Migration and Diasporas
It is no secret that migrant domestic workers (particularly foreign ones) are vulnerable to abuse no matter where they go; Indonesians, for example, have often been described as “modern-day slaves,” even in advantageous countries like Taiwan and Hong Kong. The reasons behind this abuse are myriad, and scholars have explored many of them: from unjust policies and inconsistent implementation of regulations, to economic forces necessitating the relationship, to mothers and wives feeling displaced from their gender roles, to cultural clashes. However, there is one aspect of this dynamic that has been severely understudied: the role of ethnocentric racism on both the micro and macro level, or what I term “ethnoracism.” The ethnoracism that prevails in the East and Southeast Asia region is distinct from the racism most commonly known in the West: it is not based solely on skin color, but a powerful mix of nationalist sentiments and racial divisions/hierarchies. Based on a year of ethnography among these communities and 245 in-depth interviews with the various actors in Asia’s “maid trade” from Indonesian and the Philippines, I demonstrate that when members of different racialized nationalities are forced to accept each other as members of the same household – as Taiwanese and Hong Kong families must do with foreign domestic workers – racialized stereotypes come to the forefront in identity and place negotiations on both sides, underscoring the dynamics of power and further paving the way for abuse and exploitation, and even worse, justifying such behavior as moral and right.