By Allison Woodworth
On Thursday, Martin Manalansan, Interim Director and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke to a gathering of professors and students on "The Travels of Disaffection: Affect, Care Labor and the Filipino Queer Diaspora."
“Filipinos are pawns in a game of global capitalist restructuring as they constitute one of the most mobile and expansive flows of flexible labor,” opened Manalansan.
“What I want to do today is to recuperate the emotional undercurrent of Filipino flexible labor,” he added, “Flexibility means expendable.”
Manalansan told the audience that he intended to do this by juxtaposing his reading of the two films "Paper Dolls" and "Serbis."
"Paper Dolls" is a 2007 documentary that follows transsexual Filipino guest workers in Israel. The film borrows its title from the drag group that performs in Tel Aviv nightclubs.
"Serbis," which means “service”—emphasis on the sexual connotation—in Tagolog is a 2008 feature film that takes place in the Philippines inside the protagonists’ porno movie theater. The film follows the Pineda family, which lives in and runs the theater, and their struggles with poverty and sex which have laid siege to their lives.
Migrant workers have responded overwhelmingly to the job vacuum created by globalization. According to the Fair Labor Association there are approximately 100 million migrant workers globally filling in the cracks in developed countries’ economies. Nearly nine million of those migrant workers dispatch from the Philippines.
The Philippines’ Department of Labor requires that all potential migrant workers first undergo training under the government. The training is essentially a PR campaign to ensure that its exported citizenship projects their country as a loving nation in what Manalansan referred to as a “global heart transplant.”
“It’s all about who you are as a Filipino and what you give to the world,” said Manalansan.
As a result of this conditioning, said Manalansan, Filipinos have become synonymous with the care industry across the world. Such industry jobs include maid, nanny, waiter, nurse, clerk and even prostitute.
The Filipino driven care industry challenges academia and social policy’s considerations of such work as fundamentally female and heterosexual. "Paper Dolls" and "Serbis" each offer a counter interpretation of the care industry and universal woman stereotype.
“I want to chart feelings and emotions that comprise the mechanics of care work,” said Manalansan, “particularly as they establish roads of elasticity within the Philippines nation and the Diaspora.”
The majority of Manalansan’s presentation centered around his analysis of the two films, of which he showed short clips, and their place in the emotions and politics that surround Filipino domestic workers.