Blog #2: When in Woodside

When you’re in Woodside, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the environment – bustling, vibrant, lively. Even in the most seemingly worn out corners of the neighbourhood there are definite signs of life. 

Having observed my ecology for a few weeks now, I continue to be amazed and fascinated by the minutiae of detail that surrounds me. Funnily enough, to a cultural outsider, some of the establishments that line Roosevelt Avenue may seem repetitive and somewhat homogenous. But upon closer inspection, one realizes the plethora of cultures that actually occupy these spaces. From the Colombian bodega on the corner, to the Bangladeshi electronic shop, to the Himalayan restaurant, to a Filipino fast food chain. My project focuses on the Filipino community here, but it would be a mistake not to recognize that it does not exist in a vacuum – each ethnic group in Woodside brings their own significance in creating the cultural, societal makeup of the neighbourhood. Understanding this only aids in the study of my community and their place right here in Woodside. 

A zoom in into what kinds of establishments cater to Filipinos can somewhat a guide in understanding the community. One such establishment that pops up often are the remittance and shipping centers, in addition to restaurants and cafés. An issue of great importance to many Filipino migrants is economic stability. Finding work abroad has become so ubiquitous in contemporary Filipino society that 10% of the national GDP comes from overseas remittances. This trend continues in New York City, exemplified by these centers. Though seemingly cold and uninviting in aesthetic and design, they actually act as one of the lifebloods of the Filipino migrant community, being where Filipinos in New York can somewhat connect to their home – this money is how their families eat, how their kids go to school and buy books, how their parents buy medicine, how their nephews and nieces go to university. Filipino society does not cluster itself into nuclear family units as in the United States – all extended family are treated as immediate family. These centers are crucial in the sustaining of this balance and wellbeing. It was fascinating talking about this with Filipinos from Woodside itself over merienda, or afternoon snack (though in usual Filipino fashion, we each had full rice meals!).

I am not trying to homogenize the Filipino family experience, however. Each family is different, Filipino or not. Nevertheless, certain consistencies remain. This was an interesting observation I made when I visited the home of a community organizer I met. To start, his parents reminded me of many Filipino parents back home – it is to be noted that they grew up in the Philippines, moving here in the late 80s. His dad, clad in a white tank top on the couch – like a scene out of a Filipino telenovela. His mother welcomed me with the familiar phrase “have you eaten?”, Filipino code for “How are you?”. What struck me upon entrance was the sheer mass of things inside the home, from bulk cereals and cans of soup in the corner of the kitchen, to bags of oranges on the dining table, where there was almost no counter space left to place my phone. It was most definitely a house well lived-in, and thus there was a comfort in being there. Yet it all felt so foreign to me, as much of this project has. 

One of the most impactful moments in this journey so far was the other day when I was able to meet with an actual victim of human trafficking. I had been connected with her daughter previously, who was very kind to let me interview her mother in their house. Their basement apartment was very quaint, well furnished – it didn’t have the hallmarks of what one would consider the home of a trafficking “victim”, or course a flawed assumption in the first place. But her story was extraordinary. Brought to the US as a hotel housekeeper, she suffered contractual abuse from her employers, who forced her to pay so many “fees” to ensure her status and wellbeing that it drove her almost into complete debt. Eventually, these systems led her to becoming undocumented, only to regain her papers by obtaining a T-Visa, a visa reserved for victims of human trafficking. As she recounted her own journey, she was steady and confident, remembering even the most minute detail and name from years past. For people like her this is crucial, as they would be doubted and thus cast aside without this. When it comes to immigration, applicants are not given the benefit of the doubt. She now works on the side at Migrante as a paralegal, hoping to help those whose fell prey to the same scams and injustices. It was an eye-opening evening, and one that got me so excited to hear even more stories and learn from and about them. 

– Mickey Santana

~ by Mickey Santana on March 3, 2019.

4 Responses to “Blog #2: When in Woodside”

  1. Best overall: your photos, dialogue and observations give the reader a very clear and affective understanding of the community you are experiencing. In both this post and your first one, I appreciate how you not only describe the community to us but also give your honest perspective and call out what you are still learning yourself.

  2. This was my favorite post overall because of the way you describe “not trying to homogenize the Filipino family experience.” It’s important that you are acknowledging your own experience, and that of each family you interview are all different yet there is still a feeling of community through your candid photography.

  3. Best Overall – I feel your proximity yet distance through this post. The intimate setting you’re in and interviews you receive are juxtaposed with the distance that the camera lens provides. Furthermore, the pictures bring warmth through the use of people, the colors, etc. and it feels like community through those choices.

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