Wednesday Opinion: Samantha, NYC Undocumented Nanny’s Story

The women in this image are not associated with this article
The recent New York Times article about Nannies made me think about a woman I once knew but have since lost track of. Her name was Samantha and for a year we worked in tandem attending the same school pick-up and arranging group play-dates. I knew she had left her own children behind in the Philippines to care for American children. It had come up quite casually because Nannies share their stories freely in short, detailed bursts. But I had wanted to hear about her journey in more depth, so I arranged this interview. Samantha’s account is one of thousands in a City like New York. 
Samantha’s Story
It was one of those crisp
Manhattan mornings in June when I met up with Samantha.  We were in the Battery Park dog run and
the strong aroma of dog urine and disinfectant clouded out the local apple
blossoms. Samantha was walking Lachlan, a huge Siberian husky for his owners
Mr. & Mrs. Lyons. The Lyons’ family had employed Samantha as a
‘housekeeper/babysitter’ for two years.
Her daily hours were 10am –7pm.
Samantha’s main job was to care for the Lyons’ two daughters, who were both
respectively in pre-school and school from 9-3pm. Samantha was good with girls
because, as she said “I have three of my own back home. I know how they tick.”
Back home was in fact the Philippines and today was the birthday of Samantha’s
eldest daughter Elizabeth.
With trembling hands Samantha lit
a cigarette. “My only companion today,” she smirked nervously indicating the
cigarette. Through the whirls of blue smoke the fragile 30-year-old’s face
contorted. It was difficult enough for Samantha to talk about her life let
alone discuss how she felt on her child’s birthday. I did not know what to say
so I looked down at my notes and asked the following questions.
When did you come to the USA
“April 1st 2003. I will never
forget that date.”
How did you get in?
“Tourist Visa, like B1/B2, you
How did you get the Visa?
“Oh I went to American Embassy.
It wasn’t easy I had to show them a bunch of stuff, like me and my husband, we
had a good business you know? We were educated middle-class people. Better than
most back home, with savings, a house but even so, life was hard. You can work
hard in the Philippines but you don’t get nowhere because of corruption. You
need powerful people, relatives, to get you into good positions. Like a
policeman or something. You get stopped in the street and you have to pay a
fine. Just for no reason because it is a cop. Same thing with local government,
you don’t get anywhere in business or building a house unless you pay, pay, pay
always paying. We wanted a different life for our children – freedom  – you know?”
Who takes care of your
children back home?
My parents. It isn’t easy for
them with three little girls. You know how kids are right? Energetic, always
wanting something.”
How long have you been in the
USA without papers?
“Since when I told you. Four
years. I only got 6 months to stay and then we overstayed.”
Why did you leave your
children to come here? Help me to understand why you did that?
“Let me tell you but you won’t
understand. In my country people go hungry, they have no (personal) power and
they live very badly, no hope, of ever getting better. They just see the same
thing happening to their children, like a cycle, you know?  Then there are some with all the power.
They decide everything. If they get jealous you have something bad happen to
you. The US dollar is worth 45 Philippine dollars (2007) so when I send home
$500 a month my children get $22,500.00. With that they can go to a good
school, they can get medications, they can have good food like meat, milk and
eggs and good clothes. With that money my parents can bribe people to help my
brothers, my cousins to get powerful jobs like be cops. My money saves my whole
How do you cope with being
away from your children/parents/friends?
“To tell you the truth, you won’t
believe me, but I love the kids I work with here and it fills the hole in my
heart, you know?  When the girls I
look after smile or skip about I think ‘that’s what my girls are doing now’ and
I just squeeze them hard like this (demonstrates) and I feel like God takes
that love and sends it to my girls. I also got a web camera and I speak
everyday to my kids – every day – I see them and talk to them.”
Did you come alone or with
your partner?
“With my husband – should I say
ex-husband.” (Fiddles with her key ring)
Ah-huh – well my next question was – have there been any
personal consequences to this journey?
“Yes you could say that! It was
my husband’s idea to leave our kids. He said, “we’ll go for 6 months just to
make some money then come back. Build up our business.”  I didn’t want to leave our kids I would
rather be poor and be with my kids. But my friend said, “don’t let him go
alone, you know, he could meet someone else. Stay together.” He promised me
just 12 months but he lied to me. After 12 months he let the time go and he
said “oh well we might as well stay another year and work.”
But the year turned into two and
you know we just stayed. I felt very angry. But I was a good wife so I
stayed.  Then stuff happened like
my grandmother died and I couldn’t go to her funeral. (Wipes tears from eyes)
My brothers got married I couldn’t go to their weddings. Then one day I come
home early from work and found my husband in bed with another woman. A friend
from the Philippines. Can you believe it? I just left. I found a room somewhere
and took two jobs. My husband he suddenly doesn’t have any money to send home.
He says “I don’t have a job.” It’s a lie because he drinks and gambles his
money away. So now my girls only have me.
How did you tell the girls
that you were leaving?
You know something, I put my
three little girls to bed one night and they didn’t know I would be gone in the
morning. I sang to them, I read to them and I held them in my arms until they
fell asleep one by one and I did not shed one tear. My kids fell asleep and I
cry all night like someone had taken my heart out. I did that, I put them to
bed knowing I would be gone in the morning. I was strong because I thought we
would be better family because of it. I left my children because of him.
And he betrayed me. My kids don’t
know. It would be too bad for them with me so far away. So we pretend we are
together. I have to speak to him and see him with that new woman. I even give
him money sometimes but I hate him. 
Sometimes my eldest daughter she tells me “Mama I stopped drinking milk
so you come home sooner.” She doesn’t understand. She tells my smaller children
“Don’t ask Mama for anything new you keep her in America.”  She doesn’t understand I pay for
everything and every month every dollar I send home is spent, it’s gone. I’m in
a trap if I go home now we will have nothing again.”
I understand but what is your
long-term goal in being in the USA?
“I want to bring my girls here so
they can be free. I want them to go to American schools and work hard. Maybe
the law will change and I will be able to become an American citizen. I met a
man recently from the Philippines who is American citizen. He likes me very
much. I don’t know, maybe he’s a good man. Maybe we could get married and I
could bring my children here. But I would have to love him you know? I’m
Catholic. I would not just marry for Visa you know? It wouldn’t be right.”
Do you think Americans
knowingly hire undocumented workers?
“Yes of course!  I tell them (her present employers)
when I took this job “look I don’t have papers” and they are lawyers, know what
I mean? They said, “fine, we don’t mind so long as you are good at your job”.
They both work. They make lots of money, two houses, three cars but they never
see their kids. The girls are beautiful. I call them my “little angel hearts”
because they stop my heart from breaking. I do everything with them. I cook for
them, I put them to bed. They love me. I know that. Sometimes I worry that I
love them too much. The parents don’t notice things like I do. They just buy
them lots of things but the kids they just want you to be with them, you know?
What’s it like to live as an
undocumented worker?
(Laughs) “I live day to day. Like
example I have no doctor. I haven’t had any checks you know as a woman since I
came here. Other day I get knocked off my bike by a cab, I didn’t go to
hospital. I have cuts and bruises but I can’t go to hospital, you know? My mom
sends me medication from home. If I get sick I have to look it up and ask my
mom for medicine. Also if there are police like in road looking at driving
license or anything I get nervous. I get scared just to speak to a cop. If
something happened to me I couldn’t go to police. Every day you live like you
don’t exist, you know? Like I’m here but I am not here.”
Okay final question, knowing
what you know now, would you do this all over again?
“That’s a hard question to
answer.  My husband insisted it
would make us have a better life. In some way it has. It showed me what kind of
person he really is. It showed me I could be strong. It showed me my kids could
be strong. Maybe it will all be worth it. I think maybe I will find love again
and have my kids with me. People here are so lucky they forget what their own
parents and grandparents did for them to be here.  So yes I would do it all over again. Freedom is more
important than money. I want my girls to be whatever their heart tells them to
be. This is a great country.” (Laughs) “It is!”

that Lachlan (the dog) pooped. As Samantha cleaned it up she repeated, “…It is
really!” Samantha works a 45-hour week and earns $475. For that sum she cooks,
cleans and cares for two children and a large dog. 
Excerpt from ‘The Nanny Time Bomb (How You Can Avoid It)’ all rights reserved, 2012