I had a college friend who was one of the headturners around campus. She’s no stunning beauty, but there is substance between the eyes. She found college life (to be precise, college life at THAT university, as everyone does) hard, daunting, and unforgiving. Like the others, she incurred failing grades on her very first semester; she was candidate to become an out-of-school youth if the university wishes. She shifted to an associate degree to make things easier. It was not so.
It did not help that she had family problems. She seemed cheerful enough, but as one quote says, “Laughter masks a lonely heart.” I guess her family problems complicated her college difficulties.
Before I left the university, she seemed to be on the way out. Then I had found out that she had left the university for good, beset with problems, with a bad experience from an uncaring university. I used to fear for her life, for herself. She seemed to be frail, weak, exploitable.
Then I got a letter from her. Datelined from a province, she said she went there to take stock of her life, and to explore her options. One of her options: to be a Japayuki.
(We Filipinos invented the term Japayuki as euphemism for any job that moralists among us deem as undesirable. The term is specific for Filipinas who work in Japan as hostesses. When the Brunei scandal broke out, a variation of the term was invented – Bruneiyuki.)
Several years later, she wrote me a long letter, relating her life in Japan. It was not easy, she said, but she was surviving. At least she had control over her life, and not prostituted to the whims and fancies of family members and poverty. She was earning more than she could ever earn from a desk job in Manila. Attached in the letter was a picture: there she was, in full make up, wearing a dress that your grandmother would not approve of.
Last year, she managed to visit the country. She was a changed woman, physically and emotionally. For one, she looked matronly. But her smile remained the same, her laughter retained the jolliness of the late 1990s. I had to risk being awake for more than 24 hours just to visit her and catch up on old times. What surprised me is the strength of character that showed when I saw her – as if the storms of life has toughened her.
She is now married to a Japanese, she said. Life is still tough, the husband’s family can’t accept her yet, but she took things in stride. Her family life has changed. She adores her younger brother, and she dotes on him. She probably sees in him the lost innocence of college life. She supports her family, like any other overseas Filipino worker.
I asked her about the stigma of being a Japayuki. What stigma, she retorted. She doesn’t care; what the society says can’t feed her. She’s glad that she is not a burden to the country, she’s happy to be a loving wife to a Japanese husband, she’s happy because she can support her family here. She is proud to be a Filipina and a Japayuki. The hell with stigma and moralists, she said with strong conviction.
As I left her house that day, all of my misconceptions and preconceptions were shattered. She has proven to me what a true Filipina is – proud of her country, proud of herself, strong, independent. She made me proud to be a Filipino.
Listen to a recording of this post, read by AJ Matela (thanks, AJ!):