She Works Hard for the Money: Labor, Motherhood, and Love at Lewis and Clark College’s 34th Annual Gender Studies Symposium

by Elaine Stamp

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For the past 33 years, Lewis and Clark College has hosted a gender studies symposium to bring together thinkers from all over the nation to exchange ideas about gender and sexuality. This past weekend marked their 34th conference. I attended a panel about global markets and their intersections with race and gender. One of the panelists, Dr. Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, presented her paper about the migration of Filipina mothers who leave the Philippines to find work elsewhere so they can send money back to their families. She discussed the tension between being a “good migrant” (because these women work hard abroad to earn money for their families back home) and a “bad mother” (because they did not share physical space with their children or comfort them when they were sick). She argued that the culture of Filipina women going abroad was supported by a complex system of economic policies and cultural expectations. Pressures came from all sides.

During the presentation, I couldn’t stop thinking of my mom. She is a Filipina nurse who came to the States on a nursing program during the years of the Marcoz regime in the Philippines. While my mother didn’t go abroad specifically to send money back to her family in the Islands, some of my experiences as her daughter resonated with what Professor Francisco-Menchavez was talking about with a mother’s ability to financially provide as a primary expression of love.

In my home, affection was never something that was expressed in ways that I understood or saw widely represented in media. My home was not loveless; rather, the language used to express that love was incredibly different between my mom, and my siblings and myself– so much so that I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I recall a particular moment when I, in the midst of a tantrum about something, hurled the accusation at my mom that she didn’t actually love me. I’ll never forget the expression on her face. I was a child and was not at my best, but I’m still ashamed of that moment.

Things finally clicked at my high school graduation. As this year is ending with another commencement coming up, I’m thinking a lot back to that moment when I realized how my mom communicates her love. My mom started telling me in high school “good job” for simple things like making tortillas or baking a loaf of bread. I was initially surprised because wasn’t usually the type to give out compliments. And on top of that, I was confused as to why she was complimenting me for doing things that I viewed as ordinary. At my high school graduation ceremony, it wasn’t until I hugged my mom and heard her say “good job” in my ear that I realized so much more was packed into those two syllables than I thought. For her, those seven letters were a way for her to say “I love you” in a way that she understood and could express.

Over the past four years, I’ve come to understand a lot more about love and how it is expressed in relationships of any kind — familial, platonic, romantic — and I want to speak more openly about that. This is not to wax poetic about my personal growth, but to try and bring more conversations about love and the way it shapes us in a space like Wetlands. By all means, let’s have critical articles that point out what must be changed in on campus policies, and write about gender, sexuality, and queerness in varying forms. But let’s also talk about and recognize love as the influential, driving, powerful force that it is.

red-heart-md

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