World focus on domestic helper Xyza Cruz Bacani's photographs

Xyza Cruz Bacani won a prestigious scholarship and hopes to leave cleaning for photojournalism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 January, 2015, 2:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 January, 2015, 2:13am

Her name and her photographs may have been plastered across social media and news sites in the past few months, but Hong Kong domestic helper Xyza Cruz Bacani still wakes up at 6am every day to clean her employer's house.

The 27-year-old Filipino ended last year with an exhibition at the Foreign Correspondents' Club and began this year by winning the prestigious Magnum Foundation Human Rights scholarship to New York University, which will pay for her to enrol in the Tisch School for the Arts six-week photography course.

"I'm not off tomorrow. Maybe send me questions by email?" Bacani replied when the Sunday Morning Post approached her for an interview on Friday, bringing back the reality that she is one of 320,000 domestic helpers working in the city, with only one day off a week.

Her mornings are spent cleaning the house in Mid-Levels. In the afternoons Bacani takes care of her employer's six grandchildren, who come over every day after school.

For nine years, she has worked for the same woman who gave her mother a job in Hong Kong 20 years ago. Bacani said she loved taking care of the children and was happy to watch them grow up.

"They're typical kids. They have discipline and are very respectful to me. They were raised very well," she said.

She gets immersed in photography during her one day off a week, although she always has her trusty digital Fujifilm camera with her on trips to the supermarket or elsewhere.

She said her employer supports her photography. "There's mutual respect [between us] and the way we treat the house... I enjoy my job," she said.

Bacani, from Nueva Vizcaya, considers herself fortunate to be allowed to express her passion for photography and realises that not all domestic helpers are so lucky

"We all have the same job description, but the treatment can be very different," she said.

She volunteers at a battered helpers' shelter and is using her photographic skills to document fellow domestic helpers' stories.

Her photos, taken in Hong Kong and the Philippines, include images of the Occupy Central movement's early days and often focus on black-and-white depictions of isolation.

Although she feels like an outsider in Hong Kong, Bacani said she faced little discrimination. "Isolation is about the city, the job but also my personality too - I like being alone," she said.

Bacani's dream is to become a photojournalist.

"I want to be a photographer with a purpose, I want my images to help people. This is the dream," she said. "If my images can help people, it makes me feel useful to society."

Regardless of her new-found fame, Bacani sees her job as a domestic helper as respectable employment. "I don't regret [coming to Hong Kong]. I wouldn't have chosen differently, because [my family] is poor. Here I'm helping my family. I think this is an honourable job," she said.