Global Poverty or Globalization?


root - Posted on 26 February 2002

PNN staff writer reflects on the new documentary, Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy

by PNN staff

"I have the best amma in Hong Kong," he snickered from behind glazed eyes. The imported German beer resting on the shiny bar cost him $8 US and took him 20 minutes to drink. Angela cost him $1 US and it took her three hours to clean his apartment.

Amma is ex-patriot slang for a Filipino person who migrates to Hong Kong and cleans for pennies. This term is used until the employer creates a cute nickname, which comes only after amma proves devotion. The employer then believes s/he is getting the best bargain from the best amma and can gloat over their find at the local pub with a complete stranger.

Amma is also used to refer to a shipping bag, which is made in the Philippines and easy to come by in Hong Kong. It’s cheap, durable, and can be found for sale on every corner. The amma bag comes in several different sizes and I have seen it used to carry everything from dirty laundry to bricks.

He took another sip of his beer and told me the story of how he found Angela, whom else she cleans for, and how much extra she does for him because she is so grateful for his generosity. He had finally secured reliable maid-service in Hong Kong, the small island that houses corporate Asia.

Millions of people are forced to cross international borders every year looking for work. Free trade has left many small businesses obsolete, and corporations continue to move around the globe in search of cheap labor. People are now forced to sell their labor on an international market, which often takes them far from their homelands, pays little, and ensures the success of globalization, the very force behind the vicious cycle tearing down small businesses and raping laborers with dwindling wages. This demographic shift is not ideal for those doing the shifting, and has invited to the otherwise positive political spin on Globalization much-needed skepticism.

In theory, globalization means we are all dependent on each other. What we do (or abstain from doing) may influence the conditions of life (or death) of people in places we will never visit and generations we will never know. Although aware of global effects, most definitions I have read concerning this universal concept exclude the word responsibility.

Angela wears lipstick and a smile everyday. On Sunday she wears her good shoes and visits family and friends. In Hong Kong, Sunday fills the streets with Filipinos playing chess, cards, smoking, laughing, praying and eating. "It’s Sunday," my host explained to me, "They don’t work on Sundays." I later learned most Filipino immigrants do not have homes of their own, and residents let them take to the streets one day a week. I saw a rose-cheeked woman serve an entire meal out of an amma bag. She and her family spread a blanket on the sidewalk in front of a 7 Eleven.

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) recently addressed this issue in a documentary called Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy. The idea that our corporate globe creates immigration and intensifies inequality left concerned viewers pondering familiar questions in a new light. For instance, global interdependence might mean a Bolivian engineer must vacate his land because free trade policy ruined his country’s economy. He and his wife are now janitors in the US. Or how one can hire an amma at an insulting salary, just slightly more than she makes at home but not enough to make her mobile, and therefor perpetuate her already poverty-stricken global status?

Many countries cannot feed their people due to global trade policies, and global labor wages insure that the people, in return, will not be able to feed their country. Thus, poverty prevails and the streets become home to many more. Considering the idea of interdependence, and listening to our world leaders promote a global economy, it appears that poverty is not just a local problem. As Americans, 5% of the world’s population consuming 75% of the world’s resources, this realization is paramount in understanding how we influence the conditions of life (or death) of people in places we will never visit and generations we will never know. The poverty we have created at home pales in comparison to the poverty we have created abroad.

Marcella suffers from global poverty. Like Angela, the Philippine government encouraged her to work abroad as a domestic laborer in order to pay the international debt accumulated after years of living under a corrupt government. Ironically, this former government, who stripped the Islands of their wealth, has found sweet welcome mats in the US.

When it becomes necessary for people to immigrate to wealthier nations in search of opportunity, they find themselves serving the materialistic culture behind globalization. In the instance of a Filipino immigrating to the US, not only is the culture behind globalization giving him/her a job, but the very Philippine government who raped their economy in the name of free trade is having lunch with the US president. One would be hard-pressed to sell the idea of global economics and free trade to this person.

Marcella lives in New York City and makes $2.20 an hour. She has long dark hair and thick legs; her family lives 15 hours away by plane. Her employer will not pay her minimum wage, leaving her the option to look for another job or go back home. Neither option promises a better standard of living, she remains in his service. Marcella sends half of every paycheck home, and keeps up on the latest additions to Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection.

My host finished his second pint and ordered another. Angela no longer dominated the conversation. He went on to explain, in tedious detail, currency rates and the global need for shipping containers. The world could not survive without the shipping container. Everything that is designed in France is flown to China, where it’s manufactured then taken by train to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong the vessels are loaded onto ships and sent all over the world, where trucks meet them, unload the cargo, and the cycle of capitalism continues, delivering Coca Cola to local 7-11’s.

I listened to his thought-out shipping hypothesis; he breathed life and respect into the large metal boxes, and gladly pays insane amounts of money to purchase whatever comes out of them. His third German beer sweats cold rings onto the once-shiny bar, and the Irish Pub sitting at the dark end of Hong Kong’s Queen Victoria Harbor shut off its lights.

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