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Migrant Returns: The Transnational Migration of Filipinos, Ambivalence, and the Production of a Balikbayan Economy


This project explores how balikbayans, emigrant Filipinos returning to the Philippines, are playing a central role in the economic development of the Philippines. I focus on the return of post-1965 Filipino immigrants who had settled into the suburban neighborhoods of Daly City, California and helped to produce what I call the "balikbayan economy", a transnational circulation of diasporic labor and capital moving between the U.S. and the Philippines. While the vast majority of literature on international migration examines labor flows and settlement into various receiving countries, I employ the idiom of "migrant return" to convey the complex process through which many immigrants maintain ties with their homeland and eventually travel back either as tourists or to resettle. Through historical archival research and ethnography, I develop the concept of migrant return in three ways. First, I examine the migration of post 1965 Filipino immigrants into Daly City and contextualize the inception of the balikbayan economy by discussing the ways in which this community maintains connections with the Philippines through remittance sending and property investments. This helps to underscore the second part of my analysis: The state's use of tourism, property development, and balikbayans as a means of developing the Philippine economy. Finally, I follow the ambivalent return of balikbayans as they leave Daly City and literally re-build their lives in various parts of the Philippines. As "retirees", these balikbayans uneasily straddle the interstitial space between their new and former lives and are forced to reconcile their ambivalence towards a homeland that is quickly changing but is also in many ways still the same.

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