New Orleans The argument changes when the global economy acquires a human face. Rarely has that been clearer than in two recent stories, one about a Filipino nanny in New York City and the other tracing the descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University to their graveyards and relatives in Louisiana.
We talk about the predatory nature of remittances frequently because they bleed immigrant families and migrant workers of critical financial resources that they are sending their families and communities in their home countries as well as the quality of living and employment conditions where they work. The New Yorker ran a long story about a woman they called “Emma” from the Philippines, college educated in accounting with nine daughters and a husband. At forty-four years old with her oldest two daughters in college she came to the realization that there was no way on the wages paid in the Philippines that they would be able to pay for seven more to also go to college. She then made the wrenching decision to join a migrant “mother’s march” of sorts, joining a sister, women from her church, and a former home economics teacher in illegally migrating to the US to work as a nanny and caregiver.
The article points out that more than half of the workers surveyed several years ago by the Domestic Workers Alliance were undocumented. It also makes clear that the new, 21st century migrant is more likely to be a women and someone employed in the service industry as a caregiver than in older migrations of construction and factory workers. A huge export from the Philippines is workers, known as OFW or Overseas Filipino Workers since “a tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” And, it’s usually the mothers now, since “in the past decade, three-quarters of OFWs have been women.” Emma has not seen her children or husband or been home in 16 years. She has missed her mother’s funeral, though she and her sister paid for it. She has gotten her daughters through college but the exchange has been living on $20 per week and afraid to go home because she could be prevented from returning and now doesn’t have enough money yet to retire in the Philippines either. Besides the predatory exchange rate on remittances, she now has lived the bad bargain of trading hoped for opportunity for her family with her own life and a list of payments in small tragedies of loss in her family.
The story of Georgetown University’s reckoning with the its actions as a slaveholder and slave seller is the same type of story except under a more coercive commerce when globalism was even more ruthless in finding labor for jobs few wanted at unconscionable pay rates. Prices were put on human life, families were ripped apart, children and adults were chattel. The New York Times detailed how the Catholic priests presiding over Georgetown sold 272 slaves from plantations no longer able to fully support the school to “save” the university and pull it out of debt. The records of the sale and the work of genealogists have allowed them to track down relatives of many of the families that ended up in Louisiana. A great-great granddaughter of one who was sold as a child was able to find his burial place, and she and others are demanding Georgetown do right in partial exchange for its historic wrong by offering scholarships to descendants of that horrid sale. It would seem to be the least they could do.
At the end of these articles, detailing the terrible costs of exploitation, forced or voluntary, it was almost impossible not to have tears in your eyes for them, for ourselves, and for the wretched waste of people ground up in the gears of our unfeeling global economy and the unequal price paid for the wealth of nations and the people who spend it so freely.