Eleven years ago, Nelia Guzman was sitting in a park in Hong Kong with other Filipino nannies. As they always did on Sundays, they'd gone to church, then come together for a picnic lunch, some gossip about movie stars back home, and the usual talk about where to move next. In Hong Kong they were all migrants and destined to remain migrants, required to renew their permits regularly. Whatever their training, they could only cook, clean, and look after the children of others.
But on this particular Sunday, a discarded newspaper and a gust of wind brought Nelia to a new life. Incredibly, the classified section of a recent Toronto Star blew across the park and landed at her feet. She picked it up and read that an employment agency wanted qualified women to work as nannies. Although she knew only one person who lived in Canada, an aunt who had moved to Newfoundland, she was immediately excited. She was aware that Canada was the only country where a woman could enter as a domestic and, if she followed the rules and met certain criteria, become a landed resident and eventually a citizen. Nelia answered the ad. Three months later, she was looking after a handicapped child in a house in Whitby.
After five years as a domestic, Nelia now works on the switchboard at the Sheraton Centre on Queen Street, using her four languages -- Tagalog, English, Spanish, and Cantonese -- to answer questions, book reservations, and help the catering department. She commutes from Oshawa, where she lives with her husband, George Kissoondath, a city (planning) employee. In 1989, she and a sister who came after her, made a $25,000 down-payment on a house for their newly-arrived parents. So far, she has brought thirteen family members to Canada. Others are hoping to follow.
In Forest Hill mansions and Annex duplexes, in parks and playgrounds across the city, Filipino women like Nelia are taking care of Toronto's middle-class children. Daisy, the four-year-old daughter of Tecca Crosby and Allan Kling, has been cared for most of her life by one Filipino woman, Christie Arrubio. In the three years she was with them, while Allan worked at Butterfield & Robinson Travel and Tecca was with the Ontario Film Development Corporation, they came to know Christie, her friends, and her family. Like other parents who've hired Filipino nannies, they're surprised by the intensity of the relationships they share with these women. Allan is reluctant to promote racial stereotypes, even when they're favourable. "It sounds patronizing to say, 'Isn't it amazing that a Third World country can give us all these civilized people!'" Yet he can't deny what he sees in Filipinas -- "a sophistication, courtesy and civility that is remarkable. The respect they show for people is not affected, not part of a master-servant relationship." He believes these characteristics must have something to do with the culture of the Philippines. "These women," he says, "have a lot to teach us."
A couple of generations ago, only wealthy families hired nannies, preferably those trained in Britain or Switzerland; housekeeping was often done by local girls from poor homes. Women's work has never been highly paid, and those willing to do it were usually scarce. By the mid-1950s, well-to-do stay-at-home mothers were having trouble finding nanny-housekeepers, women to mind the babies and do the laundry. In 1955, by arrangement with Jamaica and Barbados, domestics were allowed into Canada for up to three years. Workers who overstayed the limit were frequently exploited, and even well-intentioned employers often became lawbreakers, hiring women who were here illegally.
By the 1960s, young mothers attracted by the expanding job market needed help at home. At that time, Hana Havlicek, a Burlington mother of three, found that the only nanny-housekeepers available were pregnant girls willing to work until their babies were born. So she started Selective Personnel, Toronto's first private domestic employment agency, and went off to recruit young women from the Maritimes and Quebec. Havlicek says they were willing to move to Toronto, but as soon as they became homesick, "they hopped a train and went home." Since they were in their own country, they were free to work as long as it was convenient.
In 1981, the federal government responded to employer pressure and passed the Foreign Domestic Movement program; its replacement, the Live-In Caregiver program, established in 1992, is still in effect. It's open to English- or French-speaking prospective nannies who have a high school education and six months of fulltime job training or twelve months paid experience in a related field. It offers, at the end of road, Canadian citizenship. During the last fifteen years it has attracted more than 90,000 women, the vast majority from the Philippines. About 70 per cent live in Ontario, and close to 60,000 settled in the Toronto area.
In this, Toronto is far from unique. "Filipinas seem to be the domestics of today's world," says Hana Havlicek. Many of the women she's placed have arrived, like Nelia, via other countries, notably Hong Kong and the Gulf states. There, in the demanding households of the newly-rich, they received practical training, though it was often accompanied by social discrimination and physical abuse. In Canada, although employment problems arise, it seems that thousands of local families and Filipinas have created a genuine bond of mutual respect.
Daniel Stoffman, a severe critic of Canada's immigration policies, opposes recent practice that favours extended family members and dubious refugees; they seldom speak English or French, and rarely have marketable skills. However, he praises federal programs that brought domestic workers to Canada. He sees them as models in our long, often misguided, immigration history, "a classic example of using imported labour to fill a gap that Canadians can't or won't fill." It is, he claims, "among our greatest success stories."
When Lynn Mendelson was ready to hire a nanny, her sister suggested she visit the local park: "See what the nanny network looks like," she advised. "If they look like they're from the Islands, get someone from the Islands. If they look like they're from the Philippines, get someone from the Philippines." Her sister knew from experience that if you wanted your children to play with neighbourhood children it was easier if their nannies were friends. Wells Hill Park, near the corner of St. Clair and Bathurst, appeared to have a critical mass of Filipino nannies. Lynn and her husband, who share an immaculate pastel-painted home, now have four children who have been cared for by three Filipinas. They hired the first through an agency and the next two through the nanny network, informal groups of interconnected domestics who give one another emotional support and pass around the good jobs.
Hiring the right person to share your home and mind your kids is an intimidating task requiring intuition, knowledge, and occasionally, compromise. Human rights legislation challenges agencies and parents to follow the letter but not the spirit of the law. In Help Wanted ads, one quickly learns it's all right to request "European cooking," but not a European. You can't advertise for a Filipina, but it's okay to ask for someone who's "Tagalog-speaking," an obvious code for Filipina.
Lynn, after the first round of interviewing "about a million people" sent by an agency, settled on Tess because "she felt right." Vacuuming was important, yes. How she treated the children, certainly. But in the end, because Lynn was a stay-at-home mother, it came down to "finding somebody who could be with me but apart, who knew not to talk to me when I just wanted to be alone." Two years later, when Tess left to work in a hotel, she introduced Delia to the family. Delia stayed for six years and became Lynn's dream nanny. She lived in their house, in a self-contained basement apartment where her friends and family visited for months at a time. Once, Lynn and her entire family vacationed with Delia's relatives in British Columbia.
When Allan Kling and his wife, Tecca Crosby, started looking for a nanny, they hooked up with a network recommended by friends. "Word got out," Allan says, "and it was like lightning across the city." Before they knew it, they had a short list of five. Although both Allan and Tecca were impressed by Christie's manner, they found her English hard to understand. "I didn't get a word she said during the interview," Allan recalls, "but Tecca's all for first impressions. She said, 'Christie's the one.'"
Christie lived with them for three years. "It's tough to consider her an employee," Allan observes, "when she's seen you unshaven and in your bathrobe." The line between worker and boss was blurred even more when Christie insisted on making weekend birthday parties for Daisy in a friend's St. James Town apartment, inviting other nannies, as well as Tecca and Allan, as guests. "The joy they take in children," says Allan, "their ability to celebrate, is so wonderful, we sometimes leave with tears in our eyes."
It isn't only Daisy's birthday that Christie insists on celebrating: for Tecca's birthday she takes them all for a Chinese dinner. Over the years, Allan has learned not to say, "'Oh, you can't afford it. We'll pay.' It offends her, so we don't argue any more. It's all part of this graciousness."
Despite her generosity towards Canadian friends, Christie constantly sent money home, enough to pay for a daughter's nursing education and for her husband's small delivery truck. "Every time it needed repairs Christie would roll her eyes and send him money. She'd also buy bargains -- soap, detergent, coffee whitener -- bundle the stuff up and send it through this special company they have, Door to Door." (The three local Filipino newspapers are crammed with ads for courier companies that pick up parcels at Toronto homes and deliver them to homes in the Philippines, as well as financial services that offer wholesale conversion, or better rates, for turning dollars into pesos.) To save more money, Christie rarely went home. After six years in Canada, she made a down-payment on a small Toronto house. She was ready to bring at least part of her family together.
Filipino nannies are generally reticent to speak about their homeland. They assume, correctly, that few employers know much about the Philippines, how splintered and diverse it is. Sixty-two million people, largely Malay in origin but with over one hundred racial and cultural groups, are spread over more than 7,000 islands between the South China Sea and the Pacific. They speak a shared language, Pilipino -- another name for Tagalog, the dialect spoken around Manila -- as well as one or more regional dialects.
Why is it that Filipinas are in such demand as nannies? The most cogent explanation I heard came from Francine Pelletier of CBC's the fifth estate, a well-travelled and observant journalist: "I think they're very different from other Asian people I know. First, they were conquered by the Spaniards and ruled by them for a long time. That made them Catholic and sort of European -- not so shy. Then they were colonized by the Americans, so they know English. North American ways aren't so strange to them. They adjust more quickly than some people from the developing world."
The paradoxical legacy of colonialism, skills passed from the conquerors to the conquered give Filipinos an edge in adapting to the American century. This history began in 1521, when the Spanish claimed a group of islands for King Philip II of Spain, naming them the Philippines, or Felipinas. The Spaniards brought their trading skills and Catholicism. The church claims 80 per cent of the population as members: it ties a polyglot nation to Europe and engenders in the people a respect for authority and devotion to family.
Spain lost the Philippines to the U.S. in 1898. In almost fifty years of colonization, the Americans introduced a version of democracy and a public school system for boys and girls that used English as the language of instruction. As a result, the Philippines is now the third largest English-speaking country in the world. It also has more trained nurses, teachers, dentists and engineers than it can employ. Unfortunately, independence in 1946 did not bring peace. The "sophistication, courtesy and civility" evident in individuals from the Philippines is hard to find in Filipino politics, with its dictators, coups, and more or less continuous fighting.
Salaries in the Philippines remain pitifully low - a few dollars a day for agricultural workers, a few thousand a year for professionals. The best jobs depend on political patronage. As a result, the Philippines is the largest exporter of labour in Asia -- more than 4 million Filipino migrants are scattered in 43 countries. About 70 per cent are domestics. Workers sending home billions of dollars a year are the country's largest source of foreign currency. "Once we exported our coconut products and our sugar," says Florchita ("Chit") Bautista, a former nun who runs Aware, a program set up to help Catholic Filipinos in Toronto. "Now the No. 1 export of the Philippines is human labour."
So, in the 1980s, when the Canadian economy was growing and baby boomers were starting two-career families, thousands of Filipinas came to Canada, sponsored by individual families who needed live-in nannies. Employers were required to use a model contract devised by Ottawa that reflected provincial employment standards. Such a contract today in Ontario -- based on a 44-hour work week, a minimum wage of $6.85 an hour, less deductions for accommodations and benefits -- would leave a nanny with a net monthly salary of about $677. Long-time nannies make far more, as much as $1,300 net. For live-out nannies, take-home pay ranges between $300 and $350 a week.
According to Lynn Mendelson, "the net" is what matters to nannies. They're less interested in benefits, such as unemployment insurance, than cash-in-hand. Unscrupulous employers sometimes take advantage of this short-term thinking by paying minimum wages, making minimum deductions, and handing over a little extra "bonus," which looks wonderful to those who are new to Canada but provides little security for the future. Employment abuses in Canada may be inconsequential when compared to human rights violations against nannies in other countries, but there's no excuse for employers who make nannies work late, get up with the kids during the night, then prepare breakfast first thing in the morning. "Nannies assumed," says Lynn, "that if there was a problem, it would appear on her record not on the employer's, which was true." Government literature, however, makes it clear that caregivers cannot be deported for refusing to do work not in their contracts, or for which they aren't paid overtime, or for leaving a bad job.
In the early days, when there were fewer nannies and they all had live-in jobs, many were badly treated. Intercede, a Toronto organization for domestic workers' rights was set up more than a dozen years ago to give them advice. "When the workplace and the home place was the same," says Columbia ("Coco") Tarape-Diaz, an Intercede counsellor, "nannies were more subject to abuse -- long hours, no privacy, isolation, living in cold, damp basements -- extensions of the laundry room, really, or the playroom." Many of those problems disappeared when Filipinas became landed immigrants or citizens. Now there are new problems created by the recession and family reunification. Nannies who thought they could move into better jobs are being forced back into caregiving. Recently-arrived husbands and children often lack the skills necessary to remake their lives. Once again, the resourcefulness of Filipino women is being tested.
"DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, Come One, Come All! 1996 Swinging' Spring with Intercede," says the invitation. For $15 a person there will be a "light dinner & cash bar" -- and, of course, dancing. Spring this year is particularly harsh. March seems to have pushed into May, wet snow alternating with cold rain. Walking half a block from my car to the Scadding Court Community Centre at Bathurst and Dundas, I arrive soaked. Felicita ("Fely") Villasin, co-ordinator of Intercede, greets me at the door. "Not a bad crowd," she says. "About 120, I imagine. Sometimes we have as many as 150." We agree it's the weather.
We are in a gymnasium made of cement blocks with basketball hoops at either end. I arrive too late for dinner, a buffet of spring rolls, rice, noodles and chicken. Large portions sit half-eaten in Styrofoam plates left on plain wooden tables. Red, white and green balloons hang in arbitrary bunches. The sign on the bar reads, "Pop, $1.00 Beer, $2.50." A three-piece, non-Asian band tries to stay lively behind a smoke machine and flashing coloured lights. The dance floor is full, women outnumbering men about fifteen to one. Most of the men are non-Filipino; many are black.
Against all odds, these nannies and nurses seem to be having a great night out. The generic rock music provides an excuse to keep their bodies moving. They dance alone, or in casual female pairs, or romantic couples. Dress runs from cotton pants to cocktail dresses. Eventually, some of the rhythmically-endowed begin to line dance. Soon the whole room is shuffling and clapping in unison, the perfect solution to the couples conundrum.
I'm standing in the corner sipping a Diet Coke when a bubbly young woman rushes over. She has sleek long hair, an elegant black dress, and tall shoes. "Hi, Geraldine," she says. I smile, not sure who she is. "I'm Evelyn. Evelyn Cruz. Remember?" How could I not? Earlier in the week I interviewed her at work. She told me she would be at the dance, but her radiant appearance takes me by surprise.
I had been given her name by a former employer. To meet her at 9 p.m., when her long day ended, I drove north on the Allen Expressway until there were no lights in my rear-view mirror. I turned right on Sheppard, then left, then right again onto a North York residential street in a post-war neighbourhood. There were no stores for miles. You'd need a car to buy a newspaper or grab a coffee and donut. No one was on the street. It looked as if it was always empty.
Evelyn was waiting, as arranged, by the side gate. We went downstairs to her makeshift room with garage-sale furniture -- a black, plastic sofa that curved in ways unrelated to the human shape, a single bed, an old television, a telephone, a brass magazine rack crammed with back-issues of The Canadian Jewish News, and a desk piled high with nursing textbooks. She was there to look after an elderly couple, replacing a friend who had gone to the Philippines for six weeks. One of her clients had Parkinson's Disease, the other, Alzheimer's. "Can I get you a drink? Some tea? A Coke?" Evelyn looked tired. A space heater in the middle of the room was burning full tilt. "Keeps it from getting too damp. I'll turn it off, if you like." I said no to both offers. For the next hour, Evelyn carefully answered my questions. While she is unique, her experiences, and her feelings about them, are not.
She arrived in Canada in December, 1990, is now a landed immigrant, and hopes to become a citizen in September. "I look forward to it," she said, "but I'll still be Filipino." She agreed that most Filipinos left their country for economic and political reasons. "I wrote in a school newspaper and when martial law was imposed, nobody could write anything. I was just in high school. I said to my mother that the police and military are killing each other, and it's not safe. I told her I'm off to pack my things and go."
Instead she backed away from politics, completed her education, and graduated as a nurse. At twenty-three, she left to work in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Five years later she returned to the Philippines, married, and moved with her husband to Paris where he was involved in the French branch of Door to Door; she did some babysitting. Her husband returned to the Philippines on business and she never saw him again; he said he was unable to leave the country and she could either rejoin him or go to Canada. His relatives would sponsor her as a nanny.
Her first job in Hamilton was too far from the only people she knew, her estranged husband's family, so she arranged to work in Toronto. She stayed for three-and-a-half years as a live-in nanny. She loved the children she worked with, she was never mistreated, and yet she understands, with heartbreaking clarity, the ambiguous situation of the nanny. "I know a lot of Filipino nannies have a beautiful relationship with their employers, but still they are employers. You have to respect them, to have reservations. They can't really be your equals. If I'm paid, I cannot be like family." Problems naturally arose because she lived in the house where she worked. "It's a very intimate thing. Sometimes you're living on the same floor as your employer. When you go out and come back at night, you're afraid to wake them."
I asked how women from the Philippines met one another. "On the subway," she said. "We smile. We start to talking. 'You're Filipino?' 'Yeah.' 'I look after kids, how about you?' 'I do too.' We exchange phone numbers. Also my husband's relatives have friends, and as years go by, we become friends. And I go to the Intercede group." Even so, Evelyn feels lonely all the time. "It's because I don't have relatives here. I'm close to my friends, but in this type of job, like right now, I'm cut off. I can't go out in the night because of the people upstairs. If I don't get out on weekends, I get crazy."
Evelyn prefers the company of others from the Philippines. "I mix with Filipinos mostly because they're more party people." For Evelyn, a party must be large and full of friendly faces, as different as possible from her work life. She never goes by herself or with just one other person. "It's not fun. Four or five is the least number." At parties, they play contemporary Filipino pop. "I don't even know these songs because I've been away for so long. Still, I find them interesting." But Filipino parties have changed in the last few years. Some women have married and others have brought their husbands to Canada. "Before, let's say five or six years ago, a group of nannies, we'd go to parks on weekends. Now, a lot of my friends have families here and they talk about problems of adjusting." As a single person, Evelyn tends to look for other single people.
Many Filipinos live in St. James Town, close to hospitals and large Catholic churches; others are spread around the city and suburbs, to be near their work. To have a place to go when they aren't working, live-in nannies sometimes pay part of the rent for an apartment occupied by other Filipinas; they're called "weekenders." They seem to have no trouble finding roommates -- or apartments. "Lots of owners or superintendents of buildings ask me if I am Filipino -- I have the look and the accent -- and right away he wants to show me the place because he wants Filipino tenants. Generally he's had good experience with them."
Does she think there's something special about the women who came to Canada from the Philippines? "I think the women who are here, or in the States, or in Saudi Arabia, are really brave because sometimes we do the impossible. I didn't think much of it, I just wanted to know the unknown, which sometimes I regret. Sometimes being alone here for so long I feel really sorry for myself, but I think like most Filipinas, 'Oh, we're friendly. We can do it.'"
But according to Evelyn, being friendly doesn't always do it. "Some women break down and go back home. Or they find their way to assimilate. Or they find friendship with the same gender, which is very good. It's a way to survive. There are more women here than Filipino men." I had heard there were many lesbians in the community. "Yes, why not? We have to have friendships and to care for each other. I've noticed that the lesbians are younger than myself. I don't know if they come here to be free or not, but lesbians are very welcome. We don't have discrimination against them."
How can friends help when they may be depressed themselves? "We talk a lot to one another," she said. "It helps. I know how it feels when someone says they are depressed. We may not know how to help in a therapeutic way, but still for us it's welcome. At least someone is listening." Evelyn has heard, as I had, about nannies who gamble too much, everything from mahjong to poker. "I think this is true," she said. "I don't do it myself, but it is their kind of recreation." A potentially costly recreation that grows out of loneliness.
Evelyn saved enough money to stop working as a nanny and upgrade her nursing skills in a five-month course at George Brown College. After she graduated in January, she discovered that hospitals weren't hiring. "I had two months really free and I was going crazy, phoning everybody." Now she's connected with an agency, as many of her friends are, but work is infrequent. "I do mostly homecare now -- older people or new mothers for the first few weeks." She knows she might have to work in a factory, or as a live-out nanny, but she prefers to work with older people. "After work I go over my books and recognise the symptoms and that's better for me even though it's very hard. I find myself crying lots of times because I take it personally when an Alzheimer patient shouts at me. A couple of Alzheimer clients are really violent and I'm scared. Who wouldn't be when that client wants to hit you or something? You know it's their condition. An instinct tells you to run away, but you have to stay.
"It's unfortunate," Evelyn said, "that when people see Filipinas, they immediately think 'nanny.' Either they like us a lot, or there's something wrong with us. We aren't very good at saying, 'This is what we want.' What happens most of the time is that we just do what the employers want. I don't know if it's a sin to try hard to be nice. I don't know if it's a problem doing that." Evelyn admitted she's willing to try any job to survive. "Yes, because, you know, who will do it for me? No one will do it for me."
During the six years Evelyn has been in Canada, she has not returned to the Philippines. "I'd like to go back but not now, for financial reasons. My mom would expect a lot of things from me and I have an apartment to maintain." She believes that her mother wouldn't like the winters here. "My father's dead. I'm separated from my husband and I don't have any children. My brothers and sisters are married and I don't see them living with me unless I get married too. I'm forty-one, the oldest in my family." She does imagine going home once day. "I don't want to get old here," she says. "Or die alone here."
Ironically, it appears that nannies who make the easiest transition to Canada are those with the closest ties to the Philippines. It doesn't seem to matter what work they do, what hours they work, or what money they make, so long as there's something left at the end of the month and someone back home who needs it.
The recession has ended the flood of imported Filipina labour, and the shortage of jobs keeps many overqualified nannies in the caregiving field. That field is now shifting from childcare to eldercare. It appears that Toronto's old people will be looked after by the same women who looked after our children. Like other immigrants before them, many will have sacrificed their own ambitions for the next generation. But, unlike single immigrants in the past -- largely men who sent money home, become Canadianized, and then, brought wives and children from the Old Country -- the present Filipino wave is radically different. It has been dominated by young women on whom parents and husbands depend, and will continue to depend, for support and guidance. How Filipino husbands and children will adjust remains to be seen.
A large part of Florchita Bautista's work with Catholic Filipinos in the community involves family reunification and the mixed blessing of liberated women. "It has its strength and its weakness," she says. "There are women who can say, 'You see, I am the one who is already supporting my family, who has economic control. Their self-esteem and respect is heightened by that, which is good."
Self-esteem surrounds Nelia Guzman like a nimbus, or like the chiffon scarf floating below her carefully made-up face. We meet in a coffee shop at the Sheraton Centre before her shift at 4 p.m. Two Rosedale lawyers, Heather and Nigel Frawley, her third Canadian employers, hired her nine years ago and quickly sized her up. "They told me right away that I was going to succeed in Canada. Mrs. Frawley said she could tell the way I say things that I'm very optimistic. She said to me that I'm going to be booming in Canada!"
By Filipino standards, Nelia was already booming in the Philippines. Her father worked for the Marcos government, so after graduating as a nutritionist Nelia found government work in Manila and even hosted her own radio program -- "What we call in the Philippines 'a sideline'" -- broadcasting food and health tips to poor women in the provinces. Still, her income was miserably low and she knew her future was elsewhere. She became a nanny in Hong Kong, then in Canada.
Today, despite her five-year marriage and her house in Oshawa, despite her eleven sponsored relatives and her job at the Sheraton, she spends one night a week in what she refers to as "my apartment," rooms still kept for her at the Frawley house. They charge her no rent but she does their laundry. It's hard to imagine a Canadian-born woman in Nelia's position doing someone else's laundry -- which is why Filipinas came here in the first place.
Nelia talks fast and thinks faster. Two brothers arrived and couldn't find work because they lacked Canadian experience. No problem. Nelia knew there was one job available in convention services at the Sheraton so she persuaded the manager to hire two brothers for the price of one. Both of them still have jobs -- a victory, in a way, though she says one is a licensed electrical engineer and the other was only a semester away from graduating in mechanical engineering.
Nelia says she owes nothing to other women, her family, or the Filipino community. "My family is very proud of me. They had to be nice to me because it was me who brought them to Canada, me who took care of them, not them who took care of me. Now, we work as a team." When she goes to large Filipino parties, they are usually family gatherings. Because her husband is from Trinidad they're also involved with Club Carib in Oshawa and the local flying club, where he's a member. "We still have the Filipino traditions, but I'm already adapting to Canadian life."
I asked about her future plans: "My long-term goal? I have a certificate from George Brown College in Microcomputer studies - Lotus, DOS, WordPerfect, 6.2 and everything. I have my own computer and laser printer at home. I'm looking to use this in some way as an addition to my income. I've been doing other things too, like selling Avon, but I can't solicit at the Sheraton so I do it on my day off."
And children? Would she like to have children? She tells me they've been trying, without luck. Nelia is forty-one. All the years spent looking after other people's children, saving money, sponsoring her family, could come at an unanticipated cost -- the inability to have children of her own.
Lydia Taguiam, Lynn Mendelson's current nanny, was recommended to her by her former nanny, Delia. Lydia lives out because she has a child of her own to look after. One of seven children, Lydia was born in the provinces, a country girl. She began working when she was fifteen, first in Italy -- with the same family for eight years -- then in Canada in 1992. Ten years ago she married a man in the Philippines, and until recently, sent money home to her parents, her siblings, and her husband. After her last trip to the Philippines, Lydia, who's now forty-three, returned to Canada pregnant. Kimberly Joy Taguiam was born a year and a half ago at Mount Sinai Hospital.
"I can't send any money home any more," Lydia says. "I didn't work for almost a year and I need my money for my apartment, my baby, and my cousin who is my babysitter." Lydia lives within walking distance of Lynn's house. "I get up at six o'clock to prepare things. I change my daughter and by eight o'clock we leave the apartment and go to the babysitter. I get here about 8:30 and I start to work." Nine hours later, she picks up her daughter and goes home.
Lynn Mendelson has mixed feelings about this arrangement. She worked away from home herself until her third child was born and understands Lydia's difficulties. "I feel bad that she's here taking care of my kids while someone else is taking care of her kid. Ultimately it's a choice. She was actually able to stay with her daughter until she was thirteen months old, and to me that's great."
Although they have a verbal contract requiring Lydia to work until seven p.m., Lynn tries to let her go by five. Some of Lynn's friends think she's a bit soft. "Their nannies stay until the dinner dishes are done and they always say, 'That's the hardest part of the day and your nannies always leave before dinner. It's ridiculous!'. Every time I have somebody new I think, 'This time around, I'm going to do it!' but I just can't." In the best of all possible worlds Lynn would hire two nannies to work around the clock, and another for weekends.
Lydia, now a landed immigrant, has been preparing for the arrival of her husband in Canada. He's a security guard in the Philippines. She looked slightly wistful as she said she didn't know what he'd do here. The experiences of friends has taught her that bringing a husband to Canada is perilous.
" 'Too much liberation,' they say, is clashing with Filipino culture," according to Florchita Bautista. "Many of the men, and the women, have had affairs with other people. They have to begin their lives together all over again. The man insists, 'I am the head of the family,' because in the Philippines he is the head of the family. 'I want you to respect me. I want you to spend some time in the house with me and with the children,' and so on. She says, 'No, I have to go and do my work' and it becomes a clash."
The situation can be complicated by children. "Often the children were left behind when they were babies or toddlers. Now they are teenagers. The children have become independent of the control of the mother -- and in the Philippines it is the mother who takes control of the children, the discipline, everything. Now she can no longer control them. They say, 'We have been existing without you and now you tell us what to do?' It's very difficult."
In May, Christie's family arrived at the Toronto airport -- Pablo; her son, King, who is twenty; and two teenaged daughters, Mary Jane and Jeniel. Two children could not come because they're too old to qualify as dependants. When Christie left the Philippines fifteen years ago, Jeniel was an infant. She hasn't seen her more than half-a-dozen times since then. As Allan Kling says, "She missed the whole thing."
To demonstrate sufficient income for immigration purposes, Christie wanted to work eight hours a day for Allan and Tecca and then work from midnight to 8 a.m. at a nursing home. "I frankly don't think that Daisy would have suffered even though this would have meant that Christie virtually wouldn't have slept," Allan says. But they felt they had to say no, and Christie began working in nursing homes fulltime and taking care of Daisy on weekends and some weekday evenings. "I bet she hasn't taken off more than six days in the six years that she's been working in Canada," says Allan.
Allan knows that in Christie's case, the real motivater was always the children. Unfortunately, they are much older than she wants them to be. "She was under a lot of pressure -- almost a version of a biological clock: 'If I don't get these kids over soon they're not going to know who the hell I am, and it's going to be an even harder transition to this freezing cold country.' That's why she was so desperate to get this thing to happen."
Her family is here now, living in the small house she bought them on Main Street in the east end, but they don't see much of Christie. She's taken a different live-in nanny job, does weekend work, and grabs all the overtime she can. She says her family needs the money. Their house is small and they've rented the basement. Only half a house is left, so for practical reasons it's better to free up a bed.
Christie's reasons for not living at home are probably more complex. Although she says that having her family in Toronto is "like a dream," they are mainly strangers to her. In the past, Christie may have been alone, but in an odd way she was free in her single-minded resolve, responsible only for those she looked after and for sending money home. While she no doubt loves her family, they are no longer the family of her imagination, the family who needs only material, not emotional, support.
"In terms of her relationship with her husband," says Allan, "you sometimes get a stoical grin from her." How do you re-establish a life of daily intimacy after fifteen years of separation? Psychological estrangement has often been the price immigrant families have paid. And what about her children's future? King is out with his father looking for odd jobs. The girls will go to school. They are already models of domestic efficiency and can either work alongside their mother or move in a different direction entirely.
Allan has observed that the men don't seem to have a lot of marketable skills. However, as the Filipino community matures and more businesses catering to their needs are created, it's possible that work of all kinds will become available. Meanwhile, not long after arriving, Pablo was painting the fence at the Kling-Crosby residence. "Tecca has said that her charitable mission in life is now the Arrubio family," Allan says. "To hell with all the other good causes out there, she's going to put her efforts into the Arrubios. If I know Tecca, Pablo will probably have a fair bit to do."
I understand Tecca's commitment to "her" Filipino family because there has been a remarkable Filipino housekeeper in my family's life too. Tereza has cleaned our house, done our laundry, and cooked our meals for three years and I hope we'll grow old together. The list of her formal duties poorly reflects the intricate arrangement we have worked out -- the way she anticipates our needs and is sensitive to our feelings. I hope we do the same for her, at least some of the time.
We trade recipes, buy one another birthday gifts, exchange Mother's Day cards, and mean every word. She knows how to set a Passover table and she makes my grandmother's chicken soup better than I do. Together we mourned the loss of her mother in the Philippines and my mother-in-law's death in our home just before Christmas. Tereza had a mass said for her and although Frances wasn't Catholic, I think she would have appreciated it, as we did. She's delighted when we have parties, especially for special occasions -- an upcoming marriage, a baby, a friend's new book. Much of what I know about the generous lives of Filipino women I have learned from Tereza.
As I write this, Tereza is in the Philippines, preparing to bring her daughter, Monica, to Canada. Before she left she said, "Everyone asks me, 'Aren't you excited about having your daughter with you?' and I have to answer, 'Really, I'm scared.'" She's right of course. Monica is ten and hasn't lived with her mother since she was four. She will be leaving an extended, biological family and joining a network of friends her mother has assembled during the years they've been apart.
We discussed the right time of year for Monica to arrive and decided it should be in the summer when Toronto looks its best and she can begin to adjust before starting Grade Five in September. We wondered about the right school: Should it be the public school next door to us, where there are few Filipino children? Or a Catholic school, similar to the one she knew in the Philippines, closer to the Scarborough condominium her mother shares with an older Filipino widow?
Perhaps Monica is angry at her mother for leaving her behind so long. She may also be mad at her for making her leave her friends and come to this cold country. Someday though, I hope Monica will appreciate everything her mother did so they could have a better life together. I think she will. I hope so.