Filipino Labor for Sale! Will Deliver.
It seemed simple enough. Though I was groggy from the almost thirteen hour flight from San Francisco to Manila, filling out the routine customs form should have been easy. But it wasn't. As a second generation Filipina American returning to the Philippines for only the third time in my life, this time for research, I struggled to determine which of the boxes were relevant for me. Who was I? A visitor, balikbayan (nation returnee) or OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker)? What was my purpose there? Business, family or pleasure?
Upon touching down everybody on the plane had broken into applause and tears. I had joined them. The boxes couldn't capture how I felt about my relationship to the Philippines. And it was perhaps in that moment of perplexity and anxiety that the research questions which ultimately led to Migrants for Export were first formed. Why were Filipinos migrating so much to begin with, such that there was now a category of "OFWs"? What did the tearful yet excited applause by all of the passengers on the plane suggest about the kind of traumas migration produces? Since I had participated in the clapping and the crying, didn't it mean that somehow, in some way, no matter where I was born, I was a balikbayan too? How did these official categories originate and in what ways do they resonate, or not, with people? To what purpose are those categories deployed by the state and by migrants themselves?