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Articles > In US, Filipino Men Stay Home as Nurse-Wives Work

Sep 21, 2009
by Anthony Advincula

New America Media, News Feature, Anthony Advincula, Posted: Sep 21, 2009 

In US, Filipino Men Stay Home as Nurse-Wives Work

BAYSIDE, NY — Back in her native Philippines, Rosette de Real, was a full-time mom and housewife. Most of the time, she stayed at home, cooked meals, washed and ironed clothes, and took care of their two young children. Her husband, Ronaldo, worked to provide for their family.

In a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, Rosette described their gender roles as typical in most Filipino families. She was the homemaker and her husband was expected to be the breadwinner.

“Before he was the ‘boss’,” Rosette, 33, said jokingly in Tagalog. “It just happened naturally,”.
But since they immigrated to the United States in 2006, there has been a dramatic reversal in those roles. Rosette is now a registered nurse who works for a nursing home, while her husband Ronaldo has been managing the household chores.

Although the shift seemed inevitable because Rosette has a more stable and high-paying job, their decision on who should work and who should staying at home when they got to this country, didn’t happen spontaneously. It took them some rigorous planning and many long conversations. 

“We discussed everything about it — even when we were still in the Philippines,” she said. “We certainly weighed all the options that we got.” 

Ronaldo, 40, who was standing next to her and getting ready to head out and pick up their eight-year-old daughter from school, agreed and listened silently.

Rosette came to the United States first to make sure she had a job waiting for her, passed the NCLEX – the nursing licensing examination – and finalized a one-year contract with her previous employer. Six months later, as soon as she got settled, her husband and kids joined her in the United States.

“Of course, the transition from a working to a stay-at-home father was difficult for me,” Ronaldo recalled in a soft-spoken voice. “I was so used to working every day that my body had desired so much for it.”

At first he struggled and, despite their agreement, he worked for Chrysler while Rosette got a job on the graveyard shift and took care of the kids during the daytime. They ruled out the option of getting a babysitter because they were concerned that the money they earn would only go to the babysitter’s wages.

While it put him back on his usual work routine, Ronaldo felt sorry that his wife never had time to rest and do things for herself. He then gave up his job and became a full-time house dad.

“They are my kids, now three of them. I have to sacrifice. If we were still in the Philippines, it would have been easier to get a nanny, or the grandma of my kids could always take care of them. But things are different here,” he said.

The shift in gender roles that the De Reals are experiencing is not uncommon among Filipino couples, especially those who have settled on the East Coast, and most often the female spouse works as a nurse. While the data is largely anecdotal, many from the Filipino community say the number of such cases is significant.

Clarita Ramos, a waitress in a small Filipino restaurant on West Side Avenue in Jersey City, N.J., said a group of Filipino men who are mostly married to Filipina nurses would often hang out early in the afternoon for snack.

Before the clock strikes 3 p.m., they would go their separate ways, Ramos observed. Some of these men, she added, would walk to a nearby school to pick up their kids, and others would most likely head home and drive their nurse wives to a hospital or a nursing home for another long night shift.

“There is an oft-repeated joke among Filipinos here that if you meet a Filipino man at the grocery store with kids in tow, especially in the middle of a working day, and you ask him what does he for a living, the common reply will be, ‘My wife is a nurse,'” said Narna Macasaet, a Filipina immigrant.

Macasaet, who had a tourism degree, went back to the Philippines last year with her daughter, then two years old, and took several nursing courses there. She now is preparing for the U.S. licensing examination for nurses.

Some experts say this role reversal is not only happening among Filipinos, but in many other immigrant communities as well. These immigrant women, who have become the sole providers for their families in the United States, broke the traditional family roles.

“Immigrants, including women, are expected to serve and make money, so I am not surprised about this role reversal,” said Prof. Gary Okihiro, who teaches for the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Columbia University.

A recently released New America Media poll, “Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century Family,” reiterates that many of these women are radically altering their roles in their private lives.

“While few may have fit the image of submissive women in their home countries to begin with, almost one-third report having assumed head-of-household responsibilities now that they are here and share equally with their husbands in making decisions from household finances to more intimate concerns, like family planning,” pollster Sergio Bendixen said in the report.

As women have "left" the village, the report states, they have also brought the village with them. 

While it is a manifestation of a “good adaptation” process into mainstream U.S. society and “a depiction of the universal values of equality between men and women,” Okihiro believes that “it could also be dysfunctional.”

“Men can be offended. Unfortunately, when they lose their self-esteem, it can result in spousal abuse,” he said, noting several studies showing high rates of domestic violence among South Asian working women whose husbands react negatively to the role reversals.

Lafayette Caliolio, a Filipino immigrant who resides in New Brunswick, N.J., concurred. Men who are compelled to stay at home must deal with their own cultural stereotypes, he said.

“Personally, as a man, I think it is degrading to stay at home while my wife is working. And, just by thinking of it, boredom will make me crazy,” Caliolio, 40, said in a mixture of Tagalog and English.

Lafayette and his wife, Ruth, work as nurses in Flushing, N.Y. They both take the night shift and stay at home with their two kids, 14 and six years old, during the day. When it is time for them to go to work at night, a babysitter takes care of their kids.

But Ruth, 41, prefers that one of them stay at home.

“It is not practical. Because both of us are working, we pay higher taxes, and the quality of time that we spend with our children is being compromised,” she said. “But if we work together, like in our current situation, the positive impact on our family, economically, is very clear.”

When asked which parent should stay at home to attend to their kids, Ruth supported her husband’s ideas. “For me, as a Filipino, it’s awkward to see my husband as a full-time homemaker. That’s not our culture.”

Angie Abella, a manager for a New York-based staffing agency that recruits foreign nurses, said that role reversal among Filipino nurses is also dependent on their visa status and family living situation.

“We have to realize that a lot of these families get their visa petition from their nurse spouses. If the nurse wife is still on a work visa, she can’t just quit her job to take care of her own kids,” she said. “Also, if the kids are quite young, the husbands have no choice but to take care of them. Babysitters are expensive.”

From her conversations with Filipino nurses, Abella said that a simple agreement about their domestic situation could alleviate the gender role-based conflicts that may arise between couples.

Back in Bayside, Rosette de Real agrees:

“I know that it is not easy for Ronaldo to be at home, even though we talked about it, and we prepared ourselves for it,” she said. “Sometimes he would tell me, ‘Every time I want to buy you fresh flowers, do I still need to ask the money from you?’ But I am very lucky that he is considerate and understanding.”