Aini Tai has been a migrant worker since 1990. She attends mass regularly at the Hope Workers’ Center and she volunteers with her daughter in CAIF (Chungli Association of Immigrants and Families). Aini has told the story of her experience as a migrant worker for the documentary series, “The Migrant Worker’s Face.”
By Aini Tai
Edited by Hannes Zetzsche
I was 22 when I first became a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia. I believe my story since that point is one of fortune, divine providence, and the blessings of wonderful people in my life.
As a young adult in the Philippines, I had heard about the need for workers like me in Saudi Arabia. Through friends’ stories and news advertisements, I knew that foreign workers abroad could make wages unheard of in my home. So, in early 1990, I hired a broker to place me at a factory in Saudi Arabia.
My arrival in Riyadh was fortunate. I had only realized at the last minute that my passport was invalid—it had been tampered with—and it was my fortune that my broker agreed to help me. He helped me to find a new, valid passport on short notice. I know that God must have been with me then, and His grace has sustained my fortune ever since—to completion of a three-year contract in Saudi Arabia, in returning home to the Philippines, and then in setting off for my life now as a mother in Taiwan.
Though I spoke no Arabic, I was fortunate to speak English well during my time in Saudi Arabia so I could communicate with my English-speaking coworkers from Sri Lanka and India; I pitied the workers who spoke no English. I spoke no Chinese when I moved to Taiwan.
When I stepped off of the airplane at Taoyuan International Airport on August 26, 1996, I was stepping into a new world—different from my home in the Philippines and different too from what I had seen in Saudi Arabia. I had taken three years’ rest since the end of my previous contract and it had been good to live in surroundings with which I was familiar. I knew that Taiwan would be something, but I could never have expected what I would find in Taiwan, nor that it could become my home.
I had planned to work at President Tech Company in Yangmei, but after working there only briefly, the company was shut down and moved to China. I was among 230 workers who were suddenly out of work, although we were fortunate to be transferred quickly. I was shocked by how quickly my expectations were altered—no longer was I working in the job to which I had become accustomed.
But the change proved to be good. I was placed in an electronics factory, Song Text Technology Company Limited, where I was fortunate to find good coworkers, and to earn a sustainable income. In some ways, I am grateful for the closing of President Tech Company when I arrived in Taiwan, because along a circuitous path, it has brought me to where I am today.
I work now at Unsure Company Limited I have learned a lot of skills from this company and the responsibility I have been given has been very good for me, but what I have loved most about this place has been my coworkers. I am well respected among my peers and they treat me well.
My work at Unsure Company Limited also allows me to support my daughter, Felicity, who is now 18 years old. I love her very much and I have sought to provide her ideal parenting as a single mother, teaching her my most important values: love, patience, sacrifice, understanding, and faith. I am blessed by the woman she is becoming. She believes in God.
Felicity and I live together in the factory’s dormitory and I feel that every night I get to spend with her is like the best happiness. We share stories about what has happened in our days and we are content with each other, laughing out loud in tandem.
I am an immigrant mother, but sometimes it feels like I am also a soldier in battle, protecting my daughter from the challenges that I face. We are fortunate to live together in the factory dorm, but I must trust my dorm-mates to treat my daughter with respect. What would I do if a coworker bullied her? My boss wouldn’t allow me to move away from the dorms, if I thought it would be best for my daughter. Maybe I am the soldier who is perpetually under-trained for the battle of ideal parenting.
The sides of this battle can be confusing too. My daughter is half Taiwanese, half Filipina, living with her mother, a Filipina, in Taiwan. If you’re confused, imagine how she and I must feel!
The barrier of language culture is real and it challenges both of us. I remember crying when she went for her first day in the nursery. And I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation when she would come home, asking me to help her with homework. I would panic because I couldn’t help her: I can’t read the Chinese characters! I have tried to raise her with respect for the Taiwanese and Filipino culture.
Among all of the blessings and challenges of living, working, and mothering in Taiwan, the Hope Workers’ Center has been a resilient source for my inspiration and support.
Since arriving in Taiwan in 1996, I had attended mass irregularly. Growing up in the Philippines, I always celebrated Mass and believed in God, but I struggled to find a church home where I wanted to celebrate mass every Sunday. I found myself visiting churches aimlessly, wherever I felt my mind and heart take me.
However, eight years ago, I remember being attracted to the offerings of supportive groups and classes offered by the Hope Workers’ Center community. I participated in 2009 in a basic computer course at the Hope Workers’ Center. Sir Mhike taught the course, instructing basic computer functions such as typing, word-processing, and installation of programs. I felt empowered by the skills I learned there and it felt good to be so well cared for by my teachers. Mhike had organized a staff of volunteers to help lead the courses and I am grateful to all of them. Marami akong natutunan! (I learned a lot!)
I also remember being embraced by other programs at the Hope Workers’ Center too. I was reminded of my home in the Philippines when the Hope Workers’ Center celebrated the Flores de Mayo, a festival for the Virgin Mary during the month of May every year. I was allowed to be creative during a photography course taught every Sunday by a Columban Lay Missionary from South Korea. I joined CAIF and the PPC.
One of the funniest episodes from all of my time in Taiwan took place on the street outside of the Hope Workers’ Center during Christmas time one year. It is an annual tradition that the Hope Workers’ Center sells Christmas raffle tickets during the month of December to support its ministry to migrants. I had been commissioned to sell tickets too and I was so nervous asking people for money; I asked my fellow parishioners to find a place of generosity in their hearts, to make an investment in our community. Many of the people around me told me they couldn’t, but other people were very compassionate. The funniest customers were those who would give me poker faces, insisting they couldn’t, but then willingly donating out of compassion for me. Five of the street vendors in front of the church agreed to buy tickets and parishioners did too. The Hope Workers’ Center community embraced me and helped me to feel at home.
I am grateful for the many people at the Hope Workers’ Center who took the time to invest in me. Ma’am Joan and Ma’am She, two Columban Lay Missionaries from the Philippines, showed me how women can lead a team with courage, professionalism, respect, and unity. In seminars and counseling sessions, Ma’am Joan taught me to value people and to be kind no matter the situation. She has a way of explaining things in a very positive style, offering suggestions to parishioners and volunteers without being too critical or damaging.
Teacher She is also a role model for me. She has become the guiding star for my daughter and the other kids in CAIF. When she teaches catechism, the children listen and understand complex topics. I was so proud when, per Teacher She’s guidance, my daughter Felicity received her First Communion. We are delighted and blessed to have these two missionary women!
In closing, I would to express my thanks to all of the people I encounter at the Hope Workers’ Center, people who have helped both my daughter and me in our Taiwan lives. Their words of encouragement have supported me. I would encourage many people to visit the center because they will do their best to lift you up.
Thank you for letting me share my experiences with you all. Thank you and God bless you all!
This reflection by Aini Tai has been published by the Hope Workers’ Center as an entry to “The Migrant Worker’s Face” documenting project. The Hope Workers’ Center continues to seek stories like Aini’s, with which we can add detail to migrants’ intricate face. There are two ways that you can help us. If you are a migrant worker and would be willing to share your story, we want to hear from you directly! You can read instructions about how to participate here. If you are not a migrant worker, then we ask you to continue supporting our project: read our stories weekly and invite others to do the same.
The Hope Workers’ Center is dedicated to supporting migrant workers in our community. Through this project, we hope to appreciate the beauty of each person’s life while fostering recognition among a wider audience of the struggles that migrants regularly encounter in their work. Thank you for your support!