Pinay documentary photographer raises awareness on human trafficking

CHICAGO – Xyza Bacani, a former domestic worker in Hong Kong turned street and documentary photographer recently visited Chicago where she met her fans with one mission in mind.

“Labor trafficking is everywhere,” said Bacani. “We have no idea that we’re talking to a victim, and most of the time they themselves don’t even know they are victims.”

Bacani now works for Redux, a photo agency in New York that represents high-caliber photographers worldwide.

“I want to raise awareness that [human trafficking] is actually happening, we just tend to ignore it,” she said. “I know there are a lot of caregivers and migrant workers here that only want to work properly for their families.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, in the United States alone there are already 6,000 calls received on human trafficking this year.

Through photography, Bacani believes in educating migrant workers one photograph at a time.

“It’s a global issue, same as sex trafficking,” she said. “It’s harder to pinpoint though, because there’s no physical proof of being a victim.”

For Armand Frasco, a documentary photographer himself, the power in Bacani’s photos comes from the heart.

“Stuff like cameras, you can buy those things,” said Frasco. “Skills, you can learn those things but the composition–how you put things together–you cannot buy those. It will come from your mind, your heart.”

Bacani was featured in the New York Times, CNN, and has received numerous awards internationally, all praising her for capturing the reality in today’s labor force.

“We tend to forget that our rights are being stepped on,” said Bacani. “We always think it’s normal to pay people with big amounts of money; normal not to be given enough time to rest; normal to have our documents confiscated because us Filipinos, we’re hard-working and resilient.”

Robert Markson, 92, whose caregiver is a Filipino, agrees.

“I’ll say this without exception. The Filipino people that I have met are hardworking,” said Markson. “They’re conscious of what their efforts must be and they will help those people who need their help–sometimes, interfering with their own normal lives.”

For Bacani, she does not consider herself a hero but is hopeful that her upcoming shows in Hong Kong and the Philippines, showcasing her human rights-themed photographs, will help improve the statistics.

“Sometimes, we forget to become heroes for ourselves,” she said. “It’s always our families and other people. We forget that before we become heroes for others, we must become heroes for ourselves first.”

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