Mothers as the Clan’s “Sugod”: The Interweaving of Kinship, Gender, and Personhood in the Migration Practices of a Filipino Family

For the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, University of Toronto

Contemporary mobilities depend upon and re-enact colonization, and today’s experiences and imaginings of home and belonging are also related to these histories (Ahmed, Castaneda, and Fortier 2003). Situating women at the center of this autobiographical ethnography, I focus on the three “mothers” who have replaced the “patriarch” of the family, my grandfather, who built his career from being a street peddler during his youth, to a successful bamboo basket exporter in the 1970-90s. Going back to the roots of my family, I use the metaphor of basket-making to illustrate the complex weaving of familial practices that have enabled the mobilities of our family. “Sugod” is the Rinconada word for “base of a woven vessel,” the necessary nucleus which holds together the basket’s shape. In Tagalog, it means “to surge.” I seek to contribute to the feminist project across disciplines that interrogates the macro-historical-ethnographic narratives. Three women in my extended family hold the positions of power at the three different “sites” of home the family has come to inhabit – Nabua (Camarines Sur), Quezon City (Metro Manila), Los Angeles (California). These “homes,” like the gendered roles assumed by the three mothers, are fluid and changing, and serve the purpose of propagating kin success – success now assessed largely based on the overseas mobilities of the family’s members. This paper is an attempt to confront the messiness of home, following Linda Pierce (2005) who suggests that one of the goals of decolonization may be attained by piecing together fragments of personal history.

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