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Miss Housekeeping”, Akpabio and Ibom Nation

Posted by iReporters Nigerian News

Not until the first presidential debate between the Democratic Party candidate, Hilary Clinton and her Republican rival, Donald Trump, not many people had heard of Yoseph Alicia Machado Fajardo, better known as Alicia Machado. But 48 hours after Hilary Clinton slipped her into the debate, Ms Machado was written about in more than 150 print news articles, referred to on television more than 6,023 times and mentioned on twitter nearly 200,000 times. She appeared on NBC’s “Today Show”, ABC’s “Good Morning America”, CNN, MSNBC, FOX news, Univision and Telemundo”.

Hilary Clinton was not being flippant. Its like she waited patiently for that moment knowing the effect it would have on not only the debate but also the narrative leading to the last few weeks to the presidential election.
So how exactly did this happen? The moderator Lester Holt had asked Trump to elaborate on his well-known take that Hilary does not have a presidential ‘look’. Trump while denying he ever said that, went on to talk about Hilary’s lack of stamina, and then it was Hilary’s turn to speak.
“He tried to switch from ‘look’ to ‘stamina’. But this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs. And someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good of a job as men. And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest-he loved beauty contests-supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina. Donald she has a name. Her name is Alicia Machado………
I agree with Katie Packer, the renowned Republican Party strategist who described it as a golden opportunity for the Clinton campaign. Well, Packer is not a Trump supporter. In her words “It is every woman’s worst nightmare but it also speaks beyond just women, to Latinos”
But that whole episode reverberated with me. I am not Latino. I am Ibibio of Akwa Abasi Ibom people, in far-flung Nigeria. My indignation is at once a recollection of the slime my people wore as a badge as much as our failure to properly situate this oddity as anathema to a people’s psyche and fundamental emotional and mental growth. Our place in the occupational index in our nation was a page of derision. It was even celebrated in the arts and drama. Remember ‘Gringory’ in the now rested TV drama “Masquerade”?
According to 2014 records of occupational groups in the US, Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 16.1% of the 146.3% million employed people in the USA. “Among occupational groups in 2014, 43.4% of workers in farming, fishing and forestry were Hispanic or Latino. Other occupations with high shares of Hispanics or Latinos were building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupation, 36.7%, construction and extraction occupation 32.3%. Hispanics and Latinos were least likely to work in life, physical and social science occupations, 7.5% and in computer and mathematical occupation 6.6%- among major industries, 27.3% of workers in construction were of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity in 2014. Other industries with high concentrations of Hispanics and Latinos include agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting 23.1% and leisure and hospitality 22.3%. Hispanics had the lowest share of employment in public administration 11.4%, financial activities 11.3% and information 10.5%”
Quite clearly, Hispanics and Latinos, to which Miss Machado belonged, posted high percentages and indeed held sway in occupations and employments that commanded low education.
In his seminal piece titled; CHILD DOMESTIC WORKER IN RURAL AND URBAN AREAS OF NIGERIA; Implications for national development, Nwamaka P. IBEME, of the school of management sciences, National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, wrote
“Since the pre-colonial era, many ethnic nationalities are still engaged in receiving and supplying of child domestic workers. But it would appear that child domestic workers are rooted in Akwa Ibom state. In other words, Akwa Ibom state, where the Ibibios live, is the major donor of the child domestic workers in Nigeria (Akpan 2004)…One is not certain what gave rise to this phenomenon but it still anchors on poverty…The major cities of abode for these immigrant children include Port-Harcourt, Warri, Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna and Ibadan etc. among the Igbos, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and other major and minor groups, child domestic workers live and work with their kith and kin. Among the Ibibios of Akwa Ibom state, some parents and individuals prefer to send their children to other cities instead of being at home. There are hundreds of child domestic workers in rural and urban areas of Akwa Ibom State”
It was difficult to ascertain the year this piece was published. But the last paragraph would certainly not be true today. Perhaps more than the famed infrastructural dexterity of Godswill Akpabio, especially roads, fly-overs and much more, would remain his recognition of the negative occupational perception that Nigeria had of Akwa Ibom people and his attempts to change it. Nothing brings this truism to light better than the use to which Hilary put the Alicia Machado story. In May, 2016, Alicia Machado, ‘Miss Housekeeping’ became a US citizen and has been campaigning for Hilary since June, 2016. Her importance to the Clinton campaign is on the flipside a reflection of the psychological trauma the Ibibios has suffered in the Nigerian experience as much as it underscores the need to change the narrative of all ethnic peoples.
And this was what Akpabio attempted to do, when he signed the Childs right Bill into law on 5th December, 2008. Simply put, the law sought to ‘protect the growth of perceptual, emotional, intellectual and behavourial capabilities and functioning during childhood of Akwa ibom children under 16 years…The law protects the Akwa Ibom child from birth to adolescence and up to 16 years such that the child is afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community”
Akpabio understood, that, like the Latinos of which Machado represented, the Ibibios undoing was poverty and lack of education. “If you visit any family and you are expecting to see a houseboy with the name Okon or Ekaete as a steward, you would be disappointed. Those days were the dark days where our young ones were victims of circumstances of poverty and lack of education” he said.
But the story of Alicia Machado is a tale beyond the moment. Today she is a success. She is a TV host, actress, super and beauty queen. She is the fourth woman from Venezuela to be named Miss Universe. Obviously she is not poor anymore and has acquired sophistication. But the tag of ‘Miss Housekeeping remains. It is like a dress style of the past that gains currency in the present. It transmits responsibility to the people to either repudiate the garb or continue to adorn it with resentment. But we are not America. The bashings that Trump continues to receive on the matter is the measure of distaste any ethnic slur should have on a people. Ours may not be so.
As Ibibios we must recognize this Machado thing as our own moment. It should be both recognition of the importance of the Akpabio law as much as a realization that we must evolve a strategic imperative to banish the tag of Houseboy. For example, no more should our creative people in the arts accept roles of houseboys/housegirls or the like. No more should we allow predominant use of our first language interference as comedy lines in the arts. We should begin to speak out against these representations rather than see them myopically as arts for art sake. At another level, all succeeding governments must serve to aid this process by implementing the Child Rights law to the letter. Ibibio parents must take this issue personally. To them we must ask more. Lets wipe out the Machado slur from the Ibibio heritage.

Udo Silas

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