Little Brown Box — Speculative Design Project

Little Brown Box is a speculative design project centred around an iconic Filipino cultural object, the balikbayan box. It is filled with foreign brand products meant to connect the Filipino diaspora back to their loved ones in the Philippines.

The project uses design as a lens to examine these manifestations of internalized colonization as speculative cures and spark discussion on reconstructing what the Filipino identity is. Are we only perpetuating being colonizers of our own people?

Featured in
The Show (Emily Carr University), 2019
Intersections in Art — Shifting Articulations of Asian-ness (Online Exhibition), 2022


Creative Direction
Speculative Design
Publication Design
Website Design
Brand Identity

I was raised in one of the most Westernized cities in the world, Manila, Philippines. I grew up speaking English and my parents or peers did not stress the importance of learning Tagalog and the nationalistic pride that would come with it. My more affluent peers and their families had a clear preference to visit other countries before exploring their own, and foreign brands were deemed more desirable (purchasing local things would be considered “less cool”).

Similar to the concept of the balikbayan box, I noticed that the colonizer's values continue to be perpetuated by and among Filipinos to this day. Filipinos unconsciously look to Western ideals and people—imported goods are considered superior while anything local is viewed as substandard, foreigners are idolized, skin is whitened, people are judged based on their fluency in English and the working class leaves the country in search of better opportunities.

Skin De-Bleacher
Eurocentric Beauty Standards

Today, many Filipinos around the world continue to perpetuate the notion that dark is dirty and that having whiter skin makes one more beautiful. This desire to have light skin stems from the Philippines’ European colonial history. This is evident in the ways that the media, film, and beauty industries represent Filipinos: Euro-centric Filipinos are at the forefront of the media. Despite the mental health issues it poses, the skin whitening industry is one of the biggest in the Philippines.

Notice of Microaggression Toleration of Modern Day Oppression

Many Filipino immigrants are discriminated because they are willing to take on more laborious jobs with longer hours, which Westerners perceive as taking away job opportunities. One of the biggest symptoms of colonial mentality is the tolerance or denial of modern-day oppression. Many choose to simply accept the oppression they face today to avoid seeming too threatening, in order to assimilate into Western culture - or they do not recognize certain racial microaggressions as offensive.

Language Cassette Tape
Loss of Native Tongue

Filipinos in North America reported feeling embarrassed by less Westernized Filipinos who spoke broken English. Many also reported not wanting to teach their native tongue to their children because it was “unnecessary” or “unimportant.” This stems from the desire to assimilate and fit into the Western environment and people, in order to not be perceived by the West as a new immigrant, or “fresh-off-the-boat.” Additionally, English was made one of the two national languages of the Philippines.

Inferiority Complex Suspension
Inferiority Complex

Filipinos are the second-largest Asian group in the United States, yet are considered an invisible minority and are negatively referred to as the “Little Brown Brothers.” The homogenization of Filipinos into the Asian category can be problematic because their struggles with colonization are especially unique; this underrepresentation leads to racist attacks, and furthermore, feelings of shame and denial of one’s ethnicity.

Pabalat Papercut Wrapping
Lack of Nationalism and Tradition

Filipinos continue to carry on these subservient attitudes, believing that Western powers are superior while simultaneously oppressing their own kind through their colonial mentality. Many continue to internalize and project this oppression onto others, with subservience so ingrained into their attitudes and behavior, that in order to change it needs to be consciously recognized and called out by using festive pabalat to communicate salient messages and collaborating with one of the last remaining pabalat artists, Naty Ocampo, from the Philippines.

Little Brown Box was exhibited at The Show at Emily Carr University (2019). Those visiting the exhibit were able to interact with each individual object, read the process publication, and take a project card for themselves. The layout of the exhibit was designed to invite the viewer to truly interact with the object, to pick each one up and observe the tiniest details.

Una Gil

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