Sinabunutan niya ako habang ako’y nagluluto at initsa niya ako sa labas ng bahay.” (He yanked me by the hair while I was cooking and dragged me out of the house.) - Statement to the police officer investigating a 911 call.
Nearly every week I interpret disturbing accounts of fellow Filipinas being assaulted physically or verbally by their American husbands. Although domestic violence occurs in all socio-economic classes, races and ethnicities, immigrant wives are especially vulnerable. Unfamiliar with U.S. laws, most women rely on their husbands to file papers with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to acquire permanent residency and eventual citizenship. But that doesn’t happen unless they stay married through the first two years of conditional residency.
An abusive husband can do a lot of damage in two years.
Many immigrant survivors of domestic violence describe how their husbands threatened to divorce them and have them deported, while retaining custody of their children. Consequently many of them stay, and endure verbal and physical assault.
“Hindi niya ako pinayagang magtrabaho, kaya wala akong pera, kundi yung sukling nahanap ko sa pantalon tuwing naglalaba ako.” (He wouldn’t let me work, so I had no money apart from the small change I found in his pockets while doing the laundry.) - Intake interview with a social worker.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV.org) estimates that between 94-99% of domestic violence survivors have experienced economic abuse, in which a husband forbids his wife from getting a job and controls all the family finances. This is a prime reason why women stay or return to their abusive husbands: they literally cannot afford to leave.
“Tinuro niya yung isang sulok ng hardin. Doon raw niya ako ililibing ‘pag pinatay niya ako.”(He pointed to the corner of the garden. That’s where he said he’d bury me after he killed me.) - Statement to a county sheriff.
Far too often domestic violence survivors are murdered just as they are about to escape their husbands, as was the tragic fate of Susana Blackwell. The 21-year-old mail-order bride was eight months pregnant when her husband Timothy shot her and two Filipina friends, as they waited in the courthouse hallway for divorce proceedings to commence.
Timothy Blackwell was subsequently found guilty of first-degree murder for the deaths of all three women, and manslaughter for Susana’s unborn child.
Susana’s death, in addition to the murder of another mail-order bride, Anastasia Solovieva-King eventually led Congress to enact the Federal International Marriage Broker regulation Act in 2005, which requires background checks be performed for all marriage visa sponsors and puts a limit on serial visa applications.
If only one law could solve the problem.
Today mail-order brides continue to leave the Philippines in droves seeking love and happiness with men they barely know. These brokered marriages have now become so ubiquitous that they have piqued the interest of mainstream America. On Wednesday last week, NBC announced it was developing the sitcom “Mail Order Family.” The comedic premise centered on an American widower buying a Filipina mail-order bride to help raise his teenaged daughters.
The news of this sitcom generated a flurry of protest from the Asian American and Filipino American community, with nearly 15,000 signatures gathered on various change.org petitions, censure from blogs like Angry Asian Man and a feature on Balitang America: http://www.balitangamerica.tv/the-mango-bride-author-slams-nbc-for-filipino-mail-order-bride-sitcom/
Late Friday afternoon, NBC announced its retreat from the project. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/mail-order-family-comedy-pitch-prompts-backlash-will-not-be-n657611?cid=sm_fb This three day turnaround is certainly cause for celebration, proving that even a major network will back down when enough people come together to protest racist portrayals in the media.
Nevertheless the work continues.
Soon after posting congratulatory messages on social media and thanking those who’d signed the petition, I remembered hearing about 90 Day Fiancee, a reality show airing on TLC. Heart sinking, I watched a clip from one episode that stars Nikki, a19-year-old Filipina and her 58-year-old boyfriend, Mark: http://www.thewrap.com/90-day-fiance-nikki-mark-tlc-kids-exclusive-video-not-normal/
The show is in its fourth season.
For this story, details have been altered or left out to protect the women’s identities.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please visit http://ncadv.org/ for more information, and learn how a friend or relative in an abusive relationship can get the help she or he needs.
Marivi Soliven's 17th book, The Mango Bride won the 2011 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize. She initiated the Saving Beverly campaign to raise funds for community organizations that offer services to immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
(Photo by Dawn Ellison)