Christopher V. Marquez
Dec 16, 2004
The economy of a country is a good indication of its citizen’s lifestyle. A good economy usually indicates that there are enough jobs for the citizens and the government is able to implement various social programs for the public. A good job market also means that most of the citizens are able to afford most of the conveniences of a modern society. Unfortunately, very few countries have the necessary economy to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for its people. The Philippines is one such country. Filipinos that are less fortunate are always looking for an opportunity to better their lives. Some of these financially challenged people usually seek their fortune in distant lands. They gain admission to foreign lands in a variety of ways. A majority of Filipinos become domestic helpers; others are in demand in their own professional fields while there are still others that take advantage of certain legislation laws that allows them to be employed by a foreign government.
The Filipinos that joined the U.S. Navy is one such group. “A provision that was inserted in the Military Base Agreement in 1947 (article 27)” (Espiritu 28) granted the Navy the right to continue recruiting Filipino citizens. Filipinos became the only viable recruits from Asia for this branch of the U.S. military. They were continuously recruited through the decades and all eventually became U.S. citizens. While there are probably others who retired in the Philippines, a majority stayed and lived in the U.S. These groups of Filipinos like most of their compatriots in foreign lands became “Balikbayans.” They travel back and forth between the US and Philippines. Most became financially capable and bring their wealth to the Philippines. My interviewee Mr. Angel Viray fits in this present context of Filipino Americans. Mr. Viray followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. He resided in the U.S. after his stint, went to school at City College of San Francisco and raised his family in Daly City. He had gone back to his native land on numerous occasions for a visit and became a regular Balikbayan. Because of Mr. Viray’s affluent lifestyle during his many island visits many of his compatriots have attempted to come to the U.S. as well. Balikbayans who visit the Philippines easily influence others with their wealth, capabilities, lifestyle, and capacity to exert and solicit influence, making native Filipinos also want to migrate.
Balikbayans create an impression of great wealth through their lavish spending habits which motivates native Filipinos into going abroad. This is clearly evident of most Balikbayans who visit the Philippines. A good majority of Balikbayans are big spenders. I have an uncle who throws huge parties every time he goes back home. Lechon (roast pig) and seafoods are served, dishes that are usually too expensive for most Filipinos. I have another uncle who goes home and treats his friends and neighbors to big drinking parties. Beer and liquor flows like there is no tomorrow. I remember my Grandmother who came for a visit bringing expensive perfumes for relatives, and countless G.I Joes and Barbie dolls for us, much to the envy of neighboring kids. These are personal experiences that are continuously repeated all over the Philippines by thousands of Balikbayans every year. Balikbayans go to the mega malls and buy clothes and shoes that are too expensive for most Filipinos. They go to superstores and with an eye of envy from other shoppers, fill their carts with expensive foods. They bring their whole clan to restaurants and order expensive dishes. Fil-Ams are capable of such spendings because of their financial stature in the U.S. Proof of their income appears on a survey of the National Filipino American Council which shows that an average Filipino household “makes at least $25,000 a year versus the national average of $17,200” (Bautista 5). Through their financial capability, Balikbayans project an image of power by being able to afford expensive items and services. Native Filipinos see this and it influences many of them into immigrating, giving them the desire to acquire the financial status that the Balikbayans possess.
Balikbayans have tremendous capability to exert and solicit influence from rich, powerful people, and making them the envy of townspeople. I have a first hand experience of this kind of situation. Some of our townspeople have immigrated to the U.S. through marriages and petitions from Fil-Ams relatives, and when they went back as Balikbayans they became instant sensations. Video footages of our town fiesta shows them seated in front of the auditorium stage next to the rich, affluent members of the town. Being dollar earners have garnered them a place among the towns elite. Their capacity to donate has caught the attention of elected officials and they became guest of honors in many town parties. The example above shows the effect of being a Balikbayan, a scenario that is repeated many times over in other towns. The prestige of being a Balikbayan is further demonstrated by their easy access to locally elected officials usually on behalf of relatives who need special favors. Balikbayans from certain towns sometimes join together in the United States and form a club. Their capacity to influence becomes greater through these clubs and they commonly donate to religious foundations. According to my interviewee Mr. Viray their club “had contributed in the reconstruction of their town parish.” Fil-Ams apparent ability to solicit favors because of their stature is usually noticed by the public especially by their relatives and close friends. Ordinary townsfolk see and wish that they could also be in the same position as their visiting “kababayan.” Situations like this eventually encourage many Filipinos to immigrate to distant lands.
Professional Filipino Balikbayans knowingly entice their less paid Filipino counterparts through their success to come to the United States. A good example of these, are the Fil-Am nurses. They are very much in demand in the U.S. A good portion of Filipinos professionals who come to this country every year are nurses with a working visa. They usually work for a few years and eventually most will apply as permanent residents. I have known some Filipinos advising their relatives that are nurses back in the Philippines to apply for a working permit. They tell their relatives stories of how much they earn in the United States. They further entice their relatives with photos of their houses and their cars. This situation is a common Filipino scenario which is also experienced by other Filipino professional that are engineers, doctors, med-techs and technicians. The ultimate effect of these situations is the eventual willingness on the part of the native Filipino to follow in the footsteps of the immigrant relatives. Although it is not easy to enter the United States, it is interesting to note that a majority of these Filipinos do not give up easily, and spend a lot of their time and money in figuring out other options.
Many Balikbayans participate in charitable donations to help the poor, eventually gaining the attention of many people who idolize them and want to be like them. There are countless Fil-Ams who routinely go back home and donate material things to charities or their local parish. Mr.Viray stated in his interview that one of the purposes of their Pampangueno club “has been to provide charitable donations to the needy in his hometown.” Throughout the Philippines there are always caring Balikbayans who return to their native barrios and help their kinfolks in a variety of ways. They donate used books at the local elementary school, provide free meals through soup kitchens for orphans and poor families, and even distribute used toys to poor children. These acts of charities do not go unnoticed; as a matter of fact it sometimes promotes other members of the society particularly the affluent to participate. Balikbayans who initiate these kinds of programs are usually admired in their community. Many children and young adults of the barrios witness these acts of kindness and helpfulness by the wealthy Filipino Balikbayan who visit their village. These instances impress young minds that will further explore the possibility of becoming like the nice strangers they have seen. The idea of a better life somewhere becomes planted in young minds.
Balikbayans ability to acquire properties in the Philippines due to their financial wealth also serves as a motivator for native Filipinos to immigrate and work abroad. According to Veltisezar Bautista a survey done by the National Filipino American Council found out that “Filipino Americans consist of more than 511,000 households, with an annual collective income of $12.7 billion” (5). Many of these Filipinos are retired and some are returning to reside in the islands. I know a couple of family friends that went back and retired in the Philippines, one of them bought a condominium in Makati and decided to stay in the capital. I have a friend in Vallejo whose parents went back home to our province and bought land. Many retirees that are not buying residences in the capital usually buy lots and build their dreamhouses. The Philippine real estate is now geared towards Balikbayan retirees. Philslife, a real estate company is already anticipating the arrival of Filipino retirees. Takayuki Kuroda chair of Philslife marketing arm said “Our target are the baby boomers who will start retiring in 2007” (1). The buying power of the Balikbayans is clearly taken into consideration as most of the apartments and condominiums are priced into millions of Pesos. The ability of Fil-Ams to afford properties projects a life of success among the natives, and this has certainly inspired most of them into seeking higher paying jobs abroad.
Balikbayan tourists are able to go everywhere and be involved in activities because of their money, making native people dream of a rich life. Many beautiful destinations in the Philippines are geared towards the tourists in mind. Balikbayans are the majority of visitors in Boracay, an island resort with white sand beaches. Here Fil-Ams participate in wind surfing and scuba diving excursions. Tourist visit places such as the Mayon Volcano, Chocolate Hills of Bohol, and the Hundred Islands just to name a few. Filipino visitors in these places spend lavishly on expensive cocktails and room services. They stay in expensive hotels and enjoy expensive foods. An assortment of seafoods, steaks and exotic fruits are provided to them. They spend their stay in the Philippines being served like royalties and able to afford anything. Fil-Ams live like children free from worry, enjoying beautiful sceneries and traveling from place to place. They go to Baguio the summer capital of the Philippines and spend their time exploring picturesque trails on horseback. Most Balikbayans also spend time in Manila. I had a friend who went for a vacation and all she did was go bar hopping at night and shopping during the day. The ability of Fil-Ams to do anything they want makes them seem privileged in the eyes of the natives. A consequence would be the determination of other Filipinos to migrate and hopefully become privileged themselves.
The ability of Fil-Ams to help their family and relatives in the Philippines inspires other Filipinos to seek employment abroad. A big portion of the purchasing power of natives in the Philippines came from the monies that are remitted by Filipinos in foreign lands. A majority of Filipinos abroad send money back to their families in the islands. I personally know some people who send money to support their relatives education through college. Some of my relatives in the U.S. send Balikbayan boxes every now and then. All kinds of American products are sent back to be sampled by relatives. Some Filipinos even finance the construction of a new house in the Philippines. The effect of having relatives sending goodies from the United States is tremendous. As a kid I remember feeling proud every time we received goodies that I had an aunt in the U.S.
Filipinos that are supported by family members from abroad are usually better off than natives who do not have anyone abroad. Filipinos receiving support can live comfortably and even afford to hire a maid or two. They can buy expensive foods and send the kids to private schools. They are also more capable of buying things compared to Filipinos who are on their own. The support of relatives from abroad gives some native families an apparent success and life improvement that is usually the envy of neighbors. The eventual effect of this action on native Filipinos who see their neighbors well off, will decisively convince them to go abroad to
improve their financial situations.
The reasons for the constant migration of Filipinos vary. The effect of expatriates returning and even just visiting have had a tremendous impact on the native populace. Through the Balikbayans lifestyle, influence, and capability some Filipinos are given hope, others are motivated but there are still others who are challenged. Some Filipinos who decide to go abroad and imitate their Balikbayan neighbor will also come back as Balikbayans in their own right one day. This apparent cycle of influence and immitation will continue on and motivate another generation of Filipinos. Due to the ever worsening state of life in the Philippines, where the price of commodities is beyond the reach of the general populace, it is a comfort to know that there will always be Balikbayans helping the economy and giving the weary populace hope, maybe a dream that they might just make it too.
Bautista, Veltisezar. “The Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today.” 14 Dec. 2004 <http://smccd.net/accounts/skylib/citing.html
Espiritu, Yen Le. HOME BOUND: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, and countries. University of California Press. London, England 2003.
Viray, Angel. Personal Interview. 01 Nov. 2004.
“Inquirer.” VISIT ASIA. 18 Nov. 2004. <http://www.asianewsnet.net/level3_template4.php?13sec=5&news_id+31835> 14 Dec. 2004