Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kasarinlan Review: Children of Globalization

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. 2005. Children of globalization: Transnational families and gendered woes. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 212 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 20, 2 (2005): 187-189.

In her first book Servants of Globalization, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas focused on the plight of Filipina maids and caregivers working abroad to support their families back home in the Philippines. In her equally important sequel work, Children of Globalization, she looks at the issue of how globalization has impacted the changing construction of the Filipino family. She does this by interviewing and observing the children and their caregivers that were left behind. Using historical data and quantitative and qualitative methodologies to substantiate her findings, Parreñas shows that typically, overseas working mothers assume a double gender role within the family of breadwinner (formerly, the male role) and emotional caregiver (traditionally, the female role). Also, the children largely blame her for not being physically at home when they do poorly in school or in other areas, even as most mothers overcompensate for their absence by amply providing for the material needs and education of their children.

Husbands, likewise, prefer their wives to stay at home, but for the sake of the financial survival of the family, let them go. Not many husbands assume the role of house-husbands and so childcare falls largely to elder sisters (sometimes still kids themselves), aunts, and grandmothers. Occasionally fathers hire domestic helpers to raise the children. This is not to say that fathers do not love their children dearly, but that many find it difficult to assume a traditionally female role within the domestic household.

This mass migration of mothers in search of work has other consequences. Many
couples endure issues of marital strife and infidelity, while their children suffer in the process. Parreñas brings this complex family dynamic vividly to life in her new book and makes it intelligible by providing us with the historical and contemporary context in which it is situated.

Until the 1970s, most overseas migration from the Philippines was undertaken by individuals or families with the aim of permanently settling overseas. The 1970s oil crisis, combined with then-President Ferdinand Marcos’s illicit use of foreign aid monies for his own self-aggrandizement and that of his cronies, gave rise to an economic crisis and high unemployment rate. At the same time, there arose a high demand for contract migrant workers in the oil rich Gulf States that began to attract large numbers of Filipinos, mostly males. Marcos capitalized on this migration flow by establishing an overseas employment program. This program, intended as a temporary stop-gap measure, has yet to be disbanded by subsequent administrations due to economic indebtedness to First World lending organizations. On-going economic crises, increasing militarization, and corporate-led globalization processes have converged in the new millennium to increase international employment opportunities for overseas migrant workers, especially females. The new type of migration is patterned after and facilitated by expanding international networks based on the family and the transnational family has become the norm in the Philippines (2).

The transnational family traverses class lines and migrant parents work in a variety of labor sectors in the global market. Parreñas found, through meticulous research, that families with fathers working overseas fare better than those with mothers working abroad. This is because stay-at-home moms typically perform the role of mother and father to their children. They do what is expected of them as caregivers and housekeepers, plus they take on the (male) task of disciplining their children. In contrast, fathers who work abroad are acting out their traditional role as breadwinner. Many of the children that Parreñas interviewed talked about a gap developing between themselves and their migrant fathers, but the family unit remained intact at the nuclear level. However, children expect their migrant mothers to perform their traditional gender roles, even as they say they understand why the mothers had to leave to support the family. All their woes are blamed on their mother for not being there, physically, to support them emotionally in times of need. In some of these transnational families, mothers and children have found creative ways to bridge the divide. For example, Parreñas reveals that many mothers call their children routinely, sometimes daily, to maintain strong emotional ties. But frequently this is not adequate to fulfill the children’s needs.

This book will appeal to a wide range of audiences, including students of anthropology, sociology, psychology, education, and political science, among other fields. It will appeal to social workers, non-government organization workers, teachers, counselors, and all those in the business of helping children, families, and immigrants to improve their lives qualitatively in today’s fast paced world. Once again, Parreñas has written a cutting edge book that has made an important contribution to the study of our changing world.—Kathleen Nadeau, Associate Professor and Applied Anthropology Coordinator, Department of Anthropology, California State University-San Bernardino.

Click this link to download the review in PDF.

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