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Pinoy Pride in Paris: the Hardworking Women Making a Home Away from Home

The diaspora runs deep. This article explores the stories of three overseas Filipinx workers living in Paris and the ways they find community and reclaim their own livelihoods so far away from home.

Tucked on a side street in Paris’ wealthy sixteenth arrondissement sits Pinoy Store, its windows stacked full of food imported from the Philippines. On weekends and after work the store is a hub of activity, Tagalog being tossed around loudly as people come to chat and buy a staples to cook dishes from home.

Pinoy Store

© Hanna Polinski/HEREYOUARE

There are several small stores like this that cater to Paris’ growing and lively Filipinx community scattered throughout the neighbourhood. While the arrondissement has historically been populated by rich French families, it has increasingly become home to many Filipinx who do domestic work in the area.

 

ROMY

 

 

Romy is an overseas Filipina worker who moved to Paris in her twenties, attracted by the full-time nanny salary after working as an au pair in Denmark. When she initially arrived, she would buy ingredients from Pinoy Store so she could cook at her apartment, a tiny nine-meter square apartment that she shared with two other Filipinas for 600 euros a month. She soon found herself working illegally as a nanny when her visa ran out.

“My goal was just to make money and go back to my country to open a business,” she says. “Back in my country, I was a data analyst. My plan was to save, save, save…and then I met my husband and everything changed.”

At the beginning of summer, Romy found herself seven months pregnant and jobless after the family she worked for falsely accused her of stealing money. The family did not pay her last month’s salary, which at the time she had assumed was normal.

“For me, if people treat me nicely, I trust them,” Romy explains. “I worked for this family for a year. I didn’t know they weren’t paying me enough. I didn’t know that it was illegal for them to not declare me. But after I was fired, I had a lot of time and started to do some self learning, and I realized it was actually abuse. “

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© Hannah Polinski/HEREYOUARE

Since she still had no legal papers, Romy was unable to enroll her daughter in daycare. Instead, through the Filipinx community, she found a nanny job that would allow her to bring her newborn to work.

“I worked from 8am to 8pm with my daughter with me,” Romy recalls. “[The family] was living on the other side of the city, so every day me and my baby woke up at five in the morning. The salary was only 350 euros per month. They said it was the “Filipino charge.” 12 hours a day for 350 euros per month.”

She had no choice but to accept the position, which is unfortunately not a rare case. Professional qualifications obtained in the Philippinnes are often not valid in other countries, forcing many overseas Filipinx workers to seek domestic work. The absence of legal papers puts many at the risk of exploitation in the workplace, leaving many without options as they fear deportation and the inability to find another source of income. Yet, one euro is worth nearly sixty pesos in the Philippines, meaning that even the smallest salaries in France can help support a family back home.

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© Hannah Polinski/HEREYOUARE

For those who cannot attend events, there are several active Facebook groups for Filipinx to ask questions and seek advice. Since doing her research, Romy tries to help out the community as much as she can by counselling others on their prospective job searches.

“I want other nannies to know their rights,” she says. “There are a lot of Filipinos here who get abused because they don’t know the law, like I was when I first arrived. It’s very seldom to get an employer to pay you a good salary if you don’t have papers. I said to others in our group, you need to make sure you have vacation pay, because some families won’t pay it. We are not robots. We get tired too.”

 

SYELA

 

 

Sheila

© Hannah Polinski/HEREYOUARE

Syela runs a blog called A Filipina in Paris, where she chronicles her life living in the city and regularly receives messages from other Filipinas trying to move to France. She began working as an au pair after moving to Paris with her French husband, but now balances her time between her blog and studying at a French tech start-up.

Knowing the reputation that her country had as domestic helpers, she sought to change the reputation of overseas Filipinx workers through her writing.

“The first message I got on my blog was a person asking if I knew a window cleaner. I was so excited for my first message, and it was someone asking if I knew a Filipino to clean their windows. But I still passed it on to the Filipino groups, because somebody might be interested.”

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© Hannah Polinksi/HEREYOUARE

In spite of stereotyping and often unfavorable working conditions, a strong sense of Pinoy pride thrives in Paris, particularly in the sixteenth arrondissement. The supportive community is behind the success of the numerous Filipino stores and associations, including a large scale Embassy-sponsored parade and party for Independence Day.

When asked if she attends any Pinoy parties, Syela’s face breaks into a big smile. “Once I was invited to a party at Porte Dauphine, in the [sixteenth arrondissement],” she says. “There’s Filipino men there who do cockfights in the morning. I rode by on a bus, all full of Filipino people, and saw Filipino men with roosters in the park! It’s just like the Philippines, right in Paris.”

 

CARREN

 

 

Carren is a mother of three, working as a nanny for two families in Paris. She has had to make painful sacrifices, including moving away from her children in the Philippines in search of a greater salary to be able to provide for them. Like many others, she sends remittances home every month through Filipino money transfer services found in Paris’ sixteenth arrondissement.

Carren knows that numerous other nannies can relate to her experiences, yet she still feels alone and homesick in France.

“We work late hours, multiple jobs, relationships crumble, we budget our meals, money runs out, yet we still persevere overseas for some reasons that only a few understand,” she explains. “Building a better future for our family and to our future family is a top priority.”

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© Hannah Polinski/HEREYOUARE

While there are Filipinx workers in Paris who have been taken advantage of in their work, the community still possesses a fighting spirit in the face of all their setbacks. A vibrant community has come together and carved out a space for itself in a neighbourhood that would seem otherwise closed off to them.

While it is not always easy to work abroad and send money back home, the Filipinx community has continued to strive towards making their lives the best they can be, even in a place as foreign as France. Syela, Romy and Carren are all beautiful examples of the strength it takes to build a home away from home.

“I want you to know that overseas Filipino workers deserve more genuine love, care, and attention,” Carren says. “We are so strong and I know that we will go home with our achievements and perseverance.”
 

 
Check out Hannah Polinski’s words and photography on their blog.

Hannah Polinski is a writer and photographer based in Paris, France. She organizes a feminist art collective and eats a lot of hummus.
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