Asian immigrant women and global restructuring, 1970s-1990s

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Genny O'Connor, a Filipina domestic worker in Los Angeles, left her office job in the Philippines in hopes of seeking a much higher paying job in the United States. In the Philippines, her salary could barely cover her day- To-day expenses and, needless to say, did not leave her with many resources to provide her family with the financial support expected of her as a single daughter. Having attained a bachelor's degree in the Philippines, Genny had not anticipated that without documents in the United States she would find a job only in the lowwage informal sector. Even after years in domestic work, she is still trying to adjust to her experience of underemployment. She states: I was crying all the time. (Laughs.) When my employer gave me the bucket for cleaning, I did not know where I had to start. Of course we are not so rich in the Philippines, but we had maids. I did not know how to start cleaning and my feelings were of self-pity. I kept on thinking that I just came to the U.S. to be a maid. So that was that. I would just cry and I wanted to go home. I did not imagine that this was the kind of work that I would end up doing.1 Like many other immigrant women, Genny O' Connor faces severe underemployment. Her participation in the U.S. labor market entails a sharp decline in occupational and social status. Ever since she was a young girl in the Philippines, Beth Orozo had dreamed of working as a nurse in the United States. Growing up in a not-so-well- To-do family, Beth aspired to leave the Philippines in order to provide financial support to her parents. Since arriving in 1992, Beth has worked as a registered nurse in a convalescent hospital, which is the easiest avenue available for Philippine nursing graduates to enter the United States. Now earning much more than the average nurse, Beth works as a supervisor at a skilled nursing facility. On average, she works one hundred hours every two weeks, logging in overtime hours to increase her pay. Overall, she likes her life in the United States and feels proud that she can provide for her parents in the Philippines. However, her path to the United States was not an easy one. For one thing, it was made difficult by various examinations, the first being the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools, which she had to take two times, and the second being the State Nursing Board Examination of California. Having overcome these obstacles, Beth has been able to put to use the education she earned in the Philippines and describes her migratory experience as one of "success."2 The stories of Genny O' Connor and Beth Orozo are but two of the many different experiences of Asian immigrant women in the U.S. labor market. Post- 1965 Asian women migrants to the United States include professionals who correct the labor shortage in certain skilled professions, immigrant entrepreneurs who fill abandoned labor markets in declining urban economies, and workers who provide low-wage labor in service and decentralized manufacturing employment in global cities. The recent labor migration of Asian Pacific American women takes place in the context of global economic restructuring.3 This macrostructural process refers to the integration of national economies into a single global labor market. From advanced capitalist nations such as the United States to developing nations such as the Philippines, countries trade goods and services, export products to achieve a viable economy, and depend on multinational corporations and foreign direct investments to increase domestic production.4 This chapter situates the labor market experiences of recent Asian immigrant women in the globalization of the market economy. It examines three categories of workers-unskilled laborers, entrepreneurs, and professionals. In this chapter, I show that, each in their own way, these three groups of workers provide "cheap labor" to the U.S. economy-meaning, the costs of their labor are cheap acquisitions for U.S. society and/or the conditions of their employment are below prevailing labor standards. The shared experience of providing cheap labor should be underscored because it is a platform for coalition among diverse classes of immigrant Asian women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAsian American Studies Now
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Reader
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780813545745
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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