I was touched by Octavia Spencer’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday as she mentioned Dr.King and domestic help.
Said Spencer: “…with regard to domestics in this country now and then, I think Dr. King said it best – all labor that uplifts humanity has diginity and importance. And I thank you for recognizing that with our film.”
Yes, all work has value. But why do certain people of certain races end up with the domestic jobs? I suppose that’s the indomitable spirit that we celebrate. Some people just won’t take the jobs we will. That’s the way it’s always been. But as Spencer talked of domestics, past and present, she didn’t really touch on the main difference among the help these days.
Like everything else, the help is a lot more diverse, with fewer American domestics. And a whole lot more immigrants.
In the 1900s, the help tended to be European immigrants and blacks from the South.
But nowadays, immigrants from around the world dominate, especially from Asia (most often the Philippines), Mexico and Latin America. And when it comes to the blacks, they aren’t from urban places or from the rural south. They’ve been replaced predominately by Caribbean immigrants.
The old South is just that, a dated notion of “the help” as nostalgic as “Gone with the Wind.”
The modern version would be a lot different movie. The help? It’s Filipino or Latino definitely. They could have Salma Hayek play the part. The Filipina songstress Lea Salonga could do it on Broadway.
Recently, I went to a party at a college acquaintance’s home in San Francisco. I was the only non-white guest in the crowd. It was strange how I actually had more in common with the help than I did with the guests.
The help was a Filipino family that cooked and cleaned and worked for my college friend. They reminded me of my relatives.
When they saw me, they knew not to fraternize. I said a word or two I knew in Tagalog, but they were total professionals who never broke character. They knew their place. This wasn’t a Filipino family party.
To them, I suppose I might have been a sign of progress. A Filipino American on tonight’s guest list. How often does that happen?
But I looked at them all night hard at work and saw the opposite. Yes, all labor uplifts and all that. Dr. King was right. But we were just an update of another kind of continuum.
The past was present, alive and well, with still much work to be done for us all.