Balikbayan, or “expatriate,” boxes of clothing, shoes, books, school supplies, school uniforms, chocolate, canned goods, perfume, soap and used books are sent to the Philippines from the United States regularly.
James Yu, a 51-year-old Dumfries man, owns one of the few companies in the area that ships the boxes for the Filipino-American community.
Families in the Philippines look forward to the shipments and the contents of the boxes.
“Anything from the States is good,” he said.
In the Philippines, Spam canned meat and canned corned beef are considered delicacies, said Yu’s wife, Wilma Yu.
“Our children who grew up here laugh at us when they see the Spam,” Wilma Yu said.
“When these items go on sale in the store and they go quick, you know who bought them,” James Yu said.
Yu’s company, Highlights, fills one, sometimes two shipping containers a month and sends them from Norfolk to the Philippines, where the boxes are unloaded and delivered to the recipient’s door.
Each 20-foot shipping container holds about 198 of the Balikbayan boxes.
Before he ships, Yu holds the boxes at his warehouse on Telegraph Road near Potomac Mills mall.
Filipino-American families, from as far away as Baltimore, Gaithersburg, Sterling and Stafford, pay Highlights and similar companies between $75 and $95 to send a box home to their families, Yu said.
In the 2000 Census there are 1,697 native Filipinos living in Prince William County, according to the Prince William County demographics office.
Foreign-born Filipinos represent about 5.27 percent of the foreign-born population, according to the demographics office.
In Prince William County, Filipinos own restaurants, grocery stores and landscaping companies. Some are doctors and health care professionals, and some government workers, said Mercy Andrei, a Washington correspondent for Business Weekly in Manilla, who is active in the Filipino community in the area.
There are two evangelical Filipino churches in the area, Grace Baptist on Spriggs Road in Dale City and Manassas Filipino Baptist Church on Sudley Road in Manassas, Andrei said.
Filipinos are also active in the Holy Family, St. Elizabeth Seton and Our Lady of Angels Catholic churches, Andrei said.
The Filipino population in the area is concentrated in Northern Virginia and Maryland, Andrei said.
Nearly all Filipinos in the area send boxes home, said James Yu, a former accountant.
Sharing the wealth is a tradition among Filipinos that is gratifying for the people here, and a bonus to their families back home, Wilma Yu said.
“There’s nothing that will fill in the smile and the joy of these people receiving boxes,” Wilma Yu said.
And the boxes are better than money.
Transportation can be difficult from some of the more remote islands of the Philippine archipelago, James Yu said.
“The time for them to go to the cities might be a problem for them,” James Yu said.
“Not only that. They have to look for this stuff,” James Yu said of the American goods that are imports in the Philippines.
Boyette Ardiente is a Highlights customer and like other Filipinos, gathers goods to send home to make things better for his family.
“We shop, we save something for them so we can fill up the box,” the 45-year-old businessman said.
“Life in the Philippines is so hard, so what we do is we send food, old clothes, new clothes, everything that we use here,”Ardiente said.
Shipping boxes home is the easiest way Filipino-Americans can share the largesse they’ve found in America, Wilma Yu said.
“It’s their expression of sharing their bounties,” she said.