Are You A Bumbay? An Inquiry into How Transient Keralites in the Philippines Define Their Ethnicity As Informed By Philippine and Homeland Media

Anil Thalakottur


This research explores how transient Keralites (the citizens of India from the southern state, Kerala) define their ethnic identity as an Indian and as a Keralite in the context of the Philippines where there is an existing opinionated text about Indians, and as informed by homeland media from Kerala.

Developments and technological innovations in travel facilities move people quite easier these days as they travel from one place to another, specifically from nation to nation, in search of better environments in their career, safety and academic pursuits. Their stay in a foreign land can be temporary or permanent, depending on the nature of their migration. Immigrants, however, carry with them the culture and tradition of their mother land that keep their identity relatively intact wherever they go. The ethnic identity inherent among the migrants shapes their views about the realities they come across. In the process of encountering new realities of different cultures, traditions and media of the place of migration, the immigrants reinvent and redefine their ethnic identity in the foreign land. This pursuit for identity is usually in comparison or in contrast with the other communities of the foreign land. Mass media have a great role in reassessing the transients’ identities in the place of migration.

Based on my observations as a transient Indian in the Philippines for about four years and from the sharing of the participants of this research, Indians have been given an identity by the local people based on their physical features, place of origin, and profession. Words like bumbay or five-six, a type of money lending, expose the identity given by Filipinos to Indian communities in the Philippines. Philippine media assert these words and the public image about Indians as money lenders through media texts and thus play a crucial role in reinstating the identity of Indians among common Filipinos.

India was divided into different states upon its independence in 1947. Thus Indian citizens developed dual identities: identity as an Indian and identity based on the state in which a person is territorially based. The transient people of the state of Kerala in the Philippines have this dual identity as Keralites and Indians. This research explores how the Keralites look at themselves during their transient stay in the Philippines, and the role of media and local texts in the process of their ethnic identity negotiation in the Philippines.

Keywords: media and identity, ethnicity, bumbay and five-six, transient Keralites

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Thalakottur, A. (2013). Are You A Bumbay? An Inquiry into How Transient Keralites in the Philippines Define Their Ethnicity As Informed By Philippine and Homeland Media. PhD Dissertation.]