Born Out of Place

Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor

Nicole Constable
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 268
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5vjzj1
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  • Book Info
    Born Out of Place
    Book Description:

    Hong Kong is a meeting place for migrant domestic workers, traders, refugees, asylum seekers, tourists, businessmen, and local residents. InBorn Out of Place, Nicole Constable looks at the experiences of Indonesian and Filipina women in this Asian world city. Giving voice to the stories of these migrant mothers, their South Asian, African, Chinese, and Western expatriate partners, and their Hong Kong-born babies, Constable raises a serious question: Do we regard migrants as people, or just as temporary workers? This accessible ethnography provides insight into global problems of mobility, family, and citizenship and points to the consequences, creative responses, melodramas, and tragedies of labor and migration policies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95777-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Nicole Constable
  6. 1 A Very Tiny Problem
    (pp. 1-22)

    Babies of migrant workers are “just a very tiny problem” in relation to the “much bigger issues migrant workers face,” said a staff member from a Hong Kong migrant advocacy nongovernmental organization dismissively, after I described my research topic. His comment stuck with me as I pondered how best to explain the critical situation of migrant workers’ pregnancies and babies. Babies born of migrant workers are indeed tiny, and the number born in Hong Kong is probably several hundred each year, with the cumulative total in the thousands.¹ The number of pregnancies is, of course, much higher than the number...

  7. 2 Ethnography and Everyday Life
    (pp. 23-55)

    Academic studies of migrant domestic workers tend to lean in one of two directions. Some studies focus primarily on the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers, providing analysis of structural constraints, inequality, and oppression within global capitalism. In the other direction are those studies that pay more attention to migration as a resource—a source of agency, pleasure, desire, and new subjectivities for migrants. Geraldine Pratt’sFamilies Apart(2012) is a powerful example of the former. She writes about the Canadian Live-In Caregiver Program (which allows migrant caregivers to apply for permanent residency after a minimum of two years and...

  8. 3 Women
    (pp. 56-89)

    Women and their morality are often highly charged symbols of a nation’s honor. In Indonesia and the Philippines, ideas about women’s morality—reinforced by dominant Indonesian Islamic and Filipino Roman Catholic beliefs—are closely tied to women’s roles at home as wives and mothers or daughters. Labor migration takes women away from their homes and subjects them to many outside dangers; it creates both an ideological and a practical challenge to the Indonesian and Philippine states. On the one hand, both governments are deeply dependent on migrant women, who are critical income-earners for their families and essential contributors to the...

  9. 4 Men
    (pp. 90-120)

    The men who become fathers in Hong Kong are much harder to generalize about than the women who become mothers. Unlike the women—who all entered Hong Kong as FDWs and who come from Indonesia or the Philippines—the men represent a vast range of backgrounds and status. They come from South Asia, East Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. They run the socioeconomic spectrum from well-off, well-educated professionals, businessmen, and tourists to small-scale traders and low-level bureaucrats, manual laborers and “illegal” workers, and asylum seekers who may be well educated but are dependent on social services and charities for...

  10. 5 Sex and Babies
    (pp. 121-154)

    Many, if not most, migrant women follow the predeparture seminar advice expressed in the epigraph above, and they avoid sexual relationships in Hong Kong. Some, despite the warnings, have relationships with men or develop same-sex relationships that do not carry the risk of pregnancy. As Amy Sim writes, “Many young, attractive and single Indonesian women are frequently caught in the ambivalence of desiring and rejecting men at the same time. They fear the consequences of indiscretion with men that lead to the loss of reputation, chastity and to unwanted pregnancies” (2009, 20).

    For men and women who are temporary migrant...

  11. 6 Wives and Workers
    (pp. 155-182)

    When it comes to citizenship and belonging in Hong Kong, mothers’ and children’s situations are highly varied. On one end of the spectrum are those considered most fortunate because they have a claim to remain in Hong Kong and a legal path to becoming permanent residents or “citizens.” This includes former domestic workers, like Riana and Nora (both described below), who are legally married to local residents. Their marriages are officially recognized as legitimate, and their husbands can aff ord to sponsor them as dependents. They show how citizenship privileges certain types of heteronormative family formations and excludes others, including...

  12. 7 Asylum Seekers and Overstayers
    (pp. 183-215)

    The previous chapter examined the experiences and challenges faced by women who are in Hong Kong legally, either as recognized spouses or dependents of local residents or as foreign domestic workers who managed to retain their jobs and FDH visas in the course of pregnancy and childbirth. This chapter turns to asylum seekers and overstayers, women on the least privileged end of the spectrum, many of whom have spent time in prison and whose situations are more precarious and whose tactics are more desperate and more creative. Those tactics, in Michel de Certeau’s provocative words, “are procedures that gain validity...

  13. 8 The Migratory Cycle of Atonement
    (pp. 216-232)

    Throughout my research, many mothers, NGO staff, and social workers echoed the same advice: migrant mothers who want to keep their children (as opposed to the few who give them for adoption) must talk to their own parents, let the news sink in, let the anger wear off, let acceptance set in, and then go home and do their best to raise their children. At one PathFinders discussion group, the speaker, a Chinese woman pastor, promoted several income-generating ideas that she said had worked in Indonesia and that she encouraged the mothers to consider for their future subsistence. This included...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 233-240)
  15. References
    (pp. 241-250)
  16. Index
    (pp. 251-259)