NEWS: Philippine nannies in U.S., missing families and facing abuse

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Subject: NEWS: Philippine nannies in U.S., missing families and facing abuse
From: Jyothi Kanics (
Date: Mon Jun 14 1999 - 18:32:24 EDT

Philippine nannies in U.S., missing families and facing abuse
June 13, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) - Juliet kissed her husband and two tearful boys goodbye at
Manila's airport five years ago to come to the United States as a live-in
nanny for a promised $ 300 a week.

But it turned out she got $300 a month - not a week - to take care of three
children and do all the housework for a New Jersey family. There were no
days off; her only "free time" came when she went with the family's
children to church or the mall.

"The biggest sacrifice is to be away from my two boys and my husband," she
said, refusing to give her last name for fear of being deported as an
illegal immigrant. She broke into tears as she showed a picture of her
grinning sons, now 11 and 14.

It's stories like Juliet's that moved Andy Sombillo, herself a live-in
nanny in New York, to found a group to help thousands of women from the
Philippines trapped in a legal and emotional limbo in the United States.

Unlike most of the nannies, Sombillo is a legal immigrant and can use her
voice to speak out. Many others are afraid to complain publicly about
unfair jobs since employers may report the women to immigration authorities.

Some run away from first jobs and then live in fear. Often they stay for
years trying to support their families in the Philippines, never returning
home on visits for fear they won't be allowed back in the United States.

"These women need help," says Ninotchka Rosca, a founder of GABRIELA
Network in the U.S., a Philippine-American women's group that is helping
Sombillo's work.

GABRIELA and Hunter College's programs in Asian American Studies and
Women's studies sponsored a jazz concert Friday at Hunter to raise money
for Sombillo's group, called Pinays (Filipinos) in America Working in
Domestic Settings, or PAWID. Organizers did not estimate how much was
raised, but about 100 people attended.

Up to six million Filipino men and women are estimated to work abroad, many
as nannies, but it's unknown how many are in the United States. Sombillo
says the Filipino nannies urgently need advice on legal and immigration
issues and many lack health insurance.

She has experience in organizing; she says her work with farmers and
factory workers during Ferdinand Marcos' rule in the Philippines earned her
three years in jail and, eventually, asylum in the United States.

Sombillo has heard hundreds of the nannies' stories in New York parks where
the women take their young charges to play. Their biggest complaint - along
with abusive employers - is missing their own youngsters back in the

Ning, who like the other women interviewed refused to give her full name,
says she's tormented by guilt at leaving her two children. Her 3-year-old
daughter doesn't seem to know her when they talk by phone.

"Sometimes my daughter will say, 'I don't want mommy. I don't know her,"'
Ning said.

Still, despite the long hours and hard work in America, Ning can make three
or four times the $ 250 monthly she earned at home with a degree in civil
engineering. Now 31, she immigrated two years ago after being widowed.

Juliet, who has a degree in business administration, came when she lost a
bank job. She has left the first family she worked for in New Jersey but
says she's continued to have bad experiences with American employers.

"They treat you like a machine. ... They always say you are stupid and
other humiliating words that will make you lose confidence," she said, her
shiny, black hair pulled back in a hair-band.

Evangeline, 41, has been away from home 12 years, leaving behind two
daughters and a son. She lived first in Lebanon, then in Westchester
County. Now she complains she even missed her daughters' high school

"I want to see them grow up, but we have to be practical," she said. "I can
send them to college now. I can put them in a good school. It means a lot."

Another Filipino immigrant named Jane says she's already learned one lesson
offered by Sombillo's group - speak up when you are in trouble.

Jane, 30, worked for five years as a live-in nanny for a Filipino-American
family in New Jersey for $ 300 a month. Her work week was seven days,
starting at 7 a.m. and often lasting until 10:30 p.m. Finally she ran away.

"It's a free country," she said. "You are allowed to speak up."

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