Xyza Cruz Bacani‘s new book documents the lives of Asian women working abroad as domestic servants. We Are Like Air examines in particular the life of one maid: Bacani’s mother, Georgia, who left the Philippines in the 1990s seeking better paying work in Hong Kong when her children were young. She never moved back. Before she became a photographer, Bacani also left Manilla for Hong Kong to work as a maid and help support her younger siblings. Now a street photographer and photojournalist, Bacani has won grants from the Open Society and the Pulitzer Center, and was chosen for PDN’s 30 in 2017.
She spent years photographing her mother and other domestic servants who work seven days a week taking care of other people’s children and other people’s homes. The images in We Are Like Air are timely, as around the world, millions of economic migrants leave their families in order to provide for them.
The book’s black-and-white photos are intimate and poignant. She shows the women going about their routine chores, and captures moments that show how women like Bacani’s mother have created a sense of familiarity and community in sometimes hostile, alien cities. Bacani’s experience of working as a domestic gives her familiarity with the women’s working lives and their isolation. But as the introduction to the book notes, “This time around, she is telling their own tale—not as victims but as champions who have overcome the hardships life has tossed at them as they leave their families behind in their home countries.”