“A Balikbayan box is a huge cardboard box (often weighing over 100 pounds) that Filipinos living all over the world send to family members who are still living in the Philippines. The word Balikbayan literally means homecoming in Tagalog. 400,000 thousand of these Balikbayan boxes arrive in the Philippines from around the world per month. But the holiday season is the busiest, with mothers sending to sons, brothers to sisters, and hundreds of thousands waiting in the Philippines for their box.” SOURCE: 99 PI Podcast
The sending of remittances is an important inter-regional economic flow concept and there is no better example than the Philippines. This 99 Percent Invisible podcast is an excellent portrayal of the cultural and economic impacts of the Balikbayan boxes, with a full transcript, good video clips, and nice images.
With unemployment high after WWII, the Philippines made an active economic strategy of remittances by encouraging citizens to work abroad and to send money back home. Filipinos went to the United States, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and throughout the Pacific. But the government didn’t enter trade agreements to grant them full citizenship in the new country as whole families, but often as individual temporary workers which meant that they always kept one foot (and their heart) in the Philippines.
Balikbayan means “homecoming” or “return of our people.” The people that left, the Balikbayan, are treated with an elevated status upon returning and often feel a sense of responsibility to those that they left behind. The Balikbayan boxes are care packages that they send back home to loved ones in the Philippines, but so much more so. Huge boxes loaded with commercial goods like chocolate, electronics, toothpaste, and yes, SPAM (SPAM is especially loved in the Filipino community for some fascinating cultural and historical reason). Christmas is celebrated for several months in the Philippines and the busiest time for Balikbayan boxes to be sent from all over the world.
TAGS: Philippines, economic, migration.