It is not uncommon to hear Filipinos who have lived in the United States
for several decades express an intense sense of ambivalence upon returning
to the country where they spent their formative years. When one reads
their superficial irritations more closely, one notices that these sentiments
are actually interwoven in a complex cloth of emotions. The veil draped
over Filipinos in the United States does not disappear when they return to
the Philippines.
Deep feelings of regret, embarrassment, and anger tend to be shrouded
by seemingly trivial concerns over traffic and dirtiness, clichés of bureau-
cratic corruption or threats of crime, and, of course, complaints about the
oppressive tropical humidity. Never does the difference between the United
States and the Philippines become more distinct than when balikbayans
return home. Often and inevitably these bitter disappointments and in-
tensely felt anxieties become displaced onto taxi drivers who drive too fast
or not fast enough, extended family members who fail to arrive at the air-
port in a timely fashion, or cashiers and waiters who are too rude or seem
eager to exploit balikbayans because of their privileged status. In fact, much
of the literature written about Manila, by Filipinos, Filipino Americans,
and non- Filipinos alike, is filled with dystopic allusions that heighten these
tensions even before most balikbayans reenter their homeland.
For Filipinos who return to Manila, at times the superficial bespeaks the
deeper force of a swelling sense of disillusionment. Inside one of the nicer
karinderias (small restaurants) along Katipunan Avenue, Ezmeralda at-
tempted to explain her first impressions of life back in Manila. A few meters
outside the window by our table stood a weathered signboard much like
those one would see at an old public high school anywhere in the United
States. The letters read “Ateneo de Manila University” in faded blue block
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