Wednesday, November 18, 2015

[Friday Seminar Recap] Sunday Catwalks: Aspirations of Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong


Sunday Catwalks: Aspirations of Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong

Speaker: Dr. Ju-chen Chen (Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Time: 1:00 – 2:30 pm, 6 Nov 2015 (Friday)
Venue: Room 401, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


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Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are often homogenized, exoticized, and stigmatized as people who live without purpose beyond remitting money home. Their lives are often not visible and understandable to the mainstream society. Dr. Ju-chen Chen, in the seminar, shared with us the aspirations of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and gave us a better understanding of their lives.

Dr. Ju-chen Chen
Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong participate in various activities during their leisure time, among all, Chen drew the audience to the focus of the talk “Sunday catwalks”. Chen showed the audience video clips of two beauty pageants: Miss Pinoyshot Princess and Miss Barkadahan. In the videos, the domestic workers show their confidence on the stage and demonstrate themselves as desiring subjects. Dr Chen quoted how her informants describe themselvesI want something greater for myself”, and “I have talent. I know I can do it.”

Currently, there are about 0.33 million foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, and 50% of them are Filipinos. Chen noted that the majority of these Filipino workers have some college education. Their college degree, rather than bringing upward mobility, is only the entrance ticket for them to get a job; and taking up an overseas career as a domestic worker is one of the “choices” of an aspiring subject.

The active participation of domestic workers in the beauty pageants reveals their aspirations in creating personal achievement. The organization of beauty pageants involves an event making process, from forming a working committee to rehearsing. This process has outlined some important qualities an aspiring foreign domestic worker looked for: being talented, confident and self-enterprising. These events, in addition to be key components of a strong ethnic economy, are sites for isolated (alone in an employer's home) domestic workers to garner "corporeal" friendship and community within the ethnic group.

The audience
Lastly, Chen talked about the trouble of aspirations: the pursuits of a “valuable life” can be actualized only in markets, and its actualization through, for example, an objectified gendered body and hierarchical categories of jobs are framed by specific regulations of the global political economy. She hoped that her research can make the life and aspirations of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong visible and understandable to the mainstream society.

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