12:19 am | Sunday, July 7th, 2013
Margarita was 30 years old when she came into our household. I had just delivered my first child and was in need of a nanny. She was the cousin of a friend’s maid and had previously worked in a hospital nursery in Cebu, assisting senior nurses caring for newborns. She was just 4’8” tall.
She was typically promdi (from the province) and spoke no English and very little Tagalog. Margarita came from Misamis Occidental. So, our first challenge was communication.
Hard as it was to talk to each other—me in my hybrid English and Tagalog or Taglish, she in her heavily accented Visayan-Tagalog—we somehow managed and famously got along. She was great with the baby and a happy soul, always singing and laughing, and talking to herself, as she went about her chores.
Soon after my second daughter was born, Margarita was adamantly against our getting another nanny to look after the new baby, insisting that she was fully capable of taking care of both the new arrival and our other three-year-old. My daughters grew to love her because she was fun and playful, and so protective of them. As they learned to talk, she became Yaya to them.
When the kids were six and three, we were presented with an opportunity to move to the United States. Great as the offer was, I told my husband that we would only go on the condition that we bring Margarita along. I had heard of horror stories of baby sitters who would abuse kids under their care. One particular news story at that time was of a baby sitter who put the baby in the microwave.
So, off we went to Los Angeles, Margarita and the girls in tow. We were lucky that our visas allowed us to bring her with us.
Everything was new and different for all of us. I did not require her to wear a nanny uniform because it just seemed so pretentious in our new surroundings. She was excited about everything and tried her best to talk to everyone in her funny English-Visayan accent.
I remember a particular time when she answered the phone. When I asked her who had called, she told me it was a wrong number. Apparently, the caller had asked for our friend Gus, whom we were staying with, and she hung up. Margarita thought the caller asked for gas, as in gasoline. Another time, she offered my houseguest “bilis” to put in her coffee. As our perplexed guest asked her what that was, Margarita cheerily produced a bottle of Bailey’s, a coffee liqueur.
Then there was “The Incident.” There was a big commotion in the laundromat when I picked her up one day. Apparently, she got into a shoving match with a Mexican lady who had removed our clothes from the dryer. I had to hastily pull her and our clothes away before she could get mauled by this woman who was three times her size. Oh yes, our Margarita was brave and righteous and indignant.
As we settled into our new life, Margarita slowly evolved into a different person. She became more confident because we treated her as an equal, less like hired help. She ate at the dining table with us, socialized with our friends. She became quite vocal and expressed her opinions frequently.
She was proud to be working in the US. We could see the change in her stature, as she shared her blessings with her family in the Philippines. Her English became better, still funny sounding with a pidgin accent, but she spoke it so proudly and confidently.
My daughters began to talk like her when they were together. “Yaya, can you help me tie my shos (shoes)?” Or, “ I want to eat picha (pizza)!” We were happy to send them finally off to school, so that they could learn to speak properly.
I still recall the time when we had guests from Manila. We were hosting dinner and were all seated at the table. I remember seeing a friend’s eyebrows go up when Yaya joined us. Even better was to watch our guest’s jaw drop as Margarita also helped herself to some wine. Much as it amused me, I was unsure if I had done the right thing.
Here in Manila, there is such a definite distinction between the masters of the house and the hired help. But then, we were living in America, a free and democratic society where everyone is deemed equal.
We are back in Manila now, but Yaya has stayed behind in LA. She is now working for an American family, still taking care of little ones. Like us, they have adopted her into their family, accepting her quirkiness and frequently odd behavior. Her devotion and love for children she takes under her care is faultless—and admirable.
My two daughters are grown now, one of them married with children. Still, Margarita continues to be a part of their lives. My daughter’s kids have become her grandchildren, even if Yaya is no longer in our employ. She has returned to Manila several times from the US, just to see us.
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