To celebrate their golden anniversary, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) re-staged the award-winning musical hit “Care Divas,” a story about five gay Filipinos working as caregivers in Israel and doing drag shows as a sideline.
Without divulging much of the plot, let me attempt to explain why you should watch ‘Care Divas’ and take away with it hopefully a renewed sense of migration.
We now live in the Trump era of extreme nationalism, of drawing up demarcation lines of who belongs to where, of institutional bans against religions, and systemic harassment against race. This may just be the most important conversation we’ll ever have, and as a country who sends millions of its people to most parts of the world, it is crucial that we join this debate.
‘Care Divas’ gives important notes, many of them a fresh perspective on the decades-old narrative of the Filipino diaspora.
The story revolves around five characters, each having their own quirks: Chelsea is the optimistic one, she is happy with her job, and loves her employer dearly. Shai is jaded, but persistent. She doesn’t necessarily see their world in Israel in the same rose-tinted glasses as Chelsea, but she faces her days head-on. Kayla is idealistic and naive. She is tormented by her labor conditions, but gripped with fear to be sent home. Thalia is ditsy, Jonee is ill-tempered, but both provide reliefs, whether comic or dramatic, to a story so packed with a lot of things to say.
To state it straight, Care Divas is a funny show, as what you would expect from a play with five gay stars. The song numbers are amazing, and the banters are quick-witted, but within these light scenes are remarks that beg to ask a lot of questions about politics, history and culture.
For one they tackle religion. The play gives us a glimpse of how homosexuality fits into the Jewish faith, tickling our minds with a tangled tale of Judaism, Catholicism, liberal values and how they would intertwine in the times we live in now, where same-sex marriage is legal in 21 countries.
In a major subplot, the play also dives into the issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict and how it affects their citizens on the labor front. For a moment it took away the tense cover of hostile relations and attempted to tell the story of a simple individual with simple aspirations, only that the circumstances are warring ideologies and fatal politics.
A contrast to the Israel-Palestine conflict is the Israel-Philippines friendship. The two countries have special relations. During the World War II, when every country was closing its doors to Jews wanting to escape the nazi regime, it was President Manuel L. Quezon who opened the Philippines to more than a thousand Jewish families, granting them visas and allotting lands for them where they could settle and rebuild their lives.
Israel was also able to separate from Palestine thanks to President Manuel Roxas’ tie-breaker vote at the United Nations. In return to a rich history of camaraderie, Israel officials have always promised to take care of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in their country.
However, as you will see in the play, not everyone is taken care of.
Policies are important, and good diplomatic relations between two states go a long way, but when you encounter the bad trees in an otherwise perfect forest, the forest begins to feel strange, and then dangerous.
One scene shows Kayla complaining that her employer is taking advantage of her undocumented status, badmouthing the Israeli which got on Shai’s nerves as the latter believes it takes a lifetime to show gratitude for the people who employed them.
“Tayo ang naghuhugas ng puwet nila,” (We are the ones who wash their bottoms) says Kayla.
“Pero sila ang nagbabayad sa atin,” (But they are the ones who pay us) Shai retorts.
The scene raises the question: who does migration benefit? The migrants who earn a living, or the society who earns precious human resource?
Given the challenges that confront our immigrants all over the world, the question becomes delicate. We wouldn’t want to pit people against one another and highlighting a false sense of pride that only creates vitriol.
And look where false sense of pride and vitriol have taken us: refugees are being refused to board planes, or are being prohibited to cross the counters in airports, creating bigger rifts in families who have gone through enough in one lifetime.
But it also does not do us good to stop asking the question completely. Filipinos are a good example of that.
In that question, we have always been on the grateful side, crediting other countries not just for the well-being of our families but also the economy of our country.
So it gives us something to ponder on – should we be Shai, or should we be Kayla? How do we reconcile our being grateful, but also, for once, being proud of our hard work and believing that we earned what we were paid, and that we deserve better.
Our history of labor export has wired us to always feel indebted to the country which adopted us. That we owe them all we have. That we should forever be thankful. While that is a trait that speaks wonderfully of us as a people, over the years, it has shrunk our confidence over what we can do.
Filipinos overseas are largely underemployed but there is not a single institutional response to this because as a country we look at the statistic of Filipino migrants and say: Good for them, they have jobs.
We refuse to go a step further and ask: are these jobs that we deserve?
For us, it should redefine our aspirations and develop a new kind of self-belief that we could do more. We will be thankful, we will be humble yes, but we should be asking for more, not because we are entitled to it, but because we have earned it.
For other countries, especially those who employ us, it should give them something to think about, best said in the line of the compassionate Israeli employer, a mentality that would take us far if only all of us believed it:
“We should not demolish their dreams, just so we could build ours.”
Care Divas was funny, touching, entertaining and creatively satisfying all at the same time.
But the words it tried to say, the questions it tried to ask, the poignant moments that gave us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves, our families and our countries, are what made Care Divas not only important, but necessary.
Catch Care Divas at the PETA Theater Center on E.Rodriguez Avenue in New Manila from February 3 to March 19. For tickets, call 0917-840-0943.
PROMO!!! 20% OFF on the 8PM show of #CAREDIVAS this February 14 at PETA Theater! Just text the code “SUBSELFIE” + the number of tickets you want to buy at 0917-562-5050! More details here: http://i.subselfie.com/2lGXhuw
[Entry 200, The SubSelfie Blog]
Lian Nami Buan is the Managing Director and the European Bureau Chief of SubSelfie.com. She also leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She is a multimedia reporter for the social news network Rappler covering the Justice beat. Before that she was a news producer for GMA News for six years. She wants to be able to cover more stories on migration, a topic close to her heart. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.