In light of the past few weeks I’m going to do something that is somewhat out of the ordinary for my blog following the slightly out of the ordinary process leading up to this morning. I’m going to share my sharing I preached this morning at the Church In Ocean Park here in California. The pastor reached out Friday night asking ” I really need to bring some reality but also some hope this Sunday. Do you know anyone who can bring both?” Our conversation continued and by the end of it, I had agreed to preach a few days later. Turns out God really had a message on my heart, as this is probably one of the shortest turn arounds I’ve agreed to, but one of the few sharings that has come so naturally and so personally as of late. Below is what I shared this morning:
Good Morning! Magandang Umaga! Thank you very much for inviting me to share with you today. My name is Joy Prim and I’m orginaly from North Carolina but I found my way to Southern California via Hong Kong, where I served as a Young Adult United Methodsit Missionary with Migrant Domestic Workers from Philippines and Indonesia. Where from 2011-2013, I too was a migrant worker, I don’t identify as an ex-pat as many others from western countries do, instead I to identify as a migrant worker someone who left their country to find work. Having left my home country to move overseas to find work.
I spent my week days working at our walk-in centre and shelter, counseling workers on their rights. This included such things as how to file for unpaid contractual claims against their employers. I did this while encouraging the worker to stand up on her own. I spent Sundays, the most common day off for domestic workers, with Filipino migrant worker organizations along Chater Road. This is a road that runs through the central business district in Hong Kong and is closed to traffic on Sundays. There, outside the stores, along the shoulders of the street and overflowing into the street, thousands of Filipino domestic workers gather to enjoy their only day off each week
Over 95% of the migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are Women. In early 2013, i moved here to Southern California where I continue to work with Filipino Migrant Workers, youth, and victims of Human Trafficking and their families as part of the staff of the FIlipino Migrant Center, a community based non-profit organization located just down the 405 in Long Beach, but serving the FIlipino community from the Valley to Border, and the beach cities to the Inland Empire.
As I’ve learned more and more about the situation in the Philippines and the Filipino people’s on going struggle for true peace and justice and National Democracy for everyone. I’ve not only developed a deep appreciation for their struggle that’s led by the workers, the peasants, the most oppressed classes of people and a struggle that works to ensure that those who have little have enough, and those who have excess have just enough.
But have learned so much about myself and became more of the women God wants me to be. Shedding the “perfect quiet, southern girl” imagine that I had grown up with now becoming politically concious, a community organizer, and learning more about myself each day. Now five years into discovering and living my calling. Ang aking puso ko ay Pilipino (my heart is Filipino). May inspiration ko ay mga masa. (My inspiration is the masses).
Growing up in the church loving the stranger in our communities, welcoming everyone, and caring for our neighbor was a regular sermon. Something I thought knew well and practiced reguarly. But it wasn’t until I was the migrant worker overseas did I really learn what God meant. That is do all these things with no expectation for anything in return but because thats what our God did for us. The migrant workers in Hong Kong opened their arms to welcome me no strings attached. And stayed there alongside me as I shed my shyness to become an active member of the community.
Language barriers weren’t going to stop them though they did result in some hilarious attempts of me trying to speak Tagalog, relgious differences didn’t matter instead these were powerful moments of education for each other, what mattered was a passion for justice and the end of the 2nd class of people that Hong Kong had legalized for the migrant domestic workers.
Yes, a legal 2nd class exisit that leaves the migrant community almost invisible to the locals and other ex-pats, full of oppressive laws that are used to pass further oppressive laws. But yet they had formed a deep community that truly welcomed anyone who ventured into it to learn, to be, to connect with the Spirit, to seek assistance, and to work for justice.
Coming back to this US, my passport country, i was blessed to stay within this migrant community. The 2nd class of people isn’t as outrightly ovious here as it was in Hong Kong. It still is very present though I don’t think I really need to tell you all that. Yes now I was the “local” who had full access. But by now my heart and soul had learned what it meant to welcome the stranger.
To stand in the gap created by society and to be in community with those who are different but are united for peace and justice for all people. Where yes we give up some things to allow the growth of the community but in doing so and shedding the excess the others has thrust upon us that we don’t actually need we find ourselves closer, in deeper community, and more where God wants us to be.
A clearer reminder of this came my first day here in SoCal, one of my coworkers picked me up from the airport, and took me to her house where I had been told I would temporaringly be staying until long-term housing could be arranged. For both FMC and me it was important for to come out and get involved in the work even if the logisitics weren’t quite all finished. So when we arrived at the apartment, I had assumed I would be sleeping on the couch, logically i was only there temporaringly.
But instead my coworker welcomed me into her bedroom, apogloized that we would have to still share a closet, and quietly moved the rest of her stuff out of the room. She was the one who who would be sleeping on the couch. That night I cried at the deep gesture of hospitality and went back and forth for weeks feeling bad that I had just pushed her out of her room but not knowing how to start that conversation.
As I waited for my housing to be finalized, that short term stay of no more than four weeks became six weeks, became nine weeks. And as we neared the end of that third month, I sat down with my coworker (and roommate) to check in about how my first few months here in SoCal were. And as we talked I shared my feelings about “taking” her room.
With a smile she pointed out the ovious fact that I wouldn’t fit on the couch and we continued to get to know each other. Hours later that conversation would finish with heart felt decisions no longer moving out, instead deciding that I had become part of the community and therefore there was no need for other housing. So we continued to share the closet and the space in the room as we built community. But I couldn’t help time and time again to wonder, if she was really an angel for what a clearer way to welcome the stranger.
Now fast forward 3.5 years, and that coworker is now one of my closest friends here in SoCal and we’ve shared many more deep conversations and quite alot of both happy and sad tears. We’ve traveled the world together a couple times and have developed a deep friendship rooted in our love for the people and welcoming the migrant. She is a clear example of how my community is there to hold me accountable when I commit to doing something, to offer helpful critisim and feedback on how I can improve, and someone who I can turn to when it feels like the world is being turned up side down. Living her life as a humble example she continues to keep me grounded in why I got into this work and on the hard days why we must continue to serve the people, the migrant workers here in the US and the direct connections back to the Philippines in the struggle for peace and justice.
Serving as the Filipino Migrant Center Direct Services Coordinator, I’ve worked with over 35 victims of human trafficking. 20 of whom escaped their traffickers over three years before they found us. Living in the undocumented shadows knowing what happened to them was wrong but not knowing what to call it or that they had any legal opitons. Instead hearing the threats of deportation, and the dislike of im/migrant communities and moving deeper into the shadows. Until they either saw us in the media or met another client and decided to try one more time.
As I sat down to write by sharing for this morning, a flood of emotions from the past months came flooding back. Living in my community, I’ve had a unique view of this election. Now with real fear rising in the community, my friends, survivors of trafficking and their families are in the forefront of my mind.
This week, I’ve been talking with many of our workers, survivors of trafficking and their families. Their fear is real. They are parents who havn’t been able to see their children in over 6 years, who now are scared that their children are not gonna be allowed into this country despite having survived human trafficking and been approved for their T-Visas (immigration relief given to victims of human trafficking and their immediate relatives). Their voice scared but she stands strong. Readying themselves with the knowledge of the law. To calm their fears into knowledge that they can share with others.
The conversation continued, how do we educate the community about their rights, provide a safe place for their children to develop friendships and understand whats going on in the world around them, and prepare for the unknown of what was to come. As someone who actually had any say-so in the elections. I was struck as the workers shared that they had no time to be sad, disappointed or upset about the outcome.
Instead, they were moved through their fear to action: to check-in with each other, to begin to organize, to strengthen their community to not be stuck in fear or sadness but to be able to move ahead. Their mindset stuck with me. Migrants who are set to be impacted the most their response was turning to their community, collective action not sadness or paralyzing fear.
It is this same spirit of collective community that gathered at the airport early Monday morning. Together we were welcoming two families to the United States after over seven years of seperation. The fathers victims of human trafficking, specifically labor trafficking, are two of the survivors we’ve been working with at the Filipino Migrant Center.
Now some of our worker leaders they continue to share their story and inspire other workers to come out of the shadows not just to seek help but to also speak out about their realities. Through the morning they paced, chatting, sharing memories of their departure from Manila. Their families having not flown much they wondered, were they nervous, scared, was their any issues with immigration.
We waited watching group of people after group of people come by nothing. Then their families came around the corner into view. And their were screams and smiles, and the treasured “Daddy is that you” as the families made it to the exits. The next 10 minutes were full of hugs and tears. As couples reunited able to embrace each other for the first time. Children who were barely old enough to remember them now walking, talking, and full of stories couldn’t get over how their fathers looked in real life. Was it the same as they remembered, had skype conversations done anyone justice.
As we the organizers took photos and stayed back, we turned to each other with smiles and looks of understanding these reunions were always emotional. But there was extra emotions about these. After the previous week, to be able to stand here, welcoming families to this country full of smiles and laughs. Was not only needed but a real reminder that there is hope and together we will overcome and achieve our dream at FMC.
You see we dream of the day when families will not be torn apart by urgent need for survival. We dream and will actively work for a society where there is equal opportunity to live a decent and humane life. It’s a simple dream but one we know we have a ways to go both here in the US and in the Philippines.
We see our work here with Filipino migrants directly connected back to the situation in the Philippines. Where more than 6,000 people leave the country every day to find work due to the extreme poverty and lack of jobs in the country. So we also are engaged in Human Rights work back in the Philippines as well. And as I’ve processed this week and worked to reground myself in why I continue to do this work, thats not easy. I found my way back to a poem I wrote this past summer while I was on our annual Interfaith Medical and Soldarity Mission to the Philippines. As a thank you to the kasamas (comrades) who hosted us. These kasamas who have sacrificed so much to organize and live as one with the people.
A quiet step, shoulder tap, chance to meet in person
The prep behind the scenes
Not one for the spotlight, but for the love of the people
Ensuring all are fed, the people are taken care of
Always ready for an ED
Breaking down the struggles of the Filipino people for all who pass by
Learning from the workers, the peasants, the poor
Behind the scenes, not one in front
Humbly serving the people
Showing respect for all in the struggle
Conversations challenging mindsets
Redefining simple living
Admitting privledges that exisit that can sometimes can seem normal
Quietly ensuring that others feel supported, connected to the struggle
The simple choice of words late at night
Brings you back across the Pacific
Reminding you, we’re fighting the same struggle
The workshop, community visit, cultural caravan, church visit or peace forum
Working toward the same goal
The kasamas with a quiet reminder we’re in this together
So we should get to know each other
Not loosing sight of the masa
But to allow us to all better serve them
Whether in the cities
Or out into the countryside
Where the peasants struggle for land is primary
Indigenous People who understand land is life
Refuse to be quieted instead are doing whatever it takes to protect the land
Learning to work collectively to benefit the whole community
Living life by example
Teaching through words and actions
A new song, a laugh and telling the real history
Challenging me to continue
To let go of my fears
To live my life in Jesus footsteps
To find my place in the struggle
I share this today that our work is far from done and there is much more to go. But our struggles are connected and the only way we will win is by coming together in Solidarity with each other.
We’re deeply concerned both for our kasamas on the ground and the steady increase of migrant workers and human trafficking survivors who continue to come forward. The families who just arrived have real needs to be taken care of including as simple as finding clothing as the weather is getting cooler and learning that they aren’t alone in this country. We remain steadfast in our commitment both to always welcome the migrant and serve them the best we can here in the US and as human rights defenders drawing attention to the situation back in the Philippines.
The struggle is far from over. In closing let me share a quote I believe is ever more relevant now here in the US than ever. “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”