Over four thousand Filipino migrant workers leave the Philippines every day, of which 60% are women, according to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. Yet popular social networking services, primarily Skype and Facebook, have bridged relationships between Filipina migrants and their families left behind in the Philippines.
These unique dynamics have driven sociology professor Valerie Francisco’s research on Filipino transnational families. “The Philippine state actually encourages, manages, and regulates migration from its shores. It ensures that there is this historic and institutionalized way the people are leaving the country,” she said.
Last Tuesday Francisco presented her dissertation, “Skype Mothers and Facebook Daughters: How Technology is Transforming Care Work in Transnational Families,” which examined how family roles are renegotiated with new technology as a result of globalization.
While transnational families create bonds through Skype and Facebook, globalization releases rapid advancements in technology while producing massive, international migration, Francisco said.
In the past, migrant workers would only communicate with their families through phone calls, but Skype allows families to be visually present with one another. Skype also serves as a surveillance tool that enables mothers to supervise the household.
Vicki, a migrant worker Francisco interviewed in New York, used Skype to teach her husband, Maurice, who lives in the Philippines, how to get their kids ready for school and how to do chores.
“He could choose not to turn on Skype,” Francisco said, “but he turns it on because it gives Vicki an enormous amount of relief to be able to communicate with him in that way.”
While video chatting may ease the distance, junior student Jade Batstone said, “It’s not [Filipino women] becoming the patriarch. As a mother, they also have to provide money but they have to do all the traditional roles like nurturing and care.”
Although Filipina migrants are mothers, sisters and daughters who often work as caregivers for other families, Francisco discovered that buying a web camera is a popular purchase made by many of these women’s first paychecks.
The sociology professor’s research shows Facebook provides opportunities to build on friendships and intimacy with migrants and their children. Francisco referred to 16 year-old Maya from the Philippines, who taught her mother residing in Brooklyn how to play Facebook games. “The teaching becomes a form of care work that Maya internalizes, that she’s doing for her mom,” Francisco said.
Mothers can also use Facebook as surveillance on their families. Althea, the daughter of a migrant, told Francisco that she enables privacy settings with her posts to avoid her mom’s comments. While Facebook may provide a form of building relationships across distances, the popular social networking site can also create invisible boundaries between mothers and daughters.
Francisco conducted her research between Queens, New York and the Philippines from 2008 to 2011 as a doctoral candidate at City University of New York. She gained deep insight to the experiences from migrants and non-migrants, many of which required using pseudonyms to disguise the families she researched.
The professor clarified she was not promoting the commercialization of either social networking site through her study.
“This isn’t an advertisement for Facebook or Skype. These are impressive and innovative strategies that these families are creating, but they have to be apart to do them,” Francisco said.
Freshman student Angie Miramontes paralleled the case of Filipino transnational families with Mexican mothers she knows from her hometown of Riverside, California. Similarly, mothers leave Mexico to work in the United States and send money back to their families.
“The whole technology part of it is a point all of us need to start thinking about. It was really interesting to see how transnational families, people who are so far away from each other, can still maintain a relationship and still feel that intimacy without even being there,” said Miramontes.
This event was co-sponsored by the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program, Asian American Studies, and the International Studies department.