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Why Mourning Matters: The Politics of Grief in Southeast Asian Narratives of Women’s Migration

Carlos M. Piocos III


This paper examines how migrant women’s lives are politicized through the work of mourning by analyzing how grieving over their deaths becomes a way of also claiming accountability from a nation-state that deploys its citizen-breadwinners. I employ critical discussions on mourning by Vicente Rafael, Pheng Cheah, and Judith Butler to analyze an OFW film and two Southeast Asian novels that present different responses to deaths of Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers: Joel Lamangan’s The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), Jose Dalisay’s Soledad’s Sister (2008), and Rida Fitria’s Sebongkah Tanah Retak (A Lump of Cracked Land, 2010). While these texts are different—one is a melodrama, the second a faux-detective novel, the last one a novel inspiratif (“inspirational novel”)—all three portray how grief becomes an affective economy, in that it reproduces and circulates feelings, like pity, sympathy, rage, and reproach, that forges a community to either foster or forestall political action. My reading maps out how the bereavement over migrant women’s lives can lead to a more critical understanding of labor migration policies and discourses in the Philippines and Indonesia, opening the possibilities of social activism that not only transforms a national community but also transcends national boundaries among and between Filipina and Indonesian migrant women.


Filipina and Indonesian Domestic Workers; gendered moral hierarchies; intersectionality; melodrama; sacrifice; transnational feminist activism; work of mourning

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2020.03341