The continued rhetoric of the Trump administration of closing the borders, building a wall and blaming Mexican immigrants (and all immigrants for that matter) as criminals was getting to me. I thought I better pack up, put my notions of bayanihan (community giving) in hibernation and maybe emerge from my cave in 2020 when this is all over. However recently, I’m having second thoughts. I’m beginning to believe that despite all the negative news, glimpses of community giving are emerging. The Filipino ritual of giving and helping each other could not be squelch and perhaps provide hope and renewal in the age of Trump.
Last June 2017, I went back home to the Philippines to attend my aunt and uncle’s 60th wedding anniversary. When I get back to Chicago, I was eager to bring back dried mangoes to my friends and colleagues. Some of my co-workers were even anticipating these gifts from the Philippines, a remembrance of home.
The precise beginnings of the pasalubong ritual are difficult to identify. Dr Nestor Castro, anthropology professor at the University of the Philippines, believes pasalubong is a pre-Hispanic practice, given that the term is indigenous to the Filipino language and that early Philippine communities engaged in long-distance trade (BBC Travel, July 2017).
Fellow anthropology professor at the University of the Philippines, Dr Michael Tan, agrees, writing, “…I suspect it referred to a time when travel was difficult, making the return more emotion-laden. The more distant and the more difficult the place one went to, as in the case of many of our overseas Filipinos, the more important it was to bring back something.”
This implicit recognition of reciprocity – that the person who receives pasalubong is expected to give pasalubong in return – is an essential part of the ritual. Expressions of appreciation and reassurances of joy for the person returning home are also expected (BBC Travel, July 2017).
This pasalubong ritual I think is a major extension of community giving within the Filipino culture. At the end of our summer picnic last 4th of July, my mother insisted that every guest of her backyard barbecue take home a Tupperware of pancit (Filipino noodles) or baon. These extensions of community giving – pasalubong and baon continue to flourish despite the negative news and pulling back of the welcome mat of the Trump administration (CNN News, July 11, 2017).
My partner, Will Dix and I bought sundresses back as gifts to our mothers, they were both ecstatic to receive their pasalubong. Our small gifts was more than a ritual. It was an extension of bringing something home to them. “We should not underestimate the resiliency of culture,” Dr Castro added. “The longing for pasalubong connects Filipinos to their notion of home and heritage.” I think these extensions of giving through pasalubong, baon and bayanihan continue the spirit of community giving that no autocrat could squelch.