An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks

An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks

An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks

An Archipelago of Care: Filipino Migrants and Global Networks

Synopsis

Focusing on the experience of Filipino caregivers in London, some of whom are living and working illegally in their host country, Deirdre McKay considers what migrant workers must do to navigate their way in a global marketplace. She draws on interviews and participant observations, her own long-term fieldwork in communities in the Philippines, and digital ethnography to present an intricate consideration of how these caregivers create stability in potentially precarious living situations. McKay argues that these workers gain resilience from the bonding networks they construct for themselves through social media, faith groups, and community centers. These networks generate an elaborate "archipelago of care" through which migrants create their sense of self.

Excerpt

“To care, you have to care. It’s that simple.” Father Alabag brought his hand, palm flat, down on the table for emphasis. His gesture caused the table to shudder and coffee cups to clink. His wide-eyed expression held my attention as spilled coffee sloshed into the saucers. Recoiling from Father Alabag’s intensity, Ros-al, Calangbay, and I drew back with gasps, our wooden chairs squeaking. Father Alabag had preached the sermon at his East London church that morning. in the evening, he would work as a caregiver for an elderly man with dementia. He spoke with eloquence about his inability to find steady work in London. He had arrived five years earlier on a tourist visa. He had overstayed, hoping to eventually find a permanent job and somehow convert his visa status. Now he felt stuck in London, unable to find a stable livelihood yet reluctant to go home—one of the United Kingdom’s six hundred thousand or more undocumented migrants, working as a cash-in-hand caregiver.

Father Alabag was not only a caregiver, a priest, and an irregular migrant; he was also a community activist. I met him after church, introduced by his cousin Ros-al and her friend, Calangbay. I had invited all three of them to a café nearby to discuss their thoughts on Filipinos and care work in the United Kingdom. I wanted to know how Filipino migrants were able to sustain their reputations as caregivers in the London labor market. I’d hoped their answer would tell me what care was. Was it some special aptitude or technique? “No!” There was no special national Filipino aptitude for care—Father Alabag was adamant. So I’d asked, “What, then, gives Filipino migrants such a well-regarded aptitude for caring work? How do Filipino migrants support themselves in doing care?” and Father Alabag expanded on his initial idea:

Care is care. Always the same … What you need to see is not how we care for
our charges or employers, but how we bond with each other. It’s our bonding
that lets us care well. When we are cared for, we then can care for others. So
it’s our socials, our church services, our events that let us care. That’s where
we sustain ourselves. Me, I am also a caregiver—for an old man. So I can work
each day, I need to take my good feelings—the bonding I have with my friends,
my congregation here, my family, even Facebook, like that. That’s what lets
me work … the bathing, cleaning, turning, talking with him, changing the
sheets, laundry, toilet… all that I can do because I feel… I also have care; I

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