This International Women's Day we honor a fallen worker...
Today I woke up to hear bad news from my 8-year-old son, Russell. He had just finished eating breakfast at his grandmother's who lives in an adjoining apartment flat she had gotten a contractor to build beside our family home. Russell had a worried look on his face when he told me the news, but not before he asked where his mother was. Seeing the worry on his face I assured him that his mother was fine and was upstairs in our bedroom. Russell starts to tell me that Richard is with my mother and my daughter Loren and they were all crying when he left them. Melca Salvador, Richard's mom had just passed away after her long struggle with cancer. My mother had just visited her in the Montreal General Hospital yesterday.
My heart sank, even though we had been expecting this for some time now. Melca has been fighting this for years. She was a fighter and was not going down without a fight. Her last weeks were spent in the hospital. I could not see her. As a filmmaker, fellow collaborators and I had captured her fighting spirit in a short documentary a few years back. This is the way I remember her and it was truly hard for me to see her beaten and broken by cancer. It says much about how governments spend billions to wage war and to send their daughters and sons to die in foreign lands. Billions spent to bail out the banks but no same show to save women from breast cancer. There's only one way to describe this lunacy for me - capitalist barbarism!
I could only think about Richard and how he must be feeling. My mother must have received a phone call from the hospital while she prepared breakfast for her grandchildren and Richard.
I immediately felt the need to write everyone... all those who have supported Melca in the past. You see, Melca was a migrant worker who fought for the right to stay in Canada with her then 4 year old son, Richard. Richard was born in Canada while Melca was still under Canada's Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). As a Canadian born child, Richard had a right to stay in the only country he has ever known. Unfortunately, Melca having been pregnant with Richard during her LCP status was not able to work for some months and thus was not able to finish the requirements under the LCP. Under this program, to be able to apply for landed immigrant status, you need to have successfully finished 24 months of live-in work within a period of 3 years. Canada is now poised to remove the carrot on this stick and may soon institute temporary status for domestic workers without any chance of applying as landed immigrants. No doubt measures that are taken to tighten its borders during this time of economic downturn in this monopoly capitalist state.
I want to say something more about her character but I feel that words continue to elude me. I am afraid of doing her injustice but I will try and the reader will just have to excuse me...
Melca Salvador was a women pushed out of her country by a semi-feudal and semi-colonial state that wishes nothing to do with real development for the people. She was punished by the Canadian state for her reproductive capacity. She was a migrant worker exploited in Egypt and escaped authorities there when her legal status to stay expired and she left her then lover to come to Canada. She found out she was pregnant 2 months into an LCP contract and was fired. But even after giving birth and having worked for years contributing to the Canadian economy she was told to leave. She joined PINAY - the Filipino women's association in Quebec. With PINAY she joined rallies against Canadian mining practices in the Philippines, she worked to keep a transition home for women domestic workers out on their luck and she was elected as PINAY's vice-chairperson around the same year she got her deportation orders. With PINAY leading the charge, she and her fellow women, migrants, friends and supporters fought a hard battle for justice and won. She fought for herself, for other migrants who suffered in silence and for her son, Richard. Her deportation order was removed and she was allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds.
She was a proud fighter, another reason to say to my past - you had no right to beat me down, to tell me I am second class, to look down on me because I was different...
Melca Salvador came from the Philippines as I have. She came from a modest family who continues to struggle to survive. Growing up an immigrant kid in Canada I was made to feel lower than most as women, people of colour and migrant workers today are still made to feel lower than most. But in the eyes of the working people who struggle and link arms, we are the same. We are equals. It is among their ranks were I find solace, pride, dignity and justice.
Don't get me wrong, she was not perfect, but neither am I or anybody else for that matter. But all the things that did make her a good person are the things that make me want to be a better person. As corny as this sounds, the Melca Salvadors of this world make me want to be a better human being. And just by association, I already feel that I am.
After bringing Russell to school I came back home and walked to my mom's adjoining flat. I had to take my daughter Loren to her preschool as well. As I opened my mom's door I saw Richard sitting quietly and red-eyed on a kitchenette table. He looked up at me, averted his eyes and walked over to bury his face in the sofa cushions nearby. I felt guilty. I should have spent more time with him during these past few weeks. I should have gone with him when he went to visit his mom in the hospital. I shouldn't have been such a coward avoiding to face Melca, to face death. I kept saying to myself that I would go, I would go... until it is now too late. How can I make it up to Richard?
As I drove Loren to her school she asks me, "Why did tita Melca die?".
How could I explain this to my five year old? "She died fighting cancer sweetheart," I simply said.
"And why was she fighting all the time?" she strikes back. I paused not knowing where to go with this.
"She fought so that you wouldn't have to. So that you can grow up with dignity." After tackling this situation in a matter-o-fact way I thought I would just continue. Of course I would have to pay for it.
"What's dignity?" the little voice in the back seat asked.
Looking back at her through the rear-view mirror I answered, "It's what you see in my eyes when I look at you, what you feel when mommy and I hug you and show you that we love you."
"Oh that's what it means," she said innocently, "I will fight too."
Pure innocent logic!
And so will I my darling. Melca's struggle for justice did not end with the staying of her deportation order. To honor the memory of Melca Salvador and to ensure that I make it up somehow to Richard, I will do my part to continue this fight. And so should we all...
For this International Women's Day we honor a fallen worker and call for:
Justice for Melca Salvador!
Justice for all women! Justice for all!
Onward with the struggle!
Makibaka! Wag matakot!
BAYAN-Canada National Organizing Committee
BAYAN-Canada is a national alliance of progressive and anti-imperialist Filipino organizations
NOTE: Joey is also a member of the Centre d'appui aux Philippines - Centre for Philippine Concerns