Saturday, October 28, 2006

'Yaya' Stories

from AT LARGE column

By Rina Jimenez-David
Published on Page A13 of the October 28, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SCRATCH a middle-class Filipino mother -- or just talk to her for any length of time -- and chances are you will reap a harvest of “yaya” stories. Yayas, or nannies, have become increasingly rare and difficult to find, or rather, difficult to keep, but they are still a presence in any Filipino household even of modest means.

Whether paid or unpaid -- a poor relative, a student working for tuition, or a younger sibling -- a yaya is the buffer between the mother working outside the home and the vicissitudes of what feminists call the “double burden.” It is the yaya, or even just the household help, who shoulder half that double burden, taking on responsibility for nurturing and household chores and freeing up a woman’s time and energy for “productive” work.

But while mothers feel deep, if often unexpressed, gratitude to the women who share their burden, there also lurks an element of jealousy and resentment in the relationship. Especially when their children’s affections seem to have been transferred to the caregiver rather than to the parent.

There are yayas, and there are yayas. My sister and I shared a yaya in our childhood, but maybe because I was perceived as a favorite of my mother’s, Yaya Basing showered my sister with more affection. I always felt resentful of such special treatment, so when my sister began looking for our yaya so she could invite her to her wedding, it was all I could do to keep my disdain from showing.

But not all wards are as ungrateful as I was (am?). Someone I know invited his yaya to stand as his ninang at his wedding. My friend Peachy has kept her “Yaya Esther” from the time her daughter Paola was an infant to this day, when Paola is already earning her own keep.

I haven’t been as lucky when my turn came to hire yayas for my children. I once wrote that while as teenagers our biggest worry was how long our relationship with a boyfriend would last, when we became mothers, our foremost concern became how long our yaya would deign to stay with us.

I have my own favorite yaya story, though. I was playing a game with my then one-year-old daughter, pointing to our house help and asking her: “Who’s that?”

“Yaya Fe,” she answered when I pointed to our cook. “Yaya Bernie,” she replied when I pointed to her caregiver. And when I pointed to myself, asking “Who am I?” “Yaya Mommy!” she piped up happily.

* * *

WE love them, we treasure them, we thank God when we find a kind and loving one, but we also sometimes resent them, or want to tear her eyes out when we find out a yaya has been mistreating our child or stealing from us.

And we curse every carpenter, delivery boy, security guard or boyfriend from home who takes a yaya away from us just when our lives had gotten comfortable and secure.

And now Unitel Pictures has just made a movie about a yaya.

“Inang Yaya” is not the first Filipino movie with a nanny as the main character. But it is one of the very few films that depict a yaya, and the relationship between her and her ward and the rest of the family, with realism and complexity.

The movie has all the elements of a soap opera: a single mother forced to leave her own child behind to earn a wage, a daughter coping with her mother’s absence, a couple whose work takes them away from home for long stretches, a girl who looks to her yaya for the love and attention she lacks from her parents, snooty classmates, even a grandmother who looks down on those less fortunate than her.

But what the movie does with these stock characters is not just to flesh them out but also to turn them in unexpected directions. Many times, “Inang Yaya” strays dangerously close to melodrama but manages to skirt the pitfalls of excess.

Much of this is due to the work of Maricel Soriano, who plays “Yaya” Norma with deadpan efficiency and carefully nuanced emotion. Also noteworthy are the performances of the two girls who vie for Norma’s loyalty and love: Tala Santos as the sturdy, self-sufficient Ruby, and Erika Oreta as Louise, the “Ingglisera” ward.

* * *

“INANG Yaya” is directed by Pablo Biglang-awa Jr., a well-known commercial director whose first feature-length movie this is. His co-director is also the screenwriter, Veronica Velasco, who works as a line producer for Unitel.

“I was planning to submit the script to Cine Malaya, the independent film competition, and the synopsis had already been chosen as one of the finalists vying for funding,” Velasco says. But then her boss, Tony Gloria of Unitel, asked to read the synopsis and the preliminary script and decided it was worth investing in. “Let’s just do this,” Gloria told them, and “because we had such a long-standing relationship with him, we decided to let Unitel produce it.”

“Inang Yaya,” says Velasco, is based in part on her own Yaya Tess, who has been with her since her daughter Louise, now 11, was born. But while Yaya Tess is single (“though she has had boyfriends,” Velasco clarifies), she made “Norma” a single mother because Velasco’s daughter has a friend who is the daughter of a yaya.

“Isang yayang may malasakit, ’yung mapagkakatiwalaan” [“A yaya who truly cares, whom you can trust”] is how Velasco describes Norma and Tess, and perhaps the yaya of every young mother’s dreams.

In my day as a mother forever (it seemed) in search of a yaya, I dared dream of one who would not only feed my children on time or change their nappies without complaint, but also really love them, or at least care for them the way they would their own children, when their time came.

“Inang Yaya” is a tribute to all the yayas who fill parents’ shortcomings with their presence, love and caring. This review is my way of thanking all the yayas who passed through my threshold, and helped us carry the load.

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