Diaspora News

Gabriela comes out with “Strength in Our Stories” forum (In reaction to NBC Universal’s “Mail Order Family”)


Gabriel-USA panelists Photo © Abner Galino
Gabriel-USA panelists Photo © Abner Galino

AS they gained momentum from stopping NBC Universal’s “Mail Order Family” into becoming a TV sitcom, Gabriela-USA recently held “Strength in Our Stories” forum in Los Angeles that seeks to provide true-to-life narratives of Filipinos victimized by human traffickers.

A video of Jamie (not her real name), a supposed victim of human trafficking was shown to an audience of mostly young people during the forum.

Jamie escaped from a hotel in Montana where she stayed underpaid and overworked for about six months.

The 49-year-old Filipino has a degree in teaching but she was not able to use it. She didn’t have time to look for a teaching job because she needed to find work immediately to support her family. From 1992 to 2000, Jamie was back and forth to the Philippines and the Middle East. She had various stints abroad working different jobs in households.

In 2014, Jamie was able to come into the US through a H2B visa which she was able to secure through an “agency.” She spent a total of P300,000 — including her air fare. The money was mostly borrowed from loan sharks.

Jamie was supposed to work as a part of a housekeeping crew of a hotel in Montana and was supposed to receive $7.25 per hour but instead offered $3.50 for every room that they would clean up.

“Pagdating namin doon, pinapipirma kami ng bagong kontrata,” Jamie narrated in the video.

According to her, she and her peers (she flew in with 12 other workers) did not want to sign the new contract but they were prompted to do so because they were threatened to be send back to the Philippines.

Most of the hotel workers escaped from the hotel.

Jamie is being helped by the Filipino Migrant Center after she was able to connect with the immigrant welfare organization in the late part of 2014. Her lawyers are working to get her a T visa to enable her to pursue her case against the erring employer.

The forum also drew attention to the violence and even fatal consequences of the mail order bride system, citing the case of Susana Blackwell of Seattle, Washington in 1995 who was married to an American spouse through the mail order bride system.

Gabriela, a women’s right advocate organization, immediately launched an online petition which apparently stopped NBC Universal from developing “Mail Order Family” into a TV sitcom.

The organization protested that the planned sitcom may lead to false stereotyping of Filipino women, which may play along the type of a submissive, sexualized Asian female.

“Strength in Our Stories” was also attended by famous Filipino undocumented immigrant advocate and Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas. Kababayan LA host Giselle Toengi was part of the panel.

Mail Order Family is loosely based on the life of TV sitcom “Superstore” writer and producer Jackie Clarke who experienced her father ordering a mail order bride from the Philippines.

NBC Universal dropped the project and said:

“We purchased the pitch with the understanding that it would tell the creator’s [Jackie Clarke] real-life experience of being raised by a strong Filipina stepmother after the loss of her own mother,” an NBC Universal spokesperson said in a statement.

“The writer and producers have taken the sensitivity to the initial concept to heart and have chosen not to move forward with the project at this time.”

Abner Galino
The author is a poet and a writer. He was a cultural worker before he became a reporter for Tinig ng Masa and Malaya Midday Edition during the Marcos regime. He later became a reporter of People's Tonight shortly after 1986 EDSA Revolution. He went on to become its Chief of Reporters, City Editor and News Editor. He retired after 15 years in the Journal Group of Publications. He now writes for Weekend Balita and the US Asian Post (USAP), weekly Filipino-American newspapers based in Los Angeles, California.

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