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Circulating sadness: witnessing Filipina mothers' stories of family separation

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Abstract:

I reflect upon a collaborative research project with activist groups at the Kalayaan Centre in Vancouver, in which we collected stories of family separation, loss, grief and traumatic returns to more fully trace the impacts of the Canadian temporary work visa program (the Live-in Caregiver Program), which brings mostly Filipino women to Canada as live-in domestic workers. Our hope is that these stories of maternal loss will find an audience and evoke an affective response among policy-makers and a wide public beyond the Filipino community in ways that earlier critiques of the program have not. The article draws upon critical literatures on trauma and testimony to consider some of the risks of circulating these kinds of testimonials, and the possibilities of moving the audience from the position of spectator to witness. I then work closely with two mothers' testimonies to experiment with ways of establishing a 'more difficult contract' between those who give testimony and those who receive it, one that creates a complex ethical and political space in which the audience is required to register their own complicity in the other's loss or grief. I consider of the possibilities of assembling stories that tell a collective history without reducing the complexity of individual's lives into the same sad story of victimization, and of telling these stories so that the categories of 'good' and 'bad' mother are exhausted and the listener/reader is forced to listen/read more closely, just beyond the expected story line or cultural cliche.

Keywords: Filipina domestic workers; family separation; testimony; witnessing

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09663690802574753

Affiliations: Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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