Academic journal article Ethnologies

Boxed in or out? Balikbayan Boxes as Metaphors for Filipino American (Dis)location

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Boxed in or out? Balikbayan Boxes as Metaphors for Filipino American (Dis)location

Article excerpt

Les boites balikbayan (du tagalog balik, revenir et bayan, ville ou pays), qui contiennent surtout des pasalubong, ou cadeaux, pour les parents ou amis, sont litteralement des elements de base de l'existence transnationale de nombreux Philippins et en sont venues a representer les balikbayans, ou ceux qui reviennent, eux-memes. En utilisant les concepts des rites de passage et de la dialectique du don, de la reciprocite et de la reproduction, cet article considere les boites balikbayan comme des metaphores du dedoublement experimente et ressenti par beaucoup de Philippino-americains de la premiere generation. Il presente la preparation des boites comme une allegorie des liens qu'entretiennent les Philippino-americains avec ceux qui restent aux Philippines. En considerant ces boites comme l'un des << lieux >> de l'identite des balikbayans, il met l'accent sur le statut liminal qu'ont les membres de cette premiere generation de Philippino-americains, a la fois dans leur pays d'origine et dans leur pays d'adoption.

Balikbayan (from the Tagalog words balik, to return, and bayan, town or nation) boxes, which mostly contain pasalubong, or gifts, for relatives and friends, are staples in the transnational existence of many Filipinos and have come to represent the balikbayans, or the returning persons, themselves. Utilizing the rites of passage concept and the dialectic of gift-giving, reciprocity and reproduction, this article looks at balikbayan boxes as metaphors for the dislocation experienced and felt by many first-generation Filipino Americans. It presents the preparation of the boxes as an allegory for the bonds that bind Filipino Americans to those who remain in the Philippines. In reading these boxes as a location of balikbayan identity, it emphasizes the liminal status of first generation Filipino Americans both in their native and adopted countries.

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Bisag unsa na nila kadugay didto, mo-ari gyud sila. Unya mao na kanang, mostly, mo-da gyud anang balikbayan box. Kay para sa ilang relatives. [No matter how long they've been there (in the United States), they still come here (to the Philippines). And that's why, mostly, they bring that balikbayan box. For their relatives.] (Jocelyn, Filipina interviewee 1999)

And use becomes creation when objects become parts of objects, when the context becomes a composition (Glassie 1991: 265).

In the summer of 1998, my family and I traveled back to the Philippines to attend my brother's wedding. It was the first time I had returned to my native land since we immigrated to the United States thirteen years prior. Our luggage consisted of nine suitcases and eleven balikbayan (from the Tagalog words balik, to return, and bayan, town or nation) boxes. While the suitcases contained our clothes and supplies for the trip, the boxes mostly contained pasalubong, or gifts, for relatives and friends. This seeming largesse is by no means out of the ordinary; in fact, these boxes are staples in the transnational existence of many Filipinos and have come to represent the balikbayans, or the returning persons, themselves.

In this article, I examine balikbayan boxes and their significance, specifically contending that these are indices of the dislocation experienced and felt by many first generation Filipino Americans. To most Filipinos, their families are of the utmost importance, inspiring loyalty and a sense of duty such that many immigrate to the United States because of their desire to provide better lives for their families. In doing so, these immigrants (1) often make many sacrifices, not least the separation (initially for some, extended for others) experienced from the people to whom they were closest. In the United States, they have new and different experiences which, to varying degrees, contribute to their alienation from families and friends. The act of visiting the Philippines allows balikbayans to reconnect with their homeland, while the gift giving that accompanies it serves as a tightening or renewal of bonds to their loved ones. …

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