There are not many platforms of expression open to migrant workers throughout Asia. Now, poetry competitions are giving them a voice.
Indonesian domestic worker Deni Apriyani moved to Singapore in 2013 with hopes of making enough money to buy land for her family back home. She worked hard looking after a family of expats and at the end of her 14-hour work day, she would write poetry composed on her mobile phone.
She told Reuters that she is happy when she writes, and the fact that people accept migrant workers as fellow human beings when they read their poetry brings her joy.
In 2017, Apriyani won a poetry competition held for migrants, and in 2018 one of her poems was published in a book. The book was a compilation of more than 60 works written by Singaporean writers and migrant workers.
Her poem “Murderers” focused on the stigma faced by migrant workers who dare to find love in the city. “You call them sluts, you call them useless, you call them shameful, but did you know the stories behind them?” she asks.
Singaporean author Jamal Ismail said the experiences of migrants serve as enrichment for the local literary scene. He added that while their words may not seem fancy, they do more than well in terms of humanism.
Ismail pointed out that migrant workers are often marginalized, leaving them lonely. “When you’re lonely, that is when you reflect upon the meaning of life, which makes their work so powerful,” he said.
Apart from books, migrant workers are also slowly finding their voices through other art forms. Earlier in February, the movie A Land Imagined was released in Singapore. With its main center of focus Singapore’s low-paid migrants, critics labeled it as a milestone in Singaporean cinema.