export Quality and the lovely performance about our very own Goddess of Halology.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Export Quality

FYI: Just wanted to pass this on to those who are interested. If writing goes well, I'll definitely be there. Diana "Goddess of Halology" Halog, one of the Beauty and Power volunteers will be starring in the play. Please pass on this info. Thanks!