USA: Filipinos ready for sex talk, say

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Linda Nietes, with mike, introduces the resource speakers, from left: Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu and Dr. Rhacel Salazar Parrenas.

Words and Photos by : Dionesio C. Grava
First posted in

LOS ANGELES — A book talk about sexuality offered insight to an aspect of Filipino culture that is rarely mentioned in a public setting. The event held August 4 at the Echo Park Branch Library in West Temple Street also gave rise to questions about the social cost of migration leaving children behind, the extent of premarital sex especially among Filipino teens, sex workers working overseas and whether or not the Filipino society is now ready for the kind of public discussion of an otherwise taboo subject.

In her presentation Dr. Rhacel Salazar Parrenas criticized the mislabeling of entertainers as sex workers by the US Dept. of State not only because it is erroneous but also “because it  hinders their opportunity to work outside the country.”

Dr. Parrenas discussed her study of Filipina hostesses, otherwise known as Japayukis, in Japan,. She also touched on the issues of male and transgender sex workers. She said that contrary to popular belief a sex worker doesn’t necessarily have sex in connection with her/his work.

Dr. Celine Parreñas Shimizu is an author and filmmaker. Her lecture was about sexuality and its representation in the movies. Instead of calling the images of Asian Americans in media by their stereotyped appellations, she said that “I want to look at these images, question them and see how they’re active, how they inform the world, how we can change them. The images are very much contentious, the images are pictures that provide vocabulary to talk about issues in our society. So we need to be able to criticize them, discuss them and unfreeze them so we an better understand them.”

The US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.

According to the 2011 report of the Attorney General, an estimated 14,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, although it admits that accurate statistics are difficult to compile. Victims are largely from Thailand, India, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. U.S. citizens have also been victims of human trafficking, it says.

The lectures drew positive reactions from the audience among them Precioso R. Perlas, a practicing attorney in the Philippines who is also engaged in the recruitment of workers for overseas jobs.

A part of the audience.

“I’m glad that it is connected with labor migration and sexuality,” he said noting that there is no choice for some Filipinos but to go outside the country to work because of economic reasons. Accordingly, there is a social cost in terms of families and marriages broken and other unfortunate outcomes, he said. Atty. Perlas also bared that there is a proliferation of sex-active teens in the homeland and that Filipino gays are managing many gays clubs in Japan.

Myrna J. de la Paz, also known as author Myrna Mulhern: “It’s good that some Filipino authors and academicians came out with studies about sexuality especially involving the entertainment industry outside the Philippines.” She said that she agreed with the authors’ contention about the injustice and unfairness of categorizing our entertainers as sex workers.  It is very negative, very derogatory and bad news especially where it concerns male entertainers. That’s not how Filipino men look at themselves, she said and adding that if, however, these entertainers go into illicit activities such as prostitution then that is another story.

Ms. De la Paz also said that this thing about young girls having multiple partners is something new and may be attributed to the social media and texting. It’s only unfortunate that sometimes parents are not there to help them grow and show them what is right and what is wrong. It is not happening only in the Philippines but in the US also, she said.

Edith Gavino echoed her friend De la Paz’ appreciation of the presentations. “It’s a good thing that we have Filipino authors looking into this thing.” Concerning our culture of not being vocal about topics of sexual nature, she agreed that “it is kind of risky but we have to be open about it.” She had her two teenagers in tow and asked whether the subject is appropriate for them she replied that “Those born here grew up in a different kind of environment. It’s nice for them to know how it is back home.” Ms. Gavino is support services manager of the Braille Institute Library Services.

Edith Gavino, second from left, flanked by her teenage children. Others in photo are author Myrna Mulhern and writing colleague Lilia Rabe Grava.

Even someone who identified himself as a religious minister, Rev. Francisco Paras, Jr., had good words for the subject of discussion that others may consider raunchy. Asked if Filipinos are ready for this kind of open discourse, he replied: “Yeah, we should be aware what’s going on especially that we live in America and I think everyone should be educated.” Paras had a gigantic press ID card hanging from his neck and  handed out a business card that also identified him as chaplain, director and color guard of the United Mexican Veterans Association,  a director of the Gawad America Awards, a Brother Paras and a Sgt. Paras.

From left: Francisco Paras, Jr., lawyer Precioso R. Perlas and librarian Wendy McPherson.

Filipinas, Feminism and Sex is the third of the 2012 Book Talk series of Philippine Expressions Bookshop marking its 28th year of service to the Filipino American

community. Proprietress Linda Nietes was on hand as well as hubby Robert Little, Jr. The event was co-sponsored by the Echo Park Branch Library with Head Librarian Vicky Skora and the Friends of Echo Park Library headed by Joselyn Geaga Rosenthal.

In her closing remarks, Wendy McPherson, Young Adult Librarian, said that “It is important to make the community residents feel that it is their library, their place.” She promised to handle personally any request for a particular title. The library also appreciates donations of books from the community, she said.

Dr. Shimizu is professor of Film and Performance Studies in the Asian American, Comparative Literature, Feminist and Film and Media Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her two books are The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene (2007, Duke University Press) which won the Cultural Studies Book Prize from the Association of Asian American Studies; and Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies (2012, Stanford University Press). Her films include Mahal Means Love and Expensive (1993); Super Flip (1997); The Fact of Asian Women (2004) and Birthright (2009) — all available from Her Uprooting Plants Her (1995) is available from Third World Newsreel

Dr. Parrenas was recently appointed chair of the Department of Sociology of USC. She is known for her work on women’s labor and migration in economic globalization. Her latest and groundbreaking book, Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo (2012, Stanford University Press) won the 2012 Distinguished Book Award, Labor and Labor Movements Section from the American Sociological Association.

The book describes the experience of “indentured mobility” among migrant Filipina hostesses and bridges current discussions on human trafficking and “gender and migration”. Her other books are Servants of Globalization: Women. Migration and Domestic Work (2001, Stanford University Press); Children of Global Migration, Transnational Families and Gendered Woes (2003, Stanford University Press); The Force of Domesticity: Filipina Migrants and Globalization (2008, New York University Press).

Dr. Rhacel Salazar Parrenas signs her books.

Dr. Shimizu said that their parents are from the Visayas although she grew up in Manila. The family resettled in the U.S. in the early 1980s. She has two children while sister Rhacel has none. They have another sibling, Dr. Rheanna Parrenas, who is also into book writing.

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