To the woman who lives in the semi-D behind us:
The name that she gave you when you asked is a fake one. My domestic helper’s name is Elina, and she is the kindest, most mature and understanding person in my life. She wouldn’t have wanted me to write this, much less post it up on social media. She always says that things like this are her problems, not mine. I’m doing this anyway though, because I want to do something, and this seems like the best course of action, short of delivering this letter right to your doorstep.
I really don’t understand what you could have been thinking, when you confronted her when her employer’s daughter was present, when my family’s freshly washed laundry is hanging between us, when you peer through the holes of your metal fence to scrape at her dignity. You said to her, “I’m having problems with my maids. They all talk to you, and they say that you have a high salary and that you go on holiday with your employer. I can see that you are good at what you do, but, please refrain from speaking to my maid any more. Not everyone can be paid as much as you.”
You don’t have to read someone’s mind to find their unsaid prejudices. These things slip out in the way we use our language, in our tone and in our expressions. You sounded arrogant and entitled, and your words betrayed an assumption that you have the right to speak to Elina any way you want. No, not just that right — you assumed that you can speak to her, deride her, and that she is obligated to listen to you. Domestic helpers are not citizens, but they are people. They are living, breathing human beings with rights and needs and desires. They deserve dignity, and no matter who you are you do not have the right to impose upon that.
When you speak of your maid, do you really know who you’re talking about? When you look at her, do you see a person or a slave? Elina tells me that your domestic helpers haven’t stayed any longer than a few months — is it safe to assume, then, that you’ve seen the inside of a maid agency more than once? I’m talking about the ones that dot the dismal corridors of dingy malls, the ones that have posters of smiling young women next to their employers, undercut by the dead eyes of the actual women there. They sit, and sometimes do demonstrations with toy babies and never-used bedsheets, and wait for some Singaporean to pick them up to do the same in an actual house. They are taught to reply to every question with the words “Yes ma’am” or “Yes sir” even if they don’t want to — that really makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how many of these women have had their consent taken away from them, unable to voice the word “no” in a language they do not understand?
Did you know that the minimum age for foreign domestic helpers in Singapore is twenty-three? They are taught to lie about it, the moment they arrive here. And your maids? They barely scrape twenty. I don’t suppose you actually know that, unless you’ve actually communicated with them and would rather ignore the fact that many are only in their teens?
These are girls and young women, sent away from their homes to live in this entitled metropolis. They are brown-skinned and doe-eyed, and know nothing about the world other than their hometowns. Can you really blame your maid, then, for talking to Elina? You confiscate her phone so she cannot call her family or her friends, or even a helpline if she wants to leave. You don’t let her have off-days, so she is confined to the house. You only give her bread and instant noodles and the leftovers from your own dinner, so she practically starves.
Then, you ask, what has Elina been doing? Elina is the one passing your maid food through the holes in the fence when you sleep. Elina is the one who helps her send money home, when she can’t leave the house. Elina is the one who offers her support, when she’s crying and can’t call home.
Have you ever wondered why your maids don’t stay any longer than a few months?
Perhaps I’m being cowardly, by not telling you this to your face, or by posting this on the internet. But, well, you dismissed my presence entirely, when you confronted Elina. I can’t help but wonder: Do you do the same to your children? Have they grown up with your toxic words rebounding about the house? And when they grow up, will they speak like you, sneer like you, look down their noses at foreigners, like you?
I’m just another teen. But in another life I could’ve been born to a live of domestic slavery. Who you are and what you are worth isn’t dependent on your luck in the birth lottery. Your worth is decided by how you treat others, how kind you are, whether you are grateful for your lot in life.
Please, refrain from speaking to Elina like that again. I don’t suppose you can understand, but she’s part of my family.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you change.
I’m getting lots of comments about how i really should stand for myself and how i dont have a spine >.< please understand that: 1. i wrote an open letter to raise awareness - that's what open letters are for. they arent about direct confrontation, and more of a literary piece of writing / opinion piece for an individual's feelings to be aired. so telling me that my neighbour will never read this is besides the point, sorry about that. i really dont know if i will take any action at this point, mostly because I'm a minor and if anything i should tell my parents to report this issue (not sure if they'll share my feelings on this either) so yeah i appreciate the calls for action but am presently unable to give you a valid response One more thing: i believe very much in the importance of raising awareness and encouraging healthy discourse. i believe that there is a possibility for change in our society on a larger scale than one employer being reported. if enough people can take this up and talk about it and express their views and protect migrant workers in daily life, i think change can happen. so yes, ill talk to my parents, i'll try to make tangible change. but don't you see? flaming me for being a keyboard warrior impacts this situation even less than an open letter sent to no one. so sure, i may not be one for direct confrontation, but im doing my best, and i hope you understand. First posted on Reddit Singapore.