Bearing Witness

The response to my poem “Mail Order Bride” in the April edition of Meritage Press' "Babaylan Speaks" has been very positive (thank you!) and I’m reminded to note that an earlier flash fiction version of the poem was published by the Katipunan Literary Magazine through the University of Hawaii. The piece was originally inspired by a talk given by representatives of Gabriela at a Women of Color conference I attended in 2000.

Before the conference, I had romanticized ideas of mail order brides – he’s the tough but kind trailblazer, likely living in the wilds of Alaska, where few women dare to go; she’s the equally tough but beautiful adventurer willing to take a gamble on a guy she’s only met through letters. It was startling to hear of mail order brides as basically legitimized sex workers, left vulnerable to the ‘romanticized’ ideas men in First World countries. Perhaps it worked out for some, but in too many cases, these women forfeited their happiness, safety, and lives to a system ‘overlooked’ by many governing agencies.

I was appalled today to find a *helpful guide* that provides all the information needed to secure a Filipina, complete with basically a ‘what to expect when you’re expecting a Filipina Bride’ section. *shudder*

It is easy to point to these ‘johns’ and say ‘shame on you!’ but in that moment of reduction, a blind eye can be turned away from the issues that allow this system to persist. Economic inequalities, outright imperialist attitudes, and Hollywood comedy romances that entertain us with their high concept films based on ‘dating services’ all add to a cultural tolerance, and sometimes cultural encouragement, toward this type of ‘matchmaking.’ The complexity can be dizzying to unravel – I know I’ve only touched on the barest facets of the issue – and the cure is not easy to come by.

In the meantime, though, there are those faceless thousands of women from the Philippines to the Ukraine, willingly putting themselves in harms way with the hope and prayer they can make life better for themselves, their families and their children as yet unborn. Sometimes bearing witness is all we can do.


Ernesto said...

I enjoyed your piece on Babaylan Speaks very much. Congratulations.

IMO, the borders between fiction, poetry and autobiography (or memoir) need to be challenged. In my view, that certain individuals ("minorities" in a "greater" language, if you will, thinking of Deleuze & Guattari on Kafka) decide to write is already a political act; one implying an act of remembrance, an exercise of memory. I think this is what you are doing as well. Keep up the excellent work!

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...


Thank you for reading my poem and for your thoughts. I also believe that any act of art by a member of the alternative (as opposed to dominant) is an act of protest too, political in nature, but I sometimes forget to acknowledge that.

As far as border challenging, I am of two minds - yes, I think that the borders between the genres need to be challenged, but at the same time, not being able to pinpoint and author or piece of work as *fill in the blank* makes it hard to find when doing a general search for work. But I'm learning to be uncomfortable with not knowing everything. *wink*

Hope we can keep in touch!

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...


I wanted to send you a message about your poem too, but couldn't find a link.

I was really taken by the looping effect your poem took on, with the 'I' looking at itself. These were the most powerful lines for me:

thought I:
poetry is received:

is never
given away free.

Thank you for sharing!

Ernesto said...

Thank you for your kind words, Rebecca.

My blog is at http://neverneutral.blogspot.com

You can email me at
ernestopriegor AT yahoo DOT com