Rosem Morton

Diaspora on the Frontlines
Location: Baltimore
Nationality: Philippines
Biography: Rosem Morton is a documentary photographer transitioning from nearly a decade long career as a surgical nurse. Her storytelling focuses on the intimacy of everyday life amidst gender, health, and racial adversity. As a National Geographic... read on
Public Story
Diaspora on the Frontlines
Diaspora on the Frontlines

Story and photographs featured on National Geographic
supported by The National Geographic Society

32 percent of the 213 registered nurses who have died of COVID and related complications are of Filipino descent.

Filipino nurses have been on the frontlines of many health crises over the years and it is not by accident. Healthcare in the Philippines was largely modeled after the American system during the U.S. occupation, which lasted 48 years. This prepared Filipinos to become nurses abroad instead of their home country. 

The first large wave of Filipino immigrants began after World War II when the U.S. created the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP), which facilitated the entry of foreign nationals to help ease labor shortages. In 1948, the Philippines and the U.S. entered into an agreement for the financing of bi-national centers to coordinate educational exchange programs in various fields, including healthcare. By the 1960s, the demand for nurses increased dramatically following the passage of Medicare and Medicaid and a spike in illnesses such as the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

It is important to recognize the role of colonialism in shaping the dominant perception of many marginalized groups. The common narrative for migrants has always been, leaving their poor country for better opportunities abroad. While true, this is not the only truth. This project seeks to question this dominant narrative by examining past and present history and pairing this with current and archival images to show the underrepresented stories of these nurses over the years.

Archival photos from Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry and Library of Congress
Filipino nursing diaspora research by Ren Capucao and 
Catherine Ceniza Choy

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