Connecting to the Philippines and my identity as a Filipino American is something I think about nearly every single day.
I have not been back to the Philippines lately. Though I wish very much to make another trip, current circumstances of life do not allow me to yet. For now, I let myself live vicariously through my family and friends who have. When my mom or dad lands at the airport or I reunite with my college friends from a long-deserved break, I relish in the time I have with them to listen to their adventures in the Philippines.
Sometimes, the stories are joyful: catching up with old friends, breathing the air of a familiar land, exploring new places. But sometimes, the stories are painful: death, a funeral, mourning.
Amidst the whirlwind of tales, experiences, and anecdotes about the Philippines, an array of boxes and luggage filled with surprises almost always make an appearance so suddenly.
In, Tagalog, one of the main languages in the Philippines, it roughly means souvenir. Yet similar to other languages, English fails to fully translate its significance. The concept of pasalubong is an important aspect of Filipino American heritage. Pasalubong are gifts given to others when one comes back from a trip. The practice of giving and receiving may seem simple. After all, isn’t it customary to give gifts to your loved ones? While there might be some truth to that, pasalubong can be more than that. Pasalubong may be rooted in the idea of reciprocity in the Philippine culture. The aspect of selfless remembrance for relatives and friends, ecstatic welcomes for one’s return home, and perhaps an unspoken expectation of a pasalubong could possibly convey cultural norms of maintaining relationships.
And though the word pasalubong can sometimes refer to items from travels of any location, pasalubong oftentimes relate to gifts specifically from the Philippines.
Pasalubong come as they are in many forms packed in cardboard boxes and brown paper bags. They are the delicious dried mangoes and garlic corn nuts my dad and I love to snack on. They are the joggers my mom thoughtfully bought me for a fraction of the price it would be in the States and the Tagalog dictionaries packed snugly in her luggage because she knows how badly I want to be better at speaking. They are even the statues of the Blessed Mother Mary that watches over the homes of my extended families but also mine included.
While the pasalubong from my family brings me warmth in my heart, the pasalubong from friends has me feeling thrill and adrenaline. Pasalubong for me is also the comic books in Tagalog to help me practice the language, the fashionable barongs perfect for any formal occasion, and the books on textiles from niche art fairs in the Philippines. My most prized possessions are fashion magazines from Filipinx creatives (exhibit A and exhibit B)–beacons of inspiration to always step up my fashion game by stretching my creativity. I put a great deal of importance on these items as they are things not accessible online.
Receiving pasalubong from my friends and family is comparable to getting gifts on Christmas (mind you that Christmas is a big deal in Filipino culture). Even still, pasalubong is a different kind of treasure. Pasalubong are much more than souvenirs. They are bridges that connect me to many parts of my heritage that exist oceans away from Southeast Michigan. The act of giving pasalubong is a cultural act of community building. In my view, I am reminded to never forget where I come from. Pasalubong are opportunities to think about the intricacies of being Filipino American.