Maintaining Family Relationship and Responsibility
Without a doubt, the most prominent role of ICTs for Asian migrant women, especially those who are married and with children, is the maintenance of family relationships and responsibilities. In most cases migrant mothers maintain the responsibility of nurturing their children by resorting to transnational mothering that is defined as the organizational reconstitution and rearrangement of motherhood to accommodate the temporal and spatial separations forced by migra- tion.20 Transnational moms, often described as “supermoms” by their children, do not only reconstitute mothering by providing acts of care from afar but also by overcompensating for their physical absence. “In sharp contrast to migrant fathers who reduce their relationship with children to monthly remittances, mothers personalize their ties” by making “regular communication part of the weekly routine of transnational family life.”21
Calling is the most popular means of communication of Asian migrant mothers with their families. There are the women migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong who are dubbed as the “cell phone mothers” because they literally help their children do their homework via the mobile phone. Some send not only letters and material gifts regularly but also “daily bread” for their children in the form of biblical messages sent via SMS to their children every morning. One interesting case is that of a migrant mother who never failed for more than ten years to call her three children at three o’clock every Sunday afternoon (sometimes three times a week, especially if a child is sick), plans the menu for the week, and gives advice on school projects, aside from keeping abreast of what’s happening to her children inside and outside the school.22 Such experience highlights not only the reinforcement of gendered oppression but also the fragility of spatially-fractured family relations, especially as far as women are concerned.
Rufina Alcanzo’s study of migrant Filipino teachers in the United States, who are also mothers, vividly illustrates the critical role of ICTs in combating loneliness, isolation and hardships related to the need or obligation to nurture family relationship and responsibility. Alcanzo’s study particularly sheds light on the case of newly-arrived women migrants who had left their immediate family behind. ICTs, particularly mobile phones, internet chat rooms and teleconferencing, as well as social networking sites are lifelines for these mothers. Lisa’s constant phone calls to her son enabled her to be knowledgeable about what was going on with him and did not, apparently, make him feel that there was a significant break in his attachment with his mother.23 Computer-savvy Maya was basically communicating every day with her husband and three children through Skype that enables her to see them and talk to them on her laptop screen. Maya maintained that seeing them everyday even on a computer screen reminded her of her purpose in coming to work in the US.24 Maya also resorted to constantly monitoring what’s going on in her teenage children’s Facebook page,25 particularly her daughter Anna’s Facebook activities to make sure she knows what’s going on in her life.
Laptops or personal computers are usually the more common and most preferred means of communication for these migrant mothers in the US because they can afford to buy these gadgets with their considerable salaries and because of the various free, more direct, and face-to-face ways with which these communication technologies allow them to connect with their loved ones. That is why Carmen was very happy when she was able to buy her own laptop because it saved her from buying phone cards to communicate with her family. For Carmen and the other women it did not matter if they had to stay up late at night because of the time difference between the US and the Philippines. Seeing and talking to their husbands and children made it all worthwhile.26 At the end of the day, the moral economy of kinship still takes the highest priority.