When I first heard about the Sunday gatherings of immigrant workers in Hong Kong, I had imagined couples and multitudes of families with children picnicking and mingling in the open spaces of Central. Little did I know that these gatherings were reserved almost solely for women. When seeing these women eating their homemade lunches, gossiping, singing and playing tambourines in the Hong Kong business district, I could not help but view this phenomenon as an ultimate “girls’ day out.” Their weekly ritual of neatly laying out cardboard floor mats and gathering under the HSBC headquarters was something I could never imagine seeing back in the States. Henri Lefebvre states in The Everyday and Everydayness, “Common denominator of activities, locus and milieu of human functions, the everyday can also be analysed as the uniform aspect of the major sectors of social life: work, family, private life, leisure. These sectors, though distinct as forms, are imposed upon in their practice by a structure allowing us to discover what they share: organized passivity.” (10) Their Sunday gatherings, as mind boggling as they are for tourists like myself, are typical and a natural part of their everyday. These women are simply at their leisure, and cleaning after themselves and leaving the public squares spotless are simply parts of a courteous routine. Lefebvre appropriately adds, “This generalized passivity is moreover distributed unequally. It weighs more heavily on women, who are sentenced to everyday life, on the working class, on employees who are not technocrats, on youth―in short on the majority of people―yet never in the same way, at the same time, never all at once.” (10) The domestic workers are clearly not excluded from “the majority of people.”
Just as unusual as these gatherings is the set of conditions that describe the domestic workers’ habitation in Hong Kong. Because of their position as migrant workers, I automatically compared them to the Mexican migrant workers in the southwestern United States. The Mexican workers cross the border, often through illegal means, for the opportunity to work and send a support check home to their families. While both U.S. and Hong Kong economies do inherently depend on domestic workers, the two governments have fairly different policies regarding the workers’ positions within society. As many of the Mexican workers are in the U.S. illegally, a Sunday gathering of them that took place under a major corporation’s headquarters would be controversial, to say the least. In contrast, Hong Kong and the domestic helpers are invested in a strong relationship of mutualism; the government of Hong Kong holds a responsibility to treating these women equally to the natural citizens of Hong Kong, and similarly, they are held accountable for their contribution to the service sector. Their occupations as the maids and nannies within households of the middle and high classes have allowed them to integrate themselves into the social hierarchy. The nature of the domestic helpers’ work keeps them in close contact with Hong Kong families, and especially when a helper is hired for child care, trust between the two parties is required. Child care implies a social exchange between child and carer, and especially when a child’s parents are absent for long periods of time, a child’s bond with a carer strengthens. Their interaction and bond becomes an instance of multiculturalism; 48% of the workers are Filipino, 49.4% are Indonesian, and 1.3% are Thai. Many of the future generation are being raised by the domestic workers, a sign of a developing change in Hong Kong. In the pursuit of providing as the breadwinners for their families overseas, the women domestic workers unintentionally impacted Hong Kong on cultural, social, and economic scales. Their weekly assemblies best display the ties they have knotted with Hong Kong and its people. A feat matched by the marvel that is their Sunday afternoons.