This wonderful random sight has let me come into a realization: the balikbayan box is the perfect symbol to represent the Filipino people. We are a caring and selfless bunch, thinking about the well-being of others more than our own. This is who we are. Thousands of our fellow Filipinos are currently overseas, working hard trying to earn a little bit of money just so they can support their families back home. It's not surprising that remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers bring in millions of pesos into the country every year. It's also not surprising that thousands of balikbayan boxes are probably in the sky right now on their way to the Philippines, packed and sent by these wonderful and courageous OFWs.
Sadly, the balikbayan box has become a part of one of those stereotypical "You know you are Filipino if..." jokes.Just in case you didn't know, it goes something like this:
"You know you are Filipino if you have balikbayan boxes instead of luggage at the airport terminal."
Yes, balikbayan boxes are a common sight at flights heading to the Philippines. We all can agree on this, many of us have seen it ourselves. However, we must stop calling this a joke and start seeing this as a source of pride. Let us celebrate the balikbayan box and what it represents - the kindness and generosity of the everyday Filipino.
The realization of the meaning of the balikbayan box to the Philippines and its people has also made me come up with a suggestion for a replacement tourism slogan for the country. Thanks to Facebook's News Feed (and a few friends sharing a YouTube newsclip), I found out that the Department of Tourism of the Philippines is getting some negative feedback regarding the new campaign slogan and banner to promote tourism. Many are saying the overall design has been copied from another source and that "KAY GANDA!" is a weak slogan and does not leave a lasting effect, particularly amongst foreigners.
This is where the balikbayan box and the core Filipino values it represents come into play. The Department of Tourism should not have focused on the country's landscapes and unique wildlife to entice people to visit. Although there are many beautiful and memorable locations to visit in the country, much can be also said about the wonderful people who live in these places. The slogan should provide a reason for people to come visit the Philippines. Who better to provide these reasons than its citizens. This is how I came up with, what I believe, a much more effective slogan:
International visitors should experience the same nostalgic feeling and this is what "Welcome, Kabayan!" provides. By sharing with foreigners the same core values of generosity and selflessness Filipinos give one another through the humble balikbayan box, the Philippines can become not only a place where one can enjoy white sand beaches and exotic foods, but a place where you can experience the warm, welcoming arms of the Filipino people.
I sure hope you won't look at the balikbayan box the same way again. I certainly won't.
(Please share this with our fellow kababayans, especially the ones who are in the process of packing their balikbayan boxes for the holidays.)