Monday, January 17, 2011

"Budgets" and "Sponsors:" The Story of Yumi

It is generally acknowledged that migrants are subject to various work handicaps due to a multiplicity of reasons.  Among these reasons, the major ones include a) a lack of access to information they can understand; b) an unfamiliarity with local laws and regulations pertinent to their work rights; and c) a fear of confronting employers for perceived transgressions due to the undesirability or non-readiness to bear its consequences.  Migrants without legal status bear all these handicaps plus the omnipresent threat of arrest and immediate deportation, making them an especially vulnerable group. 

Unique situations of conflict then chronically fester between overstayers and their “economic resources.”  These “economic resources” are not limited only to their employers but include a) their social networks who are their primary source of job leads and crucial work references, b) middle-men who provide convenient recruitment points, aggregation of workers, even transportation services, c) all other individuals that provide in-kind or cash benefits (other than salary).  The overstayer has to maintain and even cultivate good relations with these “economic resources.” But by doing so the overstayer accedes by default to his/her exploitation, or at the very least, allows the perpetuation of the overstayer’s zero-sum paradox.  In this paradox, “economic resources” are at once both the tactical benefactors and the strategic executioners of overstayers.  This paradox is viewed as “chronically festering” situations of conflict because without escape breaking points are reached.  Non-stop maneuvering, improvisation and tiptoeing around potent threats inevitably lead to convoluted arrangements where interests and loyalties may suddenly shift in an instant. 

Yumi - entered Japan as an entertainer at 17yrs old
The story of Yumi epitomizes this quick and random reversal of fortunes too complex to sustain:  it was her Japanese employer’s Filipina girlfriend – also an overstayer and pregnant with his child, who had a second, married Filipino boyfriend who she truly loved and with whom she eventually cohabited with, keeping her child with the Japanese employer from him, thus becoming the object of his intense ire as he had wanted to keep the child – that squealed to the police about the many overstaying entertainers in the night club owned by the father of her child.   Yumi was scooped up in this police dragnet and summarily deported.  The contortions, if you will, of Yumi’s migrant agency are worth a closer look.

Yumi at just 17 years of age – still legally a minor – entered Japan in 2002 through fraudulent documents.  She emphatically points to poverty as her reason for going to Japan but as she narrates her story we see other intervening factors:

We are poor.  It is not that easy to find work here.  My father has five children: two from the first wife and three from the second.  My father has no work.  My father's second wife also has no work.  My elder sister, also unemployed, has four children.  Her husband has work from time to time doing construction work.  Their four children from the time of the birth, the christening, the schooling, all those expenses are paid by me.  Also, I am the one supporting the three boys from my father's second wife.  But that's really the way it is here in the Philippines, isn't it.  Whoever has the ability to earn is expected to help out. The eldest of my three half-brothers studied only up to high school and is lazy to work. (Yumi, 2010, p.1)

But when probed further on how she got the idea to go to Japan, Yumi’s story becomes compelling in its contradictions, painting a picture of active and thoughtful agency of all people involved:

I was supposed to go to college. The brothers and sisters of my father were well to do in life.  Only my father was poor. I was being encouraged to go to college by my father's family.  But when I was in 4th year high school, my best friend, who was a first-year college student stopped her schooling and was recruited to go to Japan to work as a dancer.  I was able to see how my best friend was able to help her family.  My friend was also convincing me to try Japan myself.  After I graduated from high school, my father didn't have enough money for college and so I stopped for one year. During that one year, I worked selling insurance. While I was selling insurance, I was already being trained by a recruitment agency as a ballet dancer. In just 3 months I passed the audition as a ballet dancer. After I got my visa to Japan, that's when I told my father.  I already had a ticket and was scheduled to leave after 1 week.  

When I told my father he initially didn't support my leaving saying that Japan was very far and that they couldn't just take a bus in order to visit her. He also said that Filipinos had a negative connotation when they heard of people leaving for Japan. Perceptions of work in Japan was dirty.  Negative words were associated with Japayuki. When my father asked where I had gotten the money, he was surprised when I told him that it was my aunt (sister of my mother).  He got angry at them, scolding them for being giving in too easily to my requests/being bad influences to me.  My father got angry and didn't want me to go, saying that I was too young.  I was only 17 at that time, fresh out of High School.  I asked my father what we would do about our situation?  We would have days when we would eat only once a day, and we'd just sleep to stave off the hunger pangs, just waiting for the time when food would arrive at the dining table. I showed my father my visa and passport and told him the 100,000pesos that I paid would go to waste if I didn't go. My father and I didn't talk for 4 days. My father didn't know that at that time my mind had already been made up and that I would go even if he didn't give me his blessing. My asking him was just out of courtesy, but I wanted to make it clear to him that he had no choice but to allow me to go. My father eventually relented. (Yumi, 2010, p.2-3)
Yumi did four, six-month tours as an “illegal” entertainer by virtue of her bogus passport. Her “economic resources” acted thoroughly to protect their investment:

I earned US$600 monthly during my first 6-month tour. But this salary was not given to us.  My first month salary went to the agency in Manila that trained me and processed my papers.  The remaining salary of five months was given when to me just as I was boarding the airplane back to Manila. For food and lodging we were given budgets of ¥3,000 each weekly.  Many of us lived in one house so everyone shared their budgets by eating as a group and sharing food.  Rice is given free. Cooking is done at the kitchen of the club so gas, oil and other minor ingredients are free.  I know that the payment of the club to the agency increases for every trip.  But in my case I was paid US$800 monthly on my second tour and this stayed the same for the succeeding tours.  The agency just declares what net amount you will receive and you have no option to complain. (Yumi, 2010, p.1)

Yumi then continued living in Japan for another six years propped up by fake documents (under a child of a Japanese visa) and by overstaying that already fraudulent residence status.  Without fail, her “economic resources” ensured that Yumi was economically sufficient to the barest minimum yet increasingly entangled in the liabilities of her (lack of) residence status.  Yumi responded by leveraging her (by now) significant network of club customers, securing two boyfriends who willingly provided her with crucial survival tools: a rent-free apartment of her own, protection from arrest, intimacy and companionship, and most importantly a monthly “budget” to supplement her own salary from her continued work as an entertainer:

 My salary was only ¥80,000/month including free housing.  Food and cellphone costs were mine.  The salary as an employee was just not enough.  So I returned to working in the club in Yokohama where I worked as an entertainer in 2002-2003.  So the owner of that club sent me ¥100,000 which I used for relocating and which was to be deducted from my salary in that club.  I was paid ¥10,000/day. Before my visa was to expire I contacted another Japanese employer and asked him if I could return to his club but with an expired visa, and he said it was ok.  So I became an overstayer.  If I had instead gone back to the Philippines I would have started again. And I really think that there is a big difference between the work here and the work in Japan.  Here in the Philippines the work is tiring unlike in Japan, just sit down, pour your customer a drink and talk to him.  I got my own "sponsor" who got me an apartment, but didn't live with me. He was 48yrs old and single, but was taking care of his mother.   But we were not having sex.  That's the way they are.  When they like you they want to help you.  And he knew my situation, that I had no visa.  The rent was ¥65,000/month but with all the other expenses he rounded it off by giving me a "budget" of ¥100,000/month.  So now I was living alone and was lonely so I told my boyfriend that I would get boarders who were also workers in the club I was working in.  One of them was a Filipina who was separated from her Japanese husband. But that Filipina still had 3 years remaining in her visa. She just wanted to finish those 3 years and she would return to the Philippines.  So she moved in with me and I charged her rent of ¥25,000.  This was a great deduction to the rent and even gave me extra income.  The apartment was big. It had three rooms.  My second boyfriend was married.  I met him also at the club.  He also gave me an apartment.  This new boyfriend would come and get me three or four times a week.  But would not come up to the apartment.  We would just go out.  But during this time, my first boyfriend would still give me my budget of ¥100,000/month.  I knew that my second boyfriend had a wife but I still agreed to that arrangement because work at the club was not consistent.  On some days we were told by the club not to work. If we have no work how will we eat?  How will you remit, if you don't have a boyfriend who supports you?  It was my first time to be a mistress.  We didn't have that much sex because he had a wife. I only needed him to eat at good places, to go to certain places. It is important to have someone you trust that will bring you back home safely and not take advantage of you. It is still different to have someone to depend on given your situation of not having a valid visa.  This second boyfriend also gave me ¥100,000/month.  But I really loved that second boyfriend but he had a wife and kids.  So that was the arrangement: I needed him and he needed me.  Eventually he was caught by his wife, and so he wanted to end it.  The seatbelt in his car smelled of my perfume and his wife smelled this.  And his wife didn't use perfume.  And his joint bank account would be lessened and his wife noticed this.  My second boyfriend was 53. (Yumi, 2010, p.5)

Yumi had effectively entrenched herself lock, stock and barrel, so to speak, in the Bilog life.  She was now receiving ¥200,000 from her “sponsors” and securing her protection and security on top of that.  She continued working as an entertainer though ironically her own salary now became the supplement to her “sponsors” income.  The consequence of all of these was that she had become overly exposed and quite dependent on all her “economic resources” – her “sponsors,” her Japanese employer, and all her co-workers who were aware of her (lack of) residence status.  Any of them could potentially squeal on her if interests and loyalties flipped through some reconfiguration of arrangements – even those not of her own doing:

My Japanese employer got his Filipina girlfriend pregnant. She was only three months pregnant when that girl's first love - a Filipino seaman who was married and had a family in the Philippines - arrived in Japan.  It seemed that they already had a mutual understanding of what they would do.  She gave birth, and she wanted to break-up with the father of her child, my Japanese employer.  He wanted to get the child and after getting the child he would have the mother deported.  This girl lived with her first love Filipino seaman.  But the Japanese employer kept looking for her.  Eventually, all the ill feelings between the girl and the Japanese father affected the club where I was working.  This girl told the immigration about our club and that its owner was the father of her child and that his club had overstayers working there.  There were five of us who were Bilog in that club.  When this girl told the immigration about the club, she gave us five Bilogs a warning that she had already told the immigration and that we should leave.

[continuing story]

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