During my fieldwork, the children of migrant mothers (both adults and young people) used this Filipino word, “sukli”, to talk about how they understood the ways they gave back to their mothers abroad.

As someone who left the Philippines as a 3rd grader, my Tagalog is sort of stunted there. I’d always known sukli has the change you received when you paid for something. But as these folks in the Philippines, members of transnational families, showed me, there was also a symbolic interpretation of this word. Something that couldn’t be measured in monetary remittance or economic measure.

Sukli ,for many children left behind, meant that they were doing what they could from this place left behind, the Philippines, to repay the sacrifice that their mothers made when they migrated. Sukli was anything from getting good grades or consistent attendance at school, or making sure that the new house was bought and paid for with remittances, or even taking care of Lolo and Lola left behind.

This idea of sukli, and how folks were using it, made so much sense. There’s care work in the transnational family that isn’t and can’t be counted via the GDP. Just like the material definition of this word, its often looked as what you get back when pay for something. But its often considered lesser, rather than a part that makes a whole.

I write about this idea a bit in The Labor of Care but I expound on it in this peer-reviewed article in Children’s GeographiesFirst 50 downloads are free! Grab it if you’re interested!

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