Love sealed on a balikbayan box

“Roughly speaking, one loves not because one wants gifts, but because one wants their meaning.”

-Niklas Luhmann

PARALLEL to something big happening in Manila, the MMSU Graduate School organized recently a Research Forum on Migration and Development where this columnist was invited to speak.

There I presented a paper I co-authored with my ‘partner for all seasons’ Marjorie Pascual Garcia, also of MMSU, and Vangie Novero Blust of Green Mountain College, Vermont, USA. Bearing the title “Influences of Transnational Labor Migration on Ilocano College Students’ Consumption Behaviors, Value Retention, and Social Relationships”, the paper studied in detail the cases of fifteen college students whose parents are working overseas.

Allow me to share with you some insights from our work:

Migration is across all social classes. While it is true that poverty is the main reason for work overseas, many Filipinos go abroad for some other reasons (including whims and caprices). Note that most of the participants did not consider themselves economically poor when their parents were still home.

For one, no participant confessed to experiencing hunger in their pre-migration lives. When their parents went abroad, the increase in food was more on the variety, not on the quantity. One student puts it:

Nagbalin a sab-sabali tay ordinaryo ken inaldaw-aldaw a kankanenmi aglalo no agpao-it ni Mama ti door-to-door. (Our everyday fare became different, especially when we would receive our door-to-door package.)

Also, most of the participants now find themselves frequenting fast-food chains, which connotes deviation from Ilocano foodways.

When it comes to fashion, they now have a penchant for signature clothes, preference for malls & department stores over the public market, and dislike for Ukay-ukay. They are also drawn to trendy and fashionable jewelry & accessories.

Nearly all of the participants have the following appliances and gadgets: TV, DVD, component, desktop computers/laptops, Playstations, and high-end mobile phones.

Their taste and preferences for goods (both durables and non-durables) mimic those observed in the West and other developed regions. The students’ material possessions in terms of clothing, gadgets, and appliances are distinctively cosmopolitan, suggesting the influence of globalization in consumption. This could be attributed largely to their exposure to mass media.

One interesting finding in the research is that although most of the participants own high-end mobile phones and they talk to their migrant parents on a regular basis, these young people are not able to communicate their more important concerns to their parents, as one of them points out:

“Kapag may problema, madalas e sinasarili na lang namin, hindi na namin sinsasabi kay Mama, kasi marami na siyang problema doon at ayaw na naming siyang mag-alala pa.”

Parents tend to overcompensate their absence with material goods—a Commodification of Love. Sociologist Randy David observes: In the age of absentee parenting, the communication of love has taken the form of a steady stream of gift-giving. This however cannot compensate for the erosion of intimacy.

Affirming the findings of many other researches written on this topic, migration has taken its toll on the Filipino family. Participants generally acknowledge a ‘drifting away’ in their relationship with parents. They lament of their parents’ absence in special occasions or times of need. When their elders come home for vacation, there is an effort to make up for lost time. With the idea of “quality time”, they would take vacation trips to Baguio, Manila and other destinations, they would shop in malls, and go to beaches.

For the participants, however, quality time does not compensate for their parents’ absence in important moments—graduation, pinning of medals, the first heartbreak, the first menstrual visit, or even the simple joys that everyday family life brings. A female participant remarked:

“Idi adda pay lang da parents ko ket close ti relationship me, itattan ket loose.” (When my parents were still here, our relationship was close, now it’s loose.)

Another female participant, who confessed to being a lesbian, even attributes her homosexual orientation to the absence of her OFW mom.

Most of these students are taking up courses which were chosen by their parents whose main concern was their children’s job opportunities abroad once they get their college degrees. Some of them wanted to take up other courses but obliged to the wishes of their elders. A female participant confessed:

“BS Nursing ti innalak a kurso gapu ta isu ti kayat ni mother ko, in-demand ngamin diyay abroad. Medyo napilitanak ta kontrada met ngamin kadydiay kayat ko a kurso. Tourism koma ti kayatko gapu ta ballogak.” (I am into BS Nursing because it is what my mother wanted for me, given that the course is in demand abroad. I was a bit forced to take up the course because they were opposed to what I wanted. I would have taken up Tourism because I love to go to different places.)

This student is now having much difficulty in her major subjects owing to her lack of interest in the course. Although most participants have failed in some subjects, making them irregular students, all of them are determined to finish their studies in the hope that they too can find employment abroad.

From the looks of it, the chain of transnational migration is not about to be broken. This is sad because, at best, migration must be looked into only as a palliative measure, something temporary, and something we should eventually turn our backs from. And, why not, with over eight million Filipinos now scattered in all corners of the world, the Philippines is not a place better than what it was over a hundred years ago when the Ilocanos started the phenomenon of transnational labor.

The following recommendations are thus set forth:

Schools, government agencies, and civic organizations should design programs to help children of transnational families cope with the effects of long-term parental absence. One way to do this is the formation of support groups. When we were holding the focus group discussions, participants were relieved to know that their agonies were being experienced as well by other children from transnational families. Certainly, it is always comforting to know that one is not alone. In fact, the participants have kept the bond and continue to interact with each other.

Students who are taking up courses not of their liking must be encouraged to look into ways they can pursue their passions and nurture their potentials, e.g. joining special interest clubs, attending trainings.

Educational institutions must cease acting like “pimping stations” for overseas work and consciously explore and promote opportunities for success outside migration.

In the meantime, even with the absence of a government that pushes for tangible socioeconomic reforms, we close our eyes and look forward to a day when the balikbayan box is displayed in a museum as an artifact of this nation’s lonely and alienating past.

11 Comments

Filed under Education, Family, Migration

11 responses to “Love sealed on a balikbayan box

  1. clarize

    I believe that the bond connecting the members of the family must be the strongest..as for me,I cant picture out if one of my parents,especially my mother will go abroad..Who will be there at my our(children) side in times we needed them most?Really,there is nothing better than being comforted by one of our parents..
    They say that the main reason on migrating really is poverty,but how about our feelings or the bond between the children-parents?i strongly disagree that the things from abroad as pasalubongs or as door to door padala are enough for the longing and the presence we would feel if they’re not with us..

  2. sherwin fernandez

    base on the study made i agree all of the conclusion that they made i observe that to my classmate and also to our neighborhood…that’s why i’m happy with the family that i have i have my parents that will guide us and their to support us in every failure and success that we have its not about the material thing its about the love and presence that our parents give to us….

  3. ra

    ..,, marami akong mga kaibigan ganito ang sitwasyon.,, minsan naiinggit ako sakanila,, dahil nabibili nila ang mga gamit na kanilang gusto.., pero may mga ilang bagay din na sila mismo ang naiinggitminsan sa amin.,, iba pa rin daw na kapiling mo ang parents.,, kahit papaano,, thankful ako na hindi na kailangang lumayo pa ang aking mga magulang.,.,

  4. Cherryln

    i don’t know how to react this article since i did not yet receive/open a balikbayan box.hehehe. All i know is that lahat ng laman nun e mga gamit galing sa abroad kung baga mga “state sides na mga gamit”.. According to my friend she tell me that ‘mahirap nang walang mama’,because she’s mom is in abroad,i really dont know if she’s really happy when she receive a balikbayan box came from her mom. I know that she really missed her so much thinking that imbes na balikbayan box ‘yung dumating sana her mom..Napagtanto ko na “it is not important to have material things that we receive, it is the presence that we need to our family , the love and care…

  5. Batman

    What is really meant by being responsible? The family as a whole should know their life’s goal. Is true happiness reigning in the home?
    My parents are not OFW’s, and I think they are better to be one. I am very sensitive whenever I encounter the word family. Of my years of existence, I longed for their presence and understanding. I can see that they are there present. But I really cannot help it to ask myself “Why this kind of family?”
    Indeed, each and every time they fight in front of their children, with all those rubbish talks over and over again blathering to each other, I must admit that anger and hate drowned me. But one thing I hate the most is that hating them takes only a split second to vanish.
    To what I am right now, I owe it to them. I salute at them for the years of hard work, dedication, love and sacrifice they gave to us. They were always there during times of difficulty and struggles. They might not be a good provider like an OFW parent is, but surely a better companion and a foundation of guidance, direction and right conduct.
    I believe that the presence of one’s parent is really a must to their children. Because it is our environment that takes a great part into the development one’s characteristics.
    The rate at which the kind of situation where a parent or both of them will work overseas is exponentially growing for the primary reason of our country’s economy is not enough to sustain this increasingly growing population of ours.
    These teething troubles rooted to one problem which is poverty. Poverty enables us to do certain things that we do not expect we are capable of. Parents will not go abroad if they can have a better life here in our country. They choose to be apart from their children for them to have a brighter future, to provide them what they need, even if it means being enslaved by foreigners. Again I am going back to the question “when is a parent responsible?” Is it when they are good providers, or the other way around?

  6. Transnational migration is fast increasing because the government has no adequate actions when it comes to the needs of our people. They tend to focus on different aspects like housing projects, as if to shelter the homeless, and others and taking for granted of the employment needs of people! They think migration of our OFW’s to other countries would make our economy grow. Maybe for a while, it helps our economy, but the fact that there are major effects upon leaving their kids/children behind. As mentioned, they tend to become so rebellious, lack of guidance from the parents, and maybe worst would yet to come. Thus, it’s a MUST for the government to make actions regarding transnational migration or better yet, make some ways on how to help those children left behind by their parents to work abroad for them to have a better life in the future.

  7. tc

    Parents working abroad often forget that closeness to their children is lost when seldom see them. Children want their parents to be near whenever they are needed for comfort, pieces of advice and love during hard and troubled times. When the difficult problems of life attack, the balikbayan boxes are useless in solving emotional and spiritual problems.
    It’s high time that OFW parents realize that true love and care can’t be sealed in a balikbayan box but being always near when they are needed.

  8. ian

    In my family no one goes abroad but I know that when your family is apart you will be sad and cant think properly .No gifts can replace the moments when you are with your family. Parents are the best they are the ones who knows what we think or they are the one that can help us solve a little or big problem. Balikbayan box cant replace the love of our mother or father. Better think when living your family..Sometimes parents are force to go abroad to make their children have better future..I dont know how will I handle things when I will have a family on my own.? Do you know what to do?????

  9. my mother is working abroad so I can tell that living without my mother is so hard…even when I was small my mother and father worked abroad and left me with my Lola with my cousins. And I think that’s why I am not that open to my parents. When I have problems I just share it with my friend not my parents.

  10. blueprint

    for me, it’s hard that my mom or my dad will go abroad. In this article, I believe that children who are not with there parents, i mean they are in abroad for example, they do not open their problems or they may keep it with them. and in that case, they maybe a bad effect about it. even if there are a lot of material present if they need a person to comfort them.

  11. tintin

    How sad to imagine the truth that some people go to other country to work and serve ang hindi niya kaanu-ano. Lacking their presence to the family, especially their children in their special moment’s like what have been said in this article. I know that absence of a parent is difficult. But with the lacking of our government, ito ang pinakamagandang paraan upang mapaghandaan ang future ng kanilang mga anak.

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