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The Balikbayan Box

 Ruins at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.
Ruins at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.


By Pilar Tompkins Rivas

Balikbayan boxes contain any combination of new and used items that one might find on Craigslist or eBay – shoes, clothes, magazines, toys, packaged food products, and kitchen items – but the contents of these bulk weight containers are destined for the loved ones that Filipino families in Los Angeles and beyond left behind in their homeland. These care packages generally conform to a few standard sizes of cardboard boxes. There is no weight limit to ship and they are not subject to import taxes, so for a flat rate of about $70 a box, anything and everything might go into them. Look closely at the storefronts in Eagle Rock, Torrance, Glendale, Cerritos and West Covina, to name a few locations, and you might spot a place that delivers these goods door to door from LA to Manila, ensuring that the gifts enclosed will arrive to their destination in a matter of one month.

The literal translation of balikbayan into English is “return to country.” During the 1970s, there was a national campaign in the Philippines that encouraged people to go abroad for work. Subsequently, former president Ferdinand Marcos established that the Philippine Bureau of Customs Circular should allow tax-free entry of personal goods into the country from the several million Filipinos working overseas. As a result, the Filipino custom ofpasalubong, bringing a gift upon returning from a trip, evolved for the Filipino diaspora into a tradition of sending numerous items by cargo to family, friends and colleagues back in the Philippines.

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