Giving practices embedded in Filipino diaspora
Mom with balikbayan boxes / Photo: Joyce Mariano

Giving practices embedded in Filipino diaspora's relationship to homeland

Joyce Mariano (University of Hawai'i at Mānoa) analyzes how giving practices in the Filipino diaspora are used by the Philippine state to reinforce structures of inequality.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies)

"Giving related practices and concerns and the bonds maintained through giving infuse what it means to be Filipino American," began Joyce Mariano, associate professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

"Filipino Americans give back to the Philippines in a whole range of ways, predominantly to family, but also to provide relief to poor and vulnerable populations, to rebuild communities devastated by typhoons, to support alma maters and student scholarships, and to address the forces that maintain poverty, vulnerability, and exploited relationships in the Philippines."

In a book talk hosted by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies and UCLA Department of Asian American Studies on April 29, 2021, Joyce Mariano showed how integral the giving system and morale is to understanding the Filipino diaspora formation. She called attention to how charity in this manner reinforces the existing systems of inequality and plays into global economic, social, and cultural dynamics.

Giving Back: Filipino America and the Politics of Diaspora Giving, published by Temple University Press in 2021, explores how giving-related practices drive the "moral economies of Filipino migration, immigration, and diasporic return."

The event was organized in celebration of the first year of the Pilipino Studies minor in the Asian American studies department at UCLA, the first of its kind in the University of California system.

Diaspora as a source of social welfare

"The rise in philanthropy and charity coincides with a global shift in governance that pushes the burdens of social welfare away from state governance and onto private organizations and individuals including migrants and immigrants as identified sources of support," said Mariano. "The potential of out-of-country migrants and immigrants to contribute to homeland is not lost on the Philippine government and multilateral institutions like the World Bank. These bodies engage in dialogue, promote policies and create legislation that power diaspora as development actors."

Migration out of the Philippines and the establishment of the Philippines as a global export nation-state are directly connected to histories of colonialism and current efforts of globalization. Mariano introduced this idea of "good Filipino subjects" to examine what it means to be "good Filipinos" in migration and labor in the context of American dream ideology.

The Philippine state in turn reinforces these ideas through labor agencies showering would-be migrants in the Philippines with positive images of moving to the United States and dreams of socioeconomic mobility. Therefore, "good Filipino subjects" accept the interests in service to America and follow the promise of permanent residency, Mariano explained. 

The idea of the "balikbayan," or those returning to the Philippines, also signals the intention for Filipinos to remain in the United States as permanent residents or citizens and return to the Philippines as development actors, tourists, and the like. The global service industry therefore helps to push forward neocolonialism after the establishment of empire and augments the "idealization of America."

Investigating systems of power and root causes

Through a transnational and diasporic lens, Mariano's book interrogates systems of power that capitalize off of philanthropy, emergency relief, humanitarianism and environmentalism to provide a more complicated understanding of the Filipino diaspora's relation to giving.

The idea of self-sacrifice, particularly in relation to the overrepresentation of Filipino nurses in the healthcare industry, is one example of how certain narratives are pushed to justify the exploitation and movement of Filipino bodies in America.  However, Mariano noted that part of the reason why Filipino migrants took on those jobs, especially during the AIDS epidemic, is because others wouldn't. This is even more apparent with the "celebration" of their labor during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not recognizing the constraints of capitalism or addressing their material conditions.

"Philanthropy and social development are normalized as the solution to social problems — problems that neocolonialism, structural adjustment and the repayment of Third World debt, the privatization of social welfare and the violence endemic to global capitalism all help to create, reproduce, and exacerbate," she added.

Ultimately, Mariano asked, "What does it mean to develop a giving practice that can be critical of neoliberal capitalism and can we be critical of the privatization of social services resulting from giving practices in the Filipino diaspora and what it means to return?"