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Panel 13. Transnational Lives of Southeast Asian Women in Diaspora

Chair: Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot (Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium & University Paris Diderot)

Since the 1990s, more and more women from Southeast Asia migrate to developed countries in the world: according to the United Nations, in 2012 women made up 50 percent of the international migrants originating from the region. In most cases, this migratory phenomenon results in either family separation (as in the case of labour migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia) or family formation (as in the case of marriage migrants from the Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam). Whatever the logic of their movement, Southeast Asian migrant women maintain multifaceted links with their countries of origin and by doing so, form a diasporic population. This panel revisits this group by exploring their social, cultural, and familial experiences in migration, particularly their transnational practices, in order to shed light on their present situation and their subjectivities. Papers based on empirical and transnational research are welcome, as well as accounts of working with these migrants through NGO-led programmes.

Session 1

Paper 1: “They started acting like parents” – Transnational family lives of Filipino migrant workers

Simone Christ (University of Bonn)

The Philippine labor diaspora is spread worldwide. As contract workers and circular migrants, they are usually employed in the Middle East or East Asia, whereas permanent migrants settle in the USA or Europe. The Philippines is also typical for the feminization of labor. Whereas in the 1970s, 70% of its contract workers were male and 30% female, in 2002 the ratio was exactly the opposite. The increasing demand for female migrant workers in destination countries leads to transnational family lives since a large number of these female migrants are married and have children. Families have to re-organize their family lives; if mothers work abroad, often the female members of the extended family take the role as care-givers of the children. This paper will look into transnational lives of Philippine families from the perspective of the children-left-behind and will focus on the experiences and subjectivities of these children. The paper is based on empirical research; fieldwork was done in 2009-2010 in Laguna, Philippines. Interviews were evaluated using an integrative hermeneutical approach. I would like to focus on the case studies of daughters of migrants.

Paper 2: Transnational practices of Filipino women in mixed unions in France: The influence of class and family situation

Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot (Catholic University of Louvain & University Paris Diderot)

The figure of the migrant woman domestic worker has characterized the Filipino immigrant population in France for the last three decades. Empirical studies of Filipinos in France have also focused on this figure and consequently tend to overlook the other components of the Filipino population in this country. Here I attempt to shed light on the heterogeneity of this population by examining the case of Filipino women in ethnically “mixed” unions, i.e. those living in conjugal relationship with a nonFilipino partner. Semi-structured interviews and informal conversations were conducted with eleven migrant Filipinas to bring to light the factors that diversify the transnational practices of migrant women. Hence I explored not only their migration
trajectories, but also their maintenance of varied ties with their country of origin. These women’s union with a non-Filipino partner provides them opportunities to realize their personal projects as well as their caregiving role to their family left behind. However, the intensity and character of their transnational activities appear to be influenced and differentiated by their social class belonging and by their family situation (notably whether or not they have children who remained in the Philippines).

Paper 3: Transnational lifestyles of Thai-western couples

Elke Kaufmann (University of Hildesheim)

The number of men who have settled in Thailand and built a new life together with their Thai wives or spouses has increased obviously during the last decade. My research is focused on those couples who have their current residence in Thailand. To examine the transnational life situation of those couples as well as their main topics, conflicts and relationship dynamics, I conducted ethnographic studies in three different areas in Thailand: Udon Thani, Bangkok, and Pattaya. I also carried out interviews with counselors and other support related professionals. In my presentation I want to refer to two key aspects of my research. The first aspect is the transnational dimension of the couples` individual life situations and how even family life is challenged and changed by this transnational dimension. The second aspect I want to discuss is the main result of my research on the social dimension of relationship dynamics and conflicts. With my research I can show that couples who have their current residence in Thailand have to deal with conflicts about economic issues and family support. Here it has become evident that the situation of conflict as well as roles, positions and power relations differ from the situations of Thai-Western couples who live in European countries.

Session 2

Paper 4: Political refugees and home: Transnational practices and the making of ‘home’ among Burmese refugee women in the United Kingdom

Khin Ma Ma Myo (University of Aberdeen)

For several decades, the domestic security situation of Burma (Myanmar) has been precarious as intra-state conflicts and civil wars resulting from political disagreements, ideological divergences and ethnic cleavages continued to plague the development of resilience and stability. Due to ongoing conflicts and political instability, some women had to flee the country and resettled in neighbouring countries in South East Asia and the West as political refugees. However, they maintain multifaceted links with their home; a country of origin as described by the traditional settler migration model; and by doing so, forming a diasporic population. This paper contributes to the study of diaspora through an in-depth study of transnational practices and the making of ‘Home’ among Burmese Refugee Women in the United Kingdom. It examines hownine Burmese Refugee Women created a sense of home in the United Kingdom through domestic practices, lifestyle, images and formation of community groups. It also explores the relationship between transnational practices and local attachment of Burmese Refugee Women, through a focus of place, i.e. London, United Kingdom.

Paper 5: Religious practices as ‘migrant citizenship from below’

Kyoko Shinozaki (Ruhr University Bochum)

In the emigration context of the Philippines, “migrant citizenship” is an emergent form of membership, requiring employment overseas with the extension of rights and obligations that come with it. Building on the conceptualizations in the existing
literature, this paper takes irregular Philippine migrants working as domestic workers and nannies in a German city as a case study and explores news ways to conceptualize citizenship, what I call ‘migrant citizenship from below’. Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations, it examines the role of religious practices among irregular migrant domestic workers in negotiating the lack of formal citizenship rights. I examine the dynamics consisting of enabling opportunity structures and constraining factors at the local, national and transnational level. Despite their supposed invisibility as irregular migrants working in private homes, their religious practices in and around the Church have shaped to create social spaces, where they explore new subjectivities and roles beyond the world of work. Faithbased donation projects also take place across borders, which enabled them to construct a morally respectable sense of self. Moreover, religious practices may yield an opportunity for cross-class solidarity, involving professional and blue-collar service workers with regular migration status.

Paper 6: The lives of Vietnamese women in the Czech Republic and their ties to Vietnam

Maria Strašáková (Metropolitan University Prague)

The roots of the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic can be traced back into the 1950s, when both the countries forged strong ties within the Eastern Block. The proposed paper will first seek to introduce the structure of the Vietnamese
community, the understanding of which is necessary to better grasp the different lives and issues of integration of the Vietnamese in the Czech Republic as they vary in accordance with diverse migration waves in which the Vietnamese moved to the country. Second, the proposed paper will be devoted to describing the lives and issues that Vietnamese women face during their stay in the country. Special emphasis will also be paid to their transnational ties (social, cultural, religious, economic, political) with Vietnam. It must be noted that the Vietnamese community has always maintained strong connections with their homeland as their sole purpose of their migration to the Czech Republic has been for economic reasons. The paper will attempt to capture the paradoxes and problems of the strong transnational ties of the first-generation of Vietnamese women and the need to integrate into the majority society that has been triggered by the second-generation Vietnamese who have developed stronger ties to the Czech Republic.