‘Kalinga (Care)’ Is a Love Letter to a Mother’s Sacrifice
Last year, I watched Martin Edralin’s beautiful film Islands, about a Filipino immigrant family living in Toronto, Canada. The film largely follows Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas), a 40-something single man taking care of his parents, but a supporting character, Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), shifts the focus in a particularly heartbreaking scene. Marisol is Joshua’s cousin who joins the family in Canada to help him take care of his father. At the dinner table one evening, it’s revealed that Marisol had previously been working as a domestic worker in Qatar and had been the victim of her employer’s sexual abuse. In tears, Marisol explains to Joshua the pains of her working conditions and her helplessness when she was assaulted. In a meditative film that is primarily about a quiet man’s journey through life, I was struck by how Edralin took the time to give voice to the many women Marisol represented.
Kent Donguines goes a step further in his documentary short film Kalinga (Care) and gives those women a chance to speak their truth. At the beginning of his film, Donguines states that his mother moved overseas when he was six years old to become a nanny for someone else’s children. From the outset, he posits the question: “Why did she have to leave us?”
Where Edralin explored the hardships and challenges domestic workers experienced at the hands of their employers, Donguines examines the emotional cost felt by the women and their families. He interviews several Filipino women who left the Philippines to work as nannies in Canada, each recounting their journey into the country and how they fared when they arrived.
The word “sacrifice” is said often through Kalinga, a word most of us know the meaning of but less of us truly understand. These women left behind everything they knew — their culture, the comforts of home, a mother tongue, a much more agreeable climate — for the sake of providing a better life for their families. The harsh truth is, though, that this sacrifice isn’t always appreciated by the ones who benefit most from it.
Many of the women interviewed share with Donguines the heartbreak in having their children angry at them for leaving, some even to the point of cutting off contact and disowning them as mothers. While objectively we can all appreciate a mother’s sacrifice, it’s easy to empathize with a child who believes their mom has left them to mother other kids. The promise that they will return is often not kept, and children grow up with increasing resentment for the lack of mother-child relationships in their lives. Kalinga serves as a meaningful tribute to the many women who were faced with a difficult decision and did what was best for their families, and their children who had to live with those decisions.
A poignant moment in the film is when these women, who described the many difficulties and moments of adversity they’ve had to overcome, say with great certainty that, were they able to do it all again, they wouldn’t have moved to Canada and left their families behind. Donguines takes a very human approach to the subject, gently encouraging his interview subjects to describe, not only how they have been treated, but the generational knock-on effect their decisions have made and the pain that that causes them.
In Canada, we are slowly starting to see more Filipino representation on screen. As Islands made the film festival rounds last year (winning many awards along the way), this year we’ve seen Jo Koy’s Easter Sunday get a wide release around the country and the US, and Martika Ramirez Escobar’s Leonor Will Never Die became a Midnight Madness hit at this year’s TIFF. While these comedic and surreal displays of creativity are a necessary part of building nuanced Filipino representation on screen, films like Kalinga are important in educating the general public about the realities of the community.
Kalinga (Care) is streaming on Crave.