Image from “Utang Na Loob,” by Paula Kiley.
Utang na loob is a Filipino cultural trait that literally translates to, “a debt to one’s inner self.” This film explores the essence of utang na loob as a 1.5 generation Filipino immigrant navigates the world to honor their mother’s immeasurable sacrifice all the while navigating a relationship strained by years spent apart.
“Utang na Loob” tells the story of Jan Victor Andasan— a Long Beach resident and community organizer who spent the first seven years of their life apart from their mother, who left for America in 1990 to work and support their family. Andasan, along with their father and siblings, stayed behind in the Philippines, communicating with their mother through a series of cassette tapes.
The Andasan family’s story is not unique. In 2020, the total number of overseas Filipino workers was estimated at 2.2 million, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. “Utang Na Loob” explores the trauma of family separation and its life-long effects, a theme that repeats itself in the lives of thousands of immigrant families that often have to separate for long periods of time in order to support themselves in a postcolonial world.