In this paper, I discuss how the global Filipino
Diaspora is imagined as a community through various transnational circulation
of people, capital, goods and information to and from the Philippine homeland.
These transfers include visits to their home town or city by immigrants
residing or working abroad, remittances and consumer items sent to relatives
in the Philippines, and international telephone communication that provides
for information flows to and from the diaspora. I also discuss the role
of the Philippine government in the ongoing expansion of the international
Filipino diaspora through its promotion and glorification of overseas contract
labor. The above social processes represent just a few examples of how
the space of the global Filipino diaspora is socially constructed and reproduced
through transnational movements and circulation.
Diasporas and the Social Construction of Space.Cultural, political and economic processes of globalization during the past twenty years have contributed to heightened sociological interest in diasporas as growing numbers of people have migrated from one society to another, largely for economic and/or political reasons. Whether as immigrants, refugees, guest workers, or exiles, these population movements have resulted in the global dispersal of millions of people and their cultures and national identities throughout the world. The number of international migrants has recently been estimated at over 100 million of which 25 to 30 million are thought to be foreign workers and another 20 million are refugees and asylum seekers (Castles and Miller 1993: 4-5). The increasing "global character of international migration" has led to the characterization of the present era as the "age of migration" (Castles and Miller 1993: 260).
The concept of diaspora represents an effort to analyze the social and cultural dynamics of these transnational movements by focusing not only on the overseas communities established by immigrants, refugees or guest workers but also, and perhaps more importantly, on the continuing relations of these communities with their homeland. Central to the notion of diaspora is that such overseas minority communities residing in host countries maintain "strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin-- their homelands" (Sheffer 1986: 3). These linkages are especially evident in transnational circulations of capital, labor, goods and information and serve to distinguish diaspora communities from other racial and ethnic minorities that may no longer maintain such emotionally close and economically significant relations with their home countries.
Obviously, overseas migration and diasporas are not new social phenomena; the Jewish, Chinese and Indian diasporas that date to the fifteenth century are perhaps most closely associated with the term. However, I would like to emphasize the global migration processes and consequent diasporas that have arisen as a result of the development of transnational capitalism, which is a far more recent phenomenon. While Anderson (1991: 36) argues that the nation has its origins with the development of print capitalism, global diasporas are products of transnational capitalism. In particular, the transition since the early 1970s in the organization of capitalism from Fordist to flexible modes of capital accumulation, marked especially by time-space compression, has resulted in profound changes in how we experience time and space in the contemporary world (Harvey 1989). These changes, graphically characterized as the "pulverization of the space of high modernity" (Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 20), have especially brought our conceptions of space to the forefront of theory and analysis. Space and its theoretical centrality can easily be substituted for "place" in Lipsitz' recent commentary on the postmodern world (1994, emphasis in original): A century ago, the combined effects of state building, urbanization, and industrialization transformed perceptions about change over time, making history the constitutive problem of the age of industrialization. Today, the ever expanding reach and scope of electronic, computer chip, fiber optic, and satellite communications imposes a rationalized uniformity on production and consumption all over the world, making place the constitutive problem.
Calls thus have been made for theorizing "how space is being re-territorialized [rather than merely deterritorialized] in the contemporary world" (Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 20, emphasis in original). More generally, to locate ourselves in Jameson's (1984) "postmodern hyperspace," new and more effective maps, coordinates and images must be developed (Rouse 1991: 9).
Diaspora represents such a new conceptual image with which to map the reterritorialization of space quite apart from the usual coordinates based on physical location, territory and distance. Given their transnational scope and ever expanding boundaries, diasporas directly challenge the long held correspondence among nation, culture, identity and place. As people move to different nations, they take their cultures, customs, and ethnic/racial identities with them and thereby create and extend the social space of the diaspora. Thus, the above assumed correspondence has been disentangled as a result of the globalization of labor, capital, communication and culture such that peoples in diaspora can be seen as occupying and involved in different "places" simultaneously.
The concept of diaspora is especially useful in indicating the deficiencies of sociological perspectives of the "community" (ranging from the village to the nation) for the study of immigrant and other overseas minority populations. In demonstrating how migration (and thereby also diaspora) challenges the standard social science notion of the community, Rouse (1991: 10-11) has argued that community combines two main ideas. It specifies an identifiable population that occupies a single bounded space along with the assumption that the social relations of community members will be more meaningful within this space than beyond it, and community implies a "certain commonality and coherence" evident in a shared way of life. Like migration, diasporas also confront established notions of community as bounded and consistent sets of social relationships because of their transnational scope. Thus, unlike the nation, diasporas are not imagined as "limited" (Anderson 1991: 7) because they lack the "finite, if elastic boundaries" and physical territory of the nation. Insofar as they transcend national, cultural and spatial boundaries, diasporas are far more open and indeterminate and constantly subject to change. While their specific identities imply a certain degree of boundedness and stability, diasporas must be understood as representing social and cultural processes of movement and change. Imagined as communities, diasporas are transnational in nature rather than being mere ethnic or immigrant minority groups situated in a specified nation-state since they represent "ways of conceiving community, citizenship, and identity as simultaneously here and elsewhere" (Clifford 1992: 3).
But the siting of diasporas here and elsewhere is hardly an arbitrary historical or political process. As cultural and social products of transnational capitalism, diasporas can be seen to "follow and express distinct maps/histories--linking 'first and third' worlds, urban and rural zones, national or transnational margins and centers" (Clifford 1992: 10). As social constructions, diasporas enable us to appreciate the "social nature of space as something created and reproduced through collective human agency" (Rouse 1991: 11). Rather than simply representing a physical entity, space is socially constructed through migration or through "conceptual and political acts of re-imagination" (Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 17). The ever expanding scope, diversity and number of diasporas throughout the contemporary world is just one indication of the social creation and reproduction of space under transnational capitalism.
Related concepts to diaspora are border, the "narrow
strip along steep edges" of national boundaries (Anzaldua 1987: 3), and
borderlands, the "interstitial zone of displacement and deterritorialization"
(Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 19). Border and borderlands must be understood
as not necessarily referring to any specific territorial boundaries or
territorial locales between nations, communities or cultures. As "sites
of crossing," they represent places where people, ideas, information, goods
and other cultural forms intersect with each other. Viewed more critically
in relation to diasporas, border and borderlands are especially useful
concepts in denoting the liminal and marginalized status of many migrants
such as foreign workers and refugees and even permanently settled immigrants
because of their limited rights and protection in their host countries.
Even the work place can be the borderlands for migrant workers who may
be subject to physical violence, sexual abuse, economic exploitation ,
denial of basic human rights, and gender and racial discrimination at their
Balikbayan PilgrimsAnderson (1991: 55, 65) emphasizes the "decisive historical role" played by creole administrative functionaries in the imagining of the nation in the New World as a result of their personal encounters with one another in their "secular pilgrim ages" in colonial realms. Overseas Filipinos returning to the Philippines for a long awaited visit are engaged in a comparable pilgrimage to their cultural homeland during which they similarly meet numerous traveling companions like themselves living in diaspora. Such a returning Filipino is referred to as a balikbayan, a contrived term coined in the mid 1970s that literally means a returnee to the nation. During the martial law regime (1972-1986) of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, the "Balikbayan Program" was established to encourage Filipinos living abroad, especially in the United States, to come back and see for themselves what political and economic conditions were like under martial law. These returnees were provided with certain travel privileges such as discounted air fares, extended visas, and priority immigration and customs service upon arrival at the airport in Manila.
Balikbayans from the United States continue to return to the Philippines, but their numbers now include thousands of Filipinos employed overseas as contract workers in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom in addition to those settled permanently in other countries such as Australia and Canada. The pilgrimage home is especially great during the Christmas holiday season when the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila is besieged with full planeloads of arriving Filipinos and their welcoming relatives and friends. Balikbayans also schedule their visits home so that they can attend the annual fiesta of their hometown, a week long holiday period when townspeople living in Manila and other Philippine cities also return home. Appreciative of the financial contributions of their overseas members and their hometown associations, many towns sponsor lavish welcoming receptions for them that feature large banquets for several hundred guests, musical entertainment, and laudatory speeches by town officials in which balikbayans are individually recognized (Okamura 1983: 345). Like other rites of passage, the pilgrimage home results in the transition to a new social status for the balikbayan as an honored and respected member of the town, however lowly his/her social origins may have been before going abroad and no matter what kind of work he/she performs.
Balikbayan visits contribute to the imagining of
the Filipino diaspora insofar as they meet and interact with hundreds of
other returning overseas Filipinos throughout their long journey to their
hometown. They thus become aware of their worldwide dispersal and of their
common good fortune as overseas Filipinos much like Muslims making the
sacred pilgrimage to Mecca learn that they share Islam with a community
of believers of diverse colors from throughout the world. Upon arrival
at the Manila airport, simply waiting for one's luggage to appear on the
baggage carousel informs the returning Filipino that others like him/her
have come from San Francisco, Osaka, Saipan, Jeddah, Rome, Vancouver, and
other distant and perhaps unfamiliar places an d that they also are bringing
with them a wide assortment of consumer goods in appropriately labeled
"balikbayan boxes." These goods include the latest clothing styles, television
and stereo sets, video cassette recorders, high priced basketball shoes,
and other highly desired fashionable items from abroad intended for distribution
to relatives and friends. Living in diaspora, perhaps isolated from others,
overseas Filipinos may not be fully aware of their global dispersal; however,
the pilgrimage home enables them to feel a connection with one another
as they learn hat even from their tiny and remote barrio there are others
who are similarly working or living abroad. The greatest impact that balikbayans
have on the imagining of the Filipino diaspora is with townspeople who
have not had their international experiences. These villagers cannot avoid
being impressed and made envious by the secular rituals engaged in by balikbayans
during their pilgrimage home, i.e., the redistribution of wealth in the
form of the above mentioned types of consumer goods and their conspicuous
consumption in hosting parties and drinking sessions, that actually may
project false images of their seemingly prosperous life abroad. Villagers
also gain knowledge of the far flung places and new cultural experiences
available in the diaspora through stories told by balikbayans that unfortunately
may selectively omit the drudgery, difficulty and sometimes danger of their
jobs and lives abroad. They may then start to consider going overseas themselves,
thus further contributing to the ever expanding global Filipino diaspora.
Remittances and Balikbayan BoxesOverseas Filipinos are generously accorded prestige and recognition in their homeland because of their increasingly substantial contributions to the Philippine economy through their remittances that provide foreign capital to meet the country' s external debt of $30 billion and balance of payments trade deficit. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Filipinos living and working in more than thirty countries remitted $8.1 billion between 1989 and 1993 (Honolulu Star-Bulletin 1994: A17). The great bulk of these remittances came from the 1.4 million Filipino Americans ($5 billion) who were followed by Filipinos in Saudi Arabia numbering about 500,000 ($592 million), those in Japan who are estimated at 120,000 ($253 mill ion), those in the United Kingdom ($162 million), and Filipinos in Germany ($191 million). These official remittance figures are estimated to be as little as one-third of the total amount of monies sent back by overseas Filipinos, the remainder generally being carried in cash either by themselves or returning relatives and friends on visits home (Abella 1989: 10). Nonetheless, the official remittances of overseas contract workers still ranks third (after exports of electronics and garments) as a source of foreign exchange for the Philippines (POEA 1991: 79).
More recent figures for the first half of 1994 reported by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Philippine Central Bank) indicate that Filipino overseas contract workers and U.S. immigrants are sending back even greater amounts. During that period, they remitted $1.2 billion with two-thirds of that amount ($794 million) coming from the United States (Filipinas 1994: 53). Remittances from the United States have increased almost five-fold since 1988 when they totaled $324 million. Thus it is clear that Filipino Americans, the great majority of whom are permanent residents rather than temporary workers, account for most of the remittance monies to the Philippines, despite continued Philippine government promotion of overseas contract labor as a needed source of foreign capital. While it cannot be denied that overseas employment contributes substantially to workers' families and thus indirectly to the Philippine economy, its primary purpose may well be to reduce widespread unemployment and underemployment and consequent worker unrest at home.
Perhaps more significant than the increasing value of remittances being sent to the Philippines is the increasing speed and facility by which they can be transferred from abroad. Symptomatic of the postmodern "annihilation of space through time" (Harvey 1989: 293), Wells Fargo Bank, the oldest bank in California which once had a branch in Manila in 1916, recently inaugurated arguably the fastest and easiest means to send money to the Philippines through automatic teller machines (ATMs). After opening a special remittance account, a sender can use any of the bank's 1,800 ATMs or an ATM at one of its 625 branches throughout California for transmitting money. The following day, the recipient can withdraw the remittance in cash from any one of 300 ATMs in Metro Manila and outlying provinces. Given the globalizing nature of transnational capitalism, it is not surprising that Wells Fargo was able to establish its remittance service in the Philippines through a linkage agreement with a Hong Kong based bank and its Philippine ATMs. Senders with Wells Fargo checking or savings accounts can have remittances sent regularly each month through automatic transfers of funds without having to do anything. For Filipino domestic and other workers in Hong Kong, another bank has an on-line remittance service based on "real time" processing to the Philippines that allows recipients to withdraw funds from an ATM in Manila at virtually the same time that a remittance is being forwarded from Hong Kong.
Remittances also can be sent "door to door" to the Philippines in a few days (less than one day to Metro Manila and some neighboring provinces) through delivery services that cater to the Filipino American community. Similar delivery services dispatch "balikbayan boxes" of consumer goods to relatives and friends in the Philippines. Companies that provide these remittance and balikbayan box delivery services have proliferated in the Filipino American community during the past decade. Not surprisingly, the volume of goods sent to the homeland increases dramatically during the Christmas holiday season. One such company ships up to six tons of balikbayan boxes from the San Francisco Bay area alone in November and December, three times their usual amount (Filipinas 1994: 16). A Filipino executive of a delivery company explained the penchant of Filipinos for sending home all manner of goods including frozen steaks and bacon: "A lot of Filipinos want their kababayans back home to touch and taste what they are eating here." They also know that American made products are greatly desired and appreciated by recipients.
The sending of remittances and consumer goods,
especially from developed countries, contributes to the imagining of the
Filipino diaspora by providing a cultural simulation of life led by overseas
Filipinos. While Filipinos in the homeland certainly have ideas and images
about other countries, particularly the United States, from films and television
programs shown in the Philippines and from photographs, letters and telephone
calls from their relatives and friends living overseas, the personal possession
of consumer goods from abroad enables them to have a far more tangible
and immediate experience, albeit vicarious and limited, of material life
in the diaspora. As cultural products, consumer items from overseas are
souvenirs that remind Filipinos not of places they have visited but of
places where their relatives and friends live and work. Loaded with meanings
signifying wealth and desirability, like Levi-Strauss' (1963) totems, these
goods are good to think (the diaspora) with.
Transnational Telephone Communication: Kahit Walang PeraThe global Filipino diaspora also is imagined through expanded and increasingly less expensive international long distance telephone communication, particularly between Filipinos in the United States and the Philippine homeland. Virtually every issue of Filipino American community newspapers and periodicals contains full page advertisements by the three largest international telephone companies for long distance service to the Philippines. Similar commercials by the same companies also are broadcast during Filipino television programs. These ads are directly targeted to Filipinos as evident from appealing expressions in Pilipino (the Philippine national language), "1-800" numbers for potential subscribers to call Pilipino speaking customer service representatives, and pictures of happy Filipino family members conversing with one another in Pilipino. My interest in these advertisements is their specific marketing to a group that constitutes less than 0.6 percent of the United States population and that generally receives very little media coverage. Filipino Americans themselves have noted their "invisibility" (Ciria-Cruz 1994: 42) and their being the "most marginalized and most misrecognized" ethnic group in the United States (San Juan 1994: 125). It would be difficult to recall the last time one heard or read about a Filipino American, identified as such, in the national media. I do not doubt that similar advertising campaigns by the same three telephone companies are directed to other immigrant populations, but I also assume that there are larger racial/ethnic groups in the United States that have not been so targeted. At any rate, the obvious conclusion that can be drawn from these advertisements is that the research and marketing divisions of these companies all have determined that Filipinos represent a lucrative and expanding market in the highly competitive long distance field. Indeed, an executive of one of the companies states that the Philippines ranks in its top ten international list (Filipinas 1994: 18).
But the question still arises why are Filipino Americans targeted when in the Philippines, very much still a developing country, the great majority of the population does not have home telephones. Besides the tendency for Filipino immigrants to maintain personal contact with their relatives, another significant factor is the propensity of relatives and close friends in the Philippines to place collect calls and the willingness of Filipino Americans to accept the charges. To facilitate this process, callers in the Philippines can dial a special access number that connects them to a Pilipino speaking operator in the United States who then places their collect call for them. One of the long distance ads makes explicit reference to calling collect in its caption of a beaming elderly Filipino mother with a telephone in her hand: "Now Inay [mother] can call you ... Kahit sa public phone. Kahit sa tindahan sa kanto. Kahit sa kapitbahay. At kahit walang pera" [Even if from a public phone. Even if from the corner store. Even if from the neighbor. And even if she has no money.]
Another reason that Filipino Americans are being targeted by international long distance telephone companies and not by other types of corporations (e.g., insurance, computer, car) is because of their substantial immigrant segment (64% foreign born) which makes it much more likely that they will make or receive overseas calls. The advertisements by these companies commonly use representations of separated family members and of Filipino cultural values that emphasize maintaining close family ties. The caption of one such ad that was obviously intended to provide the rationale for calling one's relatives in the Philippines was "Ikaliligaya ng pamilya" [For the happiness of the family]. Thus the specific marketing to the Filipino American community can be seen as an appropriation and commodification of the Filipino diaspora experience by these telephone companies.
The global Filipino diaspora is imagined through
international telephone communication linkages insofar as they facilitate
the maintenance of transnational kinship relationships. By expanding and
traversing the social space of the diaspora, long distance telephone communication
enables Filipino Americans and other overseas Filipinos to remain in close
and regular contact with their relatives and friends in the homeland despite
the separation of thousands of miles and years of residing abroad. Through
the frequent and timely exchange of information without having to depend
on the notoriously slow and unreliable Philippine postal system, Filipinos
living abroad are able to participate quite actively in ongoing family
decision making and in other family matters that require their advice and
support. One ad referred to this capacity to obtain information rapidly
through long distance calls: "Gaano kabilis mo gustong matanggap ang balita?"
[How quickly do you want to receive the news?]. Overseas Filipinos thus
are able to express and affirm social relationships with significant others
in their homeland or elsewhere in the diaspora that the casual observer
might assume to have declined in importance following immigration abroad,
especially if they are permanent residents or naturalized citizens in countries
such as the United States. Long distance
Official ImaginingsBecause of its crucial contribution to the Philippine economy, the international Filipino diaspora has become a social phenomenon to be celebrated and glorified as a national resource, rather than being acknowledged as a source of national shame, by the Philippine government in addition to its ongoing promotion and administration of overseas contract labor. Due to the great numbers of Filipinos who return from abroad for Christmas season visits, December has been officially proclaimed as "Overseas Filipinos" month by the Philippine Commission on Filipinos Overseas for the purpose of "honoring and recognizing the invaluable contributions and outstanding achievements of overseas Filipinos." In December 1994, the Commission organized various events such as a "Global Filipino Conference" and an exhibit on "Filipinos Overseas: A Showcase of Excellence." Similarly, in a speech to Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong, former Philippine president Cory Aquino hailed them as "bagong bayani," the new heroes of the nation. These activities are part of the government's efforts to obfuscate the reasons that Filipinos have to leave their country to earn a living, while also serving to encourage others to do the same. Given the hundreds of thousands of overseas contract workers, the Philippine government is taking steps to permit Filipino citizens residing abroad to vote in Philippine elections. A bill was introduced in the Philippine Senate in 1994 that provides for absentee voting by overseas Filipinos such as contract workers, government employees, and persons living abroad temporarily. These efforts to glorify overseas contract workers and to provide them with some civic rights, while denying them the far more important rights to work and live in their home country, can be viewed as official conceptualizations of the diaspora from the homeland.
President Ramos can be seen as contributing to the imagining of the global Filipino diaspora from the homeland when he sent his congratulations to Ben Cayetano upon his election as the first Filipino American governor of Hawai's and in the United States in November 1994. In his congratulatory letter, Ramos noted, "Your ascendancy to the governorship of Hawai段 is a source of pride and inspiration to all Filipinos (Philippine News 1994: A2, emphasis added). Cayetano's election, which hardly attracted any national media attention in the United States, nonetheless, was front page news in Manila's daily newspapers and in Filipino American community newspapers. The latter hailed Cayetano's election as a victory for Filipino Americans throughout the United States and not just in Hawai段.
The Philippine government plays a critical role in the expansion of the international Filipino diaspora through its promotion of overseas contract labor migration. The deployment of Filipinos as overseas contract workers as an issue of government policy was first noted in the Philippine Labor Code in 1974 in which the Secretary of Labor was empowered to develop "programs that will facilitate ... geographical mobility of labor" (Article 14 of Labor Code). However, the specific inclusion of contract labor migration as part of an economic development plan was not mentioned until 1978 (Cahill 1990: 31). To regulate and streamline growing overseas labor migration, the Philippine government created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration by merging several related agencies.
Between 1975 and 1988, the primary destinations
of Filipino overseas contract workers (land based) were the Middle East
(2.4 million including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar,
Bahrain, Kuwait and Libya), the United States ( 570,000 including permanently
settled immigrants), Japan (210,000), Hong Kong (170,000), Singapore (77,000),
Canada (64,000), Australia (48,000), and Europe (43,000) (Alegado 1989).
During this period, overseas contract workers represented over 40 percent
of new workers who entered the Philippine labor force (Alegado 1989). In
1991, despite the outbreak of the Gulf War, 615,000 Filipinos were deployed
abroad either as land based (80%) or sea based (20%) contract workers with
the largest numbers going to Saudi Arabia (228,000), Japan (57,000), Hong
Kong (51,000), the United Arab Emirates (27,000), Kuwait (15,000), and
Saipan (9,000) (POEA nd). The cumulative and ongoing result of overseas
labor migration and permanent immigration abroad is a worldwide Filipino
diaspora that numbers roughly between four and five million (Okamura 1992).
ConclusionAnderson (1991: 6) contends that "Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined." Diasporas similarly can be differentiated by their particular mode of imagining. Certainly other contemporary Asian and Pacific diasporas also are imagined through transnational transfers of people, capital, goods and information; there is nothing especially unique about the global Filipino diaspora in this regard. I assume that there are Korean, Thai, Samoan and Tongan balikbayans who return home from abroad for occasional visits and that they also send back large amounts of cash and western made consumer goods and similarly receive long distance collect calls from their relatives in their home countries. Nonetheless, it has been argued that "certain historical specificities of the Filipino incorporation into the United States racial formation (in particular the hegemonic domination of United States liberal ideology and cultural paradigms in individual Filipinos) distinguish the Filipino diaspora from its Chinese, Japanese or Korean counterparts" (San Juan 1994: 125). However, these historical particularities of the Philippine colonial relationship with the United States do not explain why in the contemporary situation Filipinos continue to immigrate to America, but Japanese (over 200,000 of whom immigrated to Hawai段 alone between 1885 and 1924) do not except in very small numbers.
As for their respective styles of imagining that
distinguish Asian and Pacific diasporas from each other, these variations
can be attributed to cultural norms and values and their manifestations
that similarly differentiate, at least partially, Asian and Pacific immigrant
groups from one another in whatever common host society they may be found.
While Asian and Pacific diasporas all may be imagined through the same
or comparable transnational transfers, the specific cultural expressions
related to the latter, e.g., affirmation of kinship relations, participation
in ritual activities, redistribution of wealth, and constructions of shared
diasporic identity, may differ considerably. Thus, diasporas are distinguished
by varying cultural styles in their imagining.
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