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Book, art exhibits shine spotlight on Bacani’s life as 2nd generation migrant worker

03 December 2018

Doing the ribbon cutting to open the exhibit were (l to r)  Xysa's parents Villamor and Georgia, Katherine Louie,
Xyza, Consul General Antonio Morales, curator Melissa Lee and Wanchai DC member Yolanda Ng

By Daisy CL Mandap

Award-winning photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani retraces her steps as a former migrant domestic worker in the book, ‘We Are Like Air” which was launched at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wanchai on Nov. 30.

To put emphasis on how personal the book is, 31-year-old Bacani attended the launch with her parents, Villamor and Georgia Bacani, who she said were attending her first art exhibit together for the first time – and a brother.

Also present was Katherine Louey, Xyza’s former employer, whom she called as “the most important person” and “biggest influence” in her life.

It was Louey, said Bacani, who virtually pushed her out of her house - and Hong Kong - so she would take up the Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice fellowship at New York University when it was offered to her in 2015.

After reading about the scholarship offer in a newspaper article, Louey reportedly told Bacani, “You’re fired!” just so the reluctant maid, who had been in her employ for 10 years, would accept the offer.

That short stint in New York City opened many more doors for Bacani so that she now fondly refers to Louey as the one who changed the fortune of “the future generations of the Bacanis.”

Xyza's photos of migrant women in action, captions by her mother Georgia

But the book - and the photos in the accompanying exhibit – tell more the story of Bacani’s mother, Georgia, and the more than 200,000 Filipino women working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

Bacani titled the book “We Are Like Air” in reference to migrant domestic workers who she said are important yet are often invisible.

The photos she took provide a glimpse into how migrant workers live- from when they first arrived at their employer’s home, the numerous letters they sent to their family, finding love and raising a family in Hong Kong, to protesting for their rights.
Collage of migrant memorabilias: letter to home, work contracts and visas, family pictures and religious images

Part of the art installation was a narrow bed in a corner above which two shirts are hung, signifying the small space often given to domestic workers in their employer’s home.

A collage of photos on a wall show various migrant workers at work or on their days off, with the description for each written by Georgia, who left home in the 1990s to provide a better life for her husband-farmer and three young children, the eldest of whom is Xyza.

Among about 100 guests who attended the launch were Consul General Antonio A. Morales, representatives from the U.S. consulate, the Wanchai District Council, and the sponsors, WYNG Media Award (WMA).

The book launch and opening of the photo exhibit were the first in a series of activities for Bacani’s new project which she created as part of the WMA Commission in 2016-2017.

On Dec. 2, the domestic workers’ group, Guhit Kulay, hosted an art jam at the Centre, and on Dec. 9, Bacani will hold a book-signing session at the newsstand in front of World Wide House, the favorite go-to place of Filipino migrant workers on their off days.

On Dec. 16, Bacani will be joined in a forum by renowned journalist Sheila Coronel, academic dean of Columbia University’s Journalism School, and one of her mentors in NYC.

Among Bacani’s numerous achievements is having a resolution at the Philippine House of Representatives passed in her honor. She is also one of Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leaders in 2018, a Pulitzer Prize grantee and an Open Society Moving Walls grantee in 2017. In 2015 she was named among BBC’s 100 Women of the World, and as one of 30 Under 30 Women Photographers in 2016.


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