Dangerous potion created when helpers assume parental duties

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2007, 12:00am

I would like to thank Theresa Cunanan ('My Wonder Girl and a quest for justice against racist remarks', May 23) for taking the time to speak to her nine-year-old daughter's teacher about making racist remarks in the classroom.

The teacher had said that Filipino domestic helpers do not have good English, and possess undesirable accents. A few years ago, I researched the influence of Filipina helpers on the English level of children in Hong Kong Chinese homes.

Every parent told me the same three things:

The Filipina domestic worker had taught his or her child some English;

The helper had assisted the child with homework and, in a number of cases, had assisted in dictation and/or exam preparation;

The parent felt uncomfortable with this due to worry about the child picking up errors or speaking 'like the maid'.

Many socio-cultural factors enter into these beliefs, including ideas on how a child learns a second language and acquires an accent.

I believe that a domestic helper assuming what are typically considered parental duties, such as assisting with school work and language learning, can cause unacknowledged feelings of guilt and anger on the part of busy parents.

If we add into the brew cultural stereotypes, expectations of high performance in a school system that rewards conformity, and even the parents' insecurity about their own English-language abilities, we are left with a thick and dangerous potion.

The results are negative stereotypes, ethnic slurs and a hostility so debilitating that it cripples Hong Kong's growth and development.

Dr Mary Tabarsi Tsang, Community College of City University