preface
It was a gorgeous afternoon in the summer of 1999. I had just finished my
fieldwork in Taiwan and returned to Chicago for dissertation writing. Feel-
ing overwhelmed by organizing piles of interview transcripts, I took a
break to do the laundry. My neighborhood was a racially mixed area where
Mexican vendors sold snacks on the street but newly renovated condo-
miniums near the lake shore were attracting growing numbers of yuppie
residents. While I was walking to the laundromat at the street corner, a
middle-aged white man passing by tossed me a question: ‘‘Do you know
anybody who can take care of my mom?’’ Hit by this out-of-the-blue in-
quiry, I stood there, confused, speechless, and then humiliated and angry.
It reminded me of the moment experienced by Audre Lorde in 1967: She
wheeled her two-year-old daughter in a shopping cart through a super-
market in New York. A little white girl riding past in her mother’s cart
called out excitedly, ‘‘Oh, look, Mommy, a baby maid!’’
The historical legacy of racialized domestic service remains, only in-
volving expanding sources of labor supply and multilayered divisions of
labor in the contemporary world. I crossed the Pacific Ocean to pursue a
degree endorsed by the Western academia, while many women and men
from Southeast Asia are working in Taiwan as domestic or construction
workers to improve the welfare of their families. My study on international
labor migration generated from my academic interest and political con-
cern, but it had also resonated with my personal experiences. I had never
studied race and migration until these topics became an ingrained part of
my life. The terms ‘‘women of color’’ and ‘‘migrant worker’’ describe the
lives not only of Indonesians and Filipinas in Taiwan but also mine in the
United States. I became a ‘‘Third World woman’’ after landing on the alien
continent of a racialized landscape. I struggled to perfect my English
accent so that American students could not find excuses to complain about
me as their foreign teaching assistant. These parallel trajectories indicate
the very hierarchical order of globalization, which constrains as well as
enables our agency and desire. Despite the diversity in destination and
purpose, people’s movements across borders have become a primary nar-
rative of identity formation and a critical site of power struggle.
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