Behind Glass

Me and My Playmates
Image: “Me and My Playmates” by Ronna Manansala, oil on canvas, 2018

Having worked with young children in the Philippines who some of them trafficked or had come from heartbreaking backgrounds of violence, it came to my attention that the media may mean well in bringing public awareness of their sordid reality, but that its attempts to do so aren’t always respectful. As Elena Krsmanovic states in Captured ‘Realities’ of Human Trafficking: “In contemporary trafficking representations linked to slavery aesthetics, the issue of human trafficking is reduced to simplistic binaries of the free and the enslaved, us and them, the subjects and the objects, which further contributes to victims’ dehumanisation. It is, therefore, possible that images of trafficking victims lead readers to re-establish their privileged position in terms of safety and agency, and reduce trafficked persons to helpless figures.”

Additionally as Melissa Gira Grant notes about trafficking in media: “Most of all, what is lost is any understanding or appreciation of the challenges faced by the millions of people working, struggling and surviving in abusive conditions, whose experiences will never fit on a billboard.”

Given these representations in media, the following poem was drafted as a brief narrative of a trafficked child, capturing her voice amidst the hope to retain her innocence and agency despite all she has seen and been through. I also chose to feature Ronna Manansala’s painting as it doesn’t feed into the “us and them” binary, but rather tastefully makes us cognizant of the fact that trafficked persons include children too, where children, despite being young and innocent, can also be powerful voices without being further objectified and dehumanized through media representation.

Lil’ scared girl

button nose

dark brown eyes

a halo on my hair

glinting under the sun

pillowy arms and marshmallow toes

and black smudge

decorating a 5-year-old birthday smile

so that’s what Tita

sells to the white uncles


On ads

I squat

my hair unwashed

but still shiny pretty soft


When you ask me

how old am I –

I lift up my hand

the soft inside of my palm


Will you ask me  

to use a Styrofoam cup?


You print my story

with other lil’ girls like me

I do not have a name

just wanna play patty-cake

in my rosy dress



I am your AP story –

Do you see yourself

in the mirror of your lens

where I am nothing

but a puppy or kitten

behind glass

in passing?


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