Helpers as servants who lack humanity

I had dinner with a friend who recently moved back to New York City from Hong Kong. With her husband’s expat package, they had a full-time housekeeper/nanny included. Because my friend is originally from New York, she never really knew what it was like to have this level of service at home, and she was appalled to hear from other housekeepers and nannies who were friends with her nanny that these hired helpers are oftentimes mistreated, abused (verbally and even physically), and treated like second class citizens in the places where they are supposed to call home. In one home, cameras were in every room in the home, so the nanny was constantly being supervised, and because both she and the family she was hired to help were Filipino, she could not even speak openly, fearing her words would be recorded and listened to. Another housekeeper/nanny shared that she would accompany the family to group meals, but only be able to eat at the end of the mea when everyone else had finished, when only leftover food was ready, and she’d be rushed to finish in less than ten minutes because they had to reach the next place. During the meal, she had to tend to the child.

This type of classicism and abuse is “normal” in rich Asian cities like Hong Kong, though. Filipino women come to Hong Kong on work visas to be cheap labor for middle and upper class Hong Kong families, leaving their own children and families behind to care for richer families who will provide them incomes to then send home to their families. In most cases, these helpers never see their children grow up, and instead, they end up going home only when their children are grown so that the cycle continues: their children move to Hong Kong to care for the next rich family, while they stay in the Philippines to care for their grandchildren.

My friend took this to heart and tried to become friends with her nanny; her home ended up becoming the hangout spot for the nannies to congregate safely and even have dinner parties. I found this endearing and comical at the same time. At least they felt they had a safe space at her home and could trust her, but it does make me sad to know that since my friend has left, their safe space is now gone.

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