Jia Tolentino’s blog post in defense of her parents failed to address the very real and many testimonies of teachers who were harmed by their actions.
Last week, Jia Tolentino, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of the acclaimed novel, Trick Mirror, wrote of her parents’ involvement in an agency to relocate Filipino teachers to meet “skilled labor shortages” in Texan public schools. This effort became thwarted by the post-9/11, “Bush-era security apparatus” that relentlessly assailed “brown non-citizens,” who were immediately labeled as criminal. Tolentino’s parents, in their “open, earnest, lawful work” to provide Filipino teachers a better life and livelihood in the United States, were instead earmarked as “alien smuggler[s].”
As she published her perspective of the legal case mounted against her parents, a torrent of prominent liberals, journalists, and writers flooded her Twitter replies to demonstrate “solidarity” or to send “big love” and to even say that her words were “better than 95 percent of immigration reporting.”
One search of the case, U.S. v. Omni Consortium, Inc., shows a stark rebuttal to Tolentino’s interpretation of events. This did not deter, for example, the New York Times staff writer who came to “admire” Tolentino’s work more after her distorted recount — a truly corrupted version of class solidarity for the upper-echelons of NY media!
Tolentino’s parents and her grandmother, through their agency Omni, charged $10,000 per person transported to the United States. Nearly 273 teachers were moved to Texas, from 2002 to 2004, even as less than 100 positions remained available. The H-1B visas that Omni produced often utilized fraudulent documentation.
Omni further partnered with a loan shark based in the Philippines that charged 5 percent interest monthly that compounded to 60 percent annually on loans proffered to interested persons. One missed payment resulted in a 10 percent penalty in addition to 5 percent interest. In order to obtain the loan, Omni required that a co-signer reside in the Philippines, whom Omni and the loan shark may legally pursue if loan payments were unmet.
Once the teachers arrived in the United States, ten to fifteen would be housed in the same property, legal documents were withheld, and they were left to sleep on the floor. They were barred from using private or public transportation, and instead, were coerced to pay a $200 carpool fee. If teachers attempted to seek other employment or objected to the state of affairs, deportation threats were readily advanced.
One teacher expressed to the Visayan Daily Star: “Every night we prayed the rosary, we could not sleep until the wee hours of the morning, we were stressed, worried about our families back home and often wept.” Esha provides a detailed history of the Philippines and its dependence on the export of labor as well as a deeper look into the legalities of the Tolentino case here.
What remains highly problematic, other than the transnational labor trafficking conducted by Tolentino’s parents and grandmother, is Tolentino’s manipulation of her family’s status as minorities to claim (a very false) innocence.
Her family was charged, as a result of the legal context produced by the creation of ICE and the approval of the Patriot Act. She compares the plight of her family to the brutal criminalization faced daily by “black and brown people.” She chooses to emphasize the injustice faced by her family, in a firm portrayal of her family as saviors to teachers occupying “an awful situation.”
Law enforcement is a critical tool of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy; its evils are revealed every day. However, one’s status as a minority in the United States does not absolve the same person or persons of responsibility in exploitation and especially in human trafficking of their people.
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Filipino Americans, like other marginalized ethnicities, are not a monolith. One’s position in capitalism will, inevitably, dictate the ways in which they exploit or are exploited. The precarity and squalor that teachers were subject to once in the United States, which is proven and proven again by the plethora of articles, legal documents, and testimonies available, has been erased to instead uplift the Tolentino’s.
As I read of the Tolentino case, I am reminded of Maria Mies and Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, where she writes, “…the privileges of the exploiters can never become the privileges of all. If the wealth of the metropoles is based on the exploitation of colonies, then the colonies cannot achieve wealth unless they also have colonies. If the emancipation of men is based on the subordination of women, then women cannot achieve ‘equal rights’ with men, which would necessarily include the right to exploit others.”
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