Tibetan nannies: Parents’ new status symbol?
In some families, the ethnic background of a nanny carries a certain cachet — and entrenched stereotypes.
“Generally speaking, what is the difference between someone from the Philippines, Tibet and the Caribbean in terms of child-raising mentality, patience, education ...?,” wondered a recent poster on the popular parenting site UrbanBaby.com.
Such posts — and parents — are not alone in voicing their wishes to hire nannies with the “right” socio-ethnic background for their children. For the past several years, Tibetan nannies have been all the rage in New York City. On message boards and playgrounds, some parents claimed Tibetan nannies were “very balanced and Zen” and aided in children’s “spiritual development,” whereas in areas such as Dallas, for example, Latino nannies have been more in demand for their Spanish-speaking abilities.
At the Diki Daycare Center in Astoria, N.Y., demand for Tibetan nannies became so great that the preschool began offering a Tibetan nanny referral service.
“Tibetan women are well known for being caring and loving nannies,” reads the promotional literature. “They are recognized for becoming ‘one of the family’ and offer the same compassion and quality of care for their charges as they do their own children.” Furthermore, it says, “Cleanliness, organization & dedication to education are values of Tibetan culture.”
I used to read a lot of mountain climbing books, which were full of glimpses of Tibetan culture. As the highest altitude culture in the world, and one of the most isolated, Tibet has always had a certain glamor. From what I read, however, I would not characterize "cleanliness, organization & dedication to education" as values of traditional Tibet. The smell of rancid butter was something practically every climber to visit Tibet remarked upon.
In fact, Tibetan nannies have become so popular that they may have become victims of their own success as they’ve been able to request and get escalating salaries — much to the annoyance of some employers.
I love how the media has so totally bought into the Cheap Labor Is Good mindset that getting escalating salaries makes Tibetan nannies victims of their own success.
“Our nanny has priced herself out of our range and I will let her go because she guilted us into paying through the nose,” recently wrote an outraged New Yorker on the message boards of UrbanBaby.com.
The downturn in the economy may also be compelling some parents to shift their focus to their own financial futures rather than the “Free Tibet” movement by seeking nannies who offer more practical perks — free language instructions.
“The trends that I see are more toward education, cultural enrichment,” says Clifford Greenhouse, the president of the Pavillion Agency, a nanny and housekeepers employment agency. “[Parents] are getting realistic as to the important things in life.”
To that end, he says, the top requests are for nannies who are native speakers of “world languages,” such as Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Spanish because, Greenhouse says, parents want their children to have an educational leg up, and a free language lesson thrown in with child care seems to fit the bill.
But is learning to speak Spanish with a lower class Mexican accent really the first step into a glittering career in international business?
Licensed employment agencies are prohibited by law to discriminate on the basis of ethnic background, though if there is a legitimate cultural or educational reason behind a request for a nanny with a particular background, owners of such firms will generally entertain them.
But doesn’t all this smack of plain, old-fashioned racism? It certainly does to many nannies. ...
What is even more troubling, points out Blaine, is the blatant racial profiling conducted by prospective employers, largely the mothers of nannies’ charges.
“Women who would never feel comfortable making such sweeping generalizations about anyone’s racial background in other areas of their lives, like work, somehow feel free to do it when they’re talking about hiring nannies,” she says. “People are more upfront when they’re talking about their homes and their kids because you don’t have to worry about H.R. coming to you, there’s no policing.”...
I'm shocked, shocked to hear this.
The bottom line, she says, is that race just doesn’t matter. “I can tell you, that in 18 years of doing this, I’ve never had a racial stereotype confirmed in the aggregate.”