Recently I got a friend request on Facebook from somebody I didn't immediately recognize. Our mutual friends listed my mom, aunt, and a cousin from the Philippines, and I realized the friend request was from a cousin whom I hadn't seen since I was ten. She had moved to Staten Island a couple of years ago after she'd married somebody from a penpal list.
She is essentially a mail-order bride.
"Mail-order bride" is a charged term, one I hate using, but it's an easily recognizable term. The mail-order bride industry relies heavily on racial stereotypes and often exploits women in developing countries who are already disadvantaged and have very few options. Once married, these women become conditional residents of the United States and are unsurprisingly vulnerable to abuse.
Growing up, there were plenty of women in my life who had come to the United States this way. Being that the Filipino community in Hartford was so small, my mom and aunt had sort of become den mothers for these women. They hooked them up with odd jobs that paid under the table, and searched for legit work for them whenever possible. They took them out to Filipino association events to make them more visible in the community, as a sort of insurance to keep their husbands on their best behavior.
My babysitter in my early years was a woman who'd married through a penpal service and her husband, a kind and elderly Jamaican dude, was actually one of my favorite uncles. I mention that to highlight that not all of the brides my mom knew were abused, but an overwhelming majority of these women were still disadvantaged and vulnerable. While my mom and aunt tried their best to help them support themselves and find a means to escape and live independently, they mostly felt powerless. After all, the rights these women had to stay in the US legally were entirely dependent upon the husbands who abused them. I don't remember any of these ates of mine being all that willing to jeopardize that. Sometimes the help that my mom and aunt offered opened them up to more abuse, particularly in relationships where the husband relied on keeping their brides in positions of powerlessness.
When my family was informed that my cousin would be marrying and moving to New York, there was as much relief as there could be. We didn't have the means to bring her stateside ourselves, but since she wasn't going to be talked out of this option, she was at least moving to an area where she had a lot of family to make sure she was safe.
As it turns out, while my family helped her get settled and thoroughly checked out the place, she still doesn't get out too often. She hadn't seen much of the family since she'd been out here.
Seeing her on Facebook is at least a step in the right direction, but the concern is still there. But beyond offering our support and letting her know that we're here for her, what else can we do?