MANILA, Philippines -- Inday, the housemaid or “kasambahay,” is riding the airwaves.
Whether in e-mail, blog posts, Internet chats or text messages, she’s smart, spouts flowery English (even a little Spanish) -- and is keeping Filipinos here and abroad in stitches.
Inday’s “adventures” in and out of household service are threatening to be as widespread as the “Erap” and “Gloria” jokes.
She has morphed from the old promdi (from the province) ignorant of city life and entangled in a dalliance with the man of the house.
A web search showed one early post made at www.podcentral.ph late in August. It was titled “The Chronicles of Wonder Yaya” -- either a reference to the government’s “SuperMaid” skills training program for domestic helpers, or an imitation of the superhero themes of prime-time telenovelas.
In one joke, the employer asks Inday why her son has a bump on his head.
Inday replies: “Compromising safety with useless aesthetics, the not-so-well-engineered architectural design of our kitchen lavatory affected the boy’s cranium with a slight boil at the left temple near the auditory organ.”
Asked in another instance why the food she has cooked is salty, Inday says: “The consistency was fine. But you see, it seems that the increased amount of sodium chloride (NaCl) affected the taste drastically, and those actions are irreversible. I do apologize.”
Both the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a militant labor alliance, and the Visayas Forum Foundation (VFF), which is fighting the worldwide traffic in women, said there was nothing wrong with being amused by the jokes.
But the message behind the jokes is not funny and should make people pause and think, they said.
“These jokes are reflective of the long-standing low regard for our domestic workers,” said VFF deputy executive director Rolando Pacis. “While humor is appreciated once in a while, we must realize that it can also be an insidious medium for normalizing certain negative stereotypes.”
Pacis, however, said the VFF was angry because some mobile companies had been sending the jokes to their subscribers.
“Is it really unusual and amusing when domestic workers are [portrayed as] smart in the jokes? Is there a presupposition that they are ignorant? Are maids that inconsequential and incapable of any intelligent discussion?” he said.
Nenita “Ka Nitz” Gonzaga, KMU vice president for women’s affairs, said she thought the jokes were funny “because Inday has the most complex replies and even scientific explanations to simple questions, indicating that she is an erudite person.”
So what’s wrong?
The Inday jokes have elicited negative remarks in Internet discussion groups.
In the gay forum guys4men.com, one poster said he also found nothing funny in the jokes.
“Are we amazed that there’s a maid who speaks English?” he said. “Filipinos excel in jobs such as call center agents, domestic helpers, caregivers, nurses, etc. What’s wrong if we all try our mighty best to do that English thing?”
Overqualified for job
But how did Inday acquire her smarts and her English-speaking skills?
According to Gonzaga, Inday must have been a teacher.
Most of the chatters and blog posters agreed that Inday read the dictionary and probably her ward’s schoolbooks in her spare time.
In one joke, the poor employer tries to emulate Inday’s example by also reading the dictionary to improve his diction and grammar. He is left cussing when Inday replies in Spanish.
Gonzaga said that while Inday’s intelligence was “exaggerated,” it was not impossible to encounter intelligent maids because many of them, especially those working abroad, were degree holders or college undergraduates.
“Inday is overqualified for her job. In fact, intelligent Filipino maids working abroad often incite anger in their married female employers who are envious of them,” Gonzaga said.
Pacis pointed out that “in the first place, no kasambahay should suffer such indignity if society sent every one of them to school.”
“It is precisely the lack of education that pushes many young girls to come to the city from the province, hoping for a chance to work and study at the same time. Yet many employers continue to deny them this right to education,” he said.
Gonzaga said employers should not think that their maids were content to be maids forever.
“They are doing this for their families. Many maids also want to study, learn new talents, and take up training to improve their skills,” she said.
Gonzaga said what she also found funny was the way the employer -- presumed to be rich and educated -- would get unsettled by Inday’s replies.
“We think it’s funny because we believe a maid like Inday is impossible. But then, is there such a real person as Inday’s employer, who can tolerate her ways? In bourgeois households, any maid who is -- or tries to be -- more intelligent than the employer is sure to get fired,” Gonzaga said.