Lugar lang | Your road ahead, Jenny

EVERY time I go to Ho Chi Minh for my offshore PhD Practice Research Symposium, I feel very proud of the English proficiency of Filipinos. Although I know it’s not politically correct because of the implications on our national sovereignty and our post-colonial identity, I can’t help but appreciate the convenience of having English as a way to communicate with others. In Vietnam, I am often reduced to the stereotypical foreigner trying to communicate with hand gestures because the people in general don’t know any English, and even those who work in the tourist industry are often difficult to understand.

That’s why I thought it was so preposterous when I saw the memes circulating about Jenny and her “You’re road” fiasco. Why are we still making fun of regional accents and pronunciation of English (or even Filipino)? So what if she pronounced ‘rude’ as ‘road’? Or ‘kid’ as ‘ked’? She was certainly right in making a fuss about her American fiancé Larry’s behavior at the party hosted for him by Jenny’s family. He should have appreciated the beautiful lechon they had prepared especially for him. And unless he is a Muslim, for whom pork is haram, there was no reason for him to have acted so rudely. If he were serious about marrying a Filipina, he could have tried to ease their respective culture clashes.

But the more serious issue here is that of the possible ‘mail-order bride’. I don’t know about how Jenny and Larry had met; I have not seen any episodes of the American reality television series 90-Day Fiance in which they appear. But the concept of the K-1 Visa, with all its good intentions, forces us to ask, “How are they meeting their fiancées before they actually meet?” The visa allows a fiancé/e to enter the United States for 90 days, within which period the couple should marry. For the visa to be granted, the couple should have shown evidence of a sustained long-distance relationship, as well as having met in person at least once within two years before the visa is filed. It is considered a “high fraud visa category,” which adds to the drama in the TV series, leading the audience to try to sniff out fraudulent couples.

I remember the proliferation of ‘mail-order brides’ from the Philippines, who were picked out from catalogs until the ‘80s. But because of many reports of abuse and violence suffered from their husbands, the Anti Mail-Order Bride Law was passed in 1990. Unfortunately, because of the Internet, the mail-order bride agencies were able to transform into other types of organizations that are not covered by the law. A cursory Google search under ‘Pinay bride’ will show that ‘exotic’ Philippine brides are still desirable and readily available in the global market.

In fact, our current domestic helper doesn’t even need an agency to find foreign men online. She does it herself in Facebook even though she barely has any English language skills. It seems only a matter of visuals or emoticons. We have tried to warn her about the dangers of this, but she seems convinced that that is the only way to get herself and her children out of poverty. Thus, she spends all her free time at home managing several relationships, casting a wide net. We, her employers, cannot offer her a better option.

Like her, Jenny seems to think that her marriage to Larry, the American, is the only road to the good life. It seems easier than working every day as a prostituted woman, especially if similar work is done within the context of marriage. We do hope there really is love between them and not just a transaction, or that some kind of love will grow out of the initial transaction, as it can in arranged marriages.

Thus, the Jenny viral meme is doubly worrisome. Initially because of how we Filipinos can’t seem to stop making fun of what we used to call ‘carabao English’ –which is really only differing levels of the Philippine English we all necessarily use as second-language speakers. It shows the world how ridiculous we are in our illusions regarding our English proficiency. But more seriously, this meme shows the world how dreadfully we treat our women because of how we enable this new and revitalized mail-order bride system when we don’t speak up nor work against it.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz



Posted in Opinion