Perpetual Outsiders

I’ve already wasted too much time thinking about the “yaya meal” incident not to get anything down on paper; wasted because I never really had a yaya nor have I ever been to Balesin. Of course I haven’t. For a place like Balesin to keep being Balesin, people (sometimes myself included) need to be kept shut out. What I have been to are versions of Balesin, completely unnecessary permutations of a privatized shoreline–I mean, if it’s a beautiful place, god forbid anyone actually enjoy it for free, let alone try to live there; I mean what a fucking shame if no one gets to turn a profit–which I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

The feelings are mixed because it’s too easy to call out someone else’s warped “perception of society” (someone else, in this case, referring to Balesin reps, your elitist burgis friends…etc…etc…) while conveniently ignoring our own complicity in the matter: the fact that we are just as much a part of this society. We turn a blind eye to the ways that we–in our everyday actions and wasted words–produce these spaces that enforce and reinforce things like “yaya meals” and (what my own niece has called) “the yaya phone” (which was my phone, as in mine, not the brand my|phone), and gates upon gates, and the service elevator I take to get to the 12th floor of the College where I’m currently employed. Even the University of the Philippines has bathrooms deemed worthy “For Faculty Use Only”. Same goes for the parking spaces.

And there’s that other use of the term “yaya” (or chimay, longkatuts, jinolotaks, muchacha, atsay, inday–all of which are ways of saying someone looks poor in a country that both criminalizes and romanticizes poverty): the descriptive, indicative use that I still have to stop myself from saying out loud. We have a wealth of words to speak of what we think is beneath us. That’s the part, I tell myself, that’s embedded in the culture.

But these are just “things”, right? These are just spaces, this is just ordinary language – they are easy to overlook or dismiss or allow to pass as we pass them thinking they’ll be different tomorrow; as if their very existence is not a result of their production (duh)…or that producing space very clearly sends messages about who gets to ride or sit or pee, who gets to appear in these mirrors, under these soft lights, or who gets to step on these newly-polished floors. I’ve always found it awkward when people take their shoes off while mine get to stay on. This, among the myriad other effects on how we live in the world; the volumes left unspoken in terms of the world we’ve created through the restrictions we impose; a world for some and another world for others.

The Philippines is pretty much the only country I’ve been to where having a maid is not necessarily an indicator of being well-off. Here, there is always going to be someone willing to take whatever pitiful amount you’re willing to pay them. Just the term “having” a maid should be telling enough of the disaster that’s bound to spring from this breakdown between the human and the commodity. I remember packing my bags in front of a friend who had grown up in California, and she asked, almost out of the blue, if we “had a maid” where I was going. To answer her question: yes. We didn’t only have “a maid”, we had four at the time. Four people quartered somewhere in our house, sharing a bathroom, cooking our meals, and washing everything.

There’s the argument posed by anyone who “has a maid” or two or four, one which to an extent recognizes the humanity of domestic servitude, wherein “we give ‘these people’ jobs.” What kind of jobs, though? And for how long? And how many people do this kind of work? How many actually labor under formal arrangements?

Moreover, if domestic labor had to be enforced formally, how many households will still be able to hire out their housekeeping and child rearing–and consequently, how many will be left without any work to earn from? We’re looking at the complex toll of outsourcing reproductive labor, left by second wave feminism in the third world, and the best we can come up with is “at least ‘these people’ have jobs”.

It’s when the evidence of the resulting divisiveness is staring us in the face, over breakfast no less, that we react. I mean, isn’t the very existence of Balesin–with its tacky-as-fuck miniature versions of international coastal retreats for the very rich–enough evidence of the spectacle we’ve made of stratification? I know where this argument gets me though, I know I’ll be hit back with “you’re just angry because you can’t afford it” or “you’re just bitter because you’re poor.” Which is exactly the point. I’m not poor. Like most (if not all) of the very rich, I would not be well off had I not been born into wealth (or some semblance thereof). I’m not poor, but of course there will be places and people and things to remind me of the ways in which I still am.