By Gerard Rabara
“First Batch is a love letter to our mothers, our lolas, our titas, and the strong women that paved the way. It is a tribute to our matriarchs. It is a thank you note to those whose shoulders we stand and a gift to those who seek to find their roots.” (Brochure text, First Batch (a part of the Exhibition “Back to Normality”), Wienwoche, Vienna, Austria)
Migration, coming of age, bravery, culture clash, longing, and belonging, these are stories of many people in the diaspora. For young Filipinos in Vienna these are stories of their families, and they’re profoundly personal. For young artist Chelsea Amada and her friends, these are stories of their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts that are yearning to be told.
First Batch is a two-part project, vernissage and documentary, that revolves around the first wave of Filipino migrant nurses from the 1970s to 1980s to Austria, brought about by the bilateral agreement between the Philippines and the city of Vienna.
Chelsea Amada, a second-generation Austrian-Filipino and proud daughter of a migrant nurse, embarks on an investigative journey. Together with a team of young storytellers of predominantly Filipino descent, they try to uncover and discover stories of these pioneer women in a series of conversations - kwentuhan, that reveal familiar stories of many Filipino nurses in the diaspora, but also unique and intimate tales of young women whose individual journeys, dreams and aspirations deserve to be center stage.
The Wienwoche Exhibition
Last September 12, 2021, the project debuted as one of the featured exhibitions in one of Vienna’s signature contemporary art festivals, Wienwoche. For the festival’s theme “Back to Normality,”  Chelsea and team presented an exhibition by Viennese photographer Ina Aydogan, featuring moments captured during the interviews with the nurses, a mixture of portraits and close-up details that reveal who these women really are.
Apart from photographs, the exhibition also presented a time-capsule display full of trinkets and mementos from the homeland brought over during their first journey into Europe, complemented with a video montage of old photographs and graphic art, by Fil-Am artist Jarrod Caranto, flashing through a vintage television set in a dimly lit room in a gallery space behind a Filipino owned and managed Hotel am Brillantengrund. It was a quick glimpse through the lives of these women and a visual retrospective of their “normality” during the time of their arrival, but also a story of continuity and legacy.
The storytelling culminates in an artistic documentary film, set to premiere in the summer of 2022. The film hopes not only to delve into how these women made Vienna their home, with its various detours and obstacles, but to also underline the realities they faced and what it represents to those that inherit their legacy today.
The Filipino Legacy
As some of the production team are proud daughters and granddaughters of first batchers, it was important not only to highlight the valiant stories of a migrant minority, but a proud legacy of women - Filipino women. In Austria’s patriarchal society, these women broke stereotypes, exemplified nurturing leadership, showed unconditional kindness while standing their ground, and to this day continue to display the true essence and power of the Filipino matriarchy .
For the first time in the Austrian context, the film creates a framework that enables precisely these women to depict their own narrative first-hand. These are their portraits of life abroad, arrival, getting along, difficulties, life lessons, as well as personal accounts. To the community, these women are revered and well-respected pioneers, but they remain quiet whispers in the nation’s story. Not much is known or written on these women. The project gives faces and voices to these human stories because they are as much a story of Austria as it is of the Philippines, and they deserve to be told.
First Batch Logo (Copyright by Ina Aydogan)
First Batch (Copyright by Kimberly Javier)