Weeks ago, the viral “BBC Dad” interview brought to surface one of the tiredest stereotypes of Asian women – nanny. In my travels in Europe and short stay here in the U.S., my brown skin has never drawn any racist remark or other tasteless judgment so far. I’m thankful I haven’t and hopeful I never will.
I had been mistaken for a nanny, though, in my own region. My sister, her son, and I were in a cab years ago in Singapore, where we were working, when the driver started a cheerful, small talk to which my sister replied. Somehow the conversation took a bad turn and he asked if I was the boy’s nanny. I was so embarrassed and hurt that I wasn’t able to respond. My sister quickly came to my defense and told him off. Awkward silence followed.
The driver must have jumped to that nasty conclusion because my sister and little Marcus Wayne look Chinese with their chinky eyes, and I look Pinay – the nationality of many nannies and maids there. In 2015 Strait Times reported that out of the 220,000+ maids in Singapore, 70,000 are Filipinas, and that about 1,000 Filipino maids arrive in the city-state every month. In playgrounds, I would always come across Filipino and Indonesian nannies taking care of kids in the afternoon.
After the initial shock, I shrugged off that embarrassing moment, but became mindful of how other people would treat others based on skin color and appearance. Like Bhaba said: “The defenses of the colonized are tuned like anxious antennae waiting to pick up the hostile signals of a racially divided world.”
The funny thing about that moment though is that I was Marcus’ nanny that time. My sister is a single mom and she was working in an office then, and I was working from home, so for a couple of months that Marcus was in Singapore, I was taking care of him while doing reports. He was just a toddler then. My favorite tasks were preparing milk, picking his clothes after his shower, taking him to the playground, singing and dancing with him, talking to him, watching him play, and telling him bedtime stories.
My sister would joke that Marcus is lucky for getting a nanny with a university degree. I say, I was lucky for being around this kid during his early years, when it was easy to plant seeds of wisdom and humanity in him. The kid is naughty sometimes, but I love it when I sense that his values and energies are in the right place.
I have to point out that there’s nothing wrong with being a nanny – in fact, it is such a joy squeezing a kid who can’t get out of your arms because he’s too powerless. To hastily generalize that people of certain color or appearance or race belong to a category is wrong and sickening – whether it’s calling Filipinas maids or labeling Iranians terrorists.
If there’s one reason to return to the Philippines soon, it’s this little ball of happy cells.