Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cultural Studies

First Advisor

Prof. LEUNG Yuk Ming Lisa

Second Advisor

Prof. TANG Tse Shang Denise


This dissertation examines the cultures of migrant activism, social media vlogging, and pageantry among Igorot migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, focusing on how these Indigenous women from the Cordillera region of the Philippines reshape indigeneity in the diaspora. Fieldwork data from participant observation and key informant interviews with the Igorot migrant domestic workers enriched the cultural analysis in this research that engaged with Jose Esteban Muñoz’s notion of “disidentification.” This research forwards “transgressive indigeneity,” or the creative and subversive labor behind the performances of Igorotness and Igorot culture in Hong Kong. Transgressive indigeneity demonstrates the embodied interrelationship of indigeneity and domesticity observed in migrant cultures. Transgressive indigeneity intervenes in debates surrounding Igorot indigeneity and the Filipino identity by demonstrating the translation of Indigenous culture into Hong Kong’s cosmopolitanism by Igorot migrant domestic workers subverting and transgressing against the online and onsite spaces of domestic work as they participate in Indigenous and transnational domestic labor activism on the one hand, and, on the other, engage in social media content creation and pageantry.

Chapter 1 discusses the prevailing literature on domestic labor and domesticity in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the diaspora, paying attention to how migrant domestic workers transgress against their domestic labor conditions while examining and addressing the gap of homogenous and gendered representations of an otherwise ethnically nuanced migrant domestic worker community. Chapter 2 discusses the genealogy of indigeneity and indigenism and how it shapes the Indigenous identification and representation of the Igorot in the Philippines and elsewhere in the diaspora while establishing the link between domesticity and indigeneity, informing the broader theoretical framework of transgressive indigeneity and the ethnographic method that enriched the cultural analysis deployed in the subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3 focuses on Igorot migrant activists and their online and onsite protest activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. I describe the salakniban or defense of Igorot ancestral land in Hong Kong and its multi-modal, flexible, and multi-sited activism that simultaneously negotiates and subverts the spaces and limitations of their domestic labor while sustaining their political advocacies limited by anti-pandemic regulations and threatened by the dual anti-terrorism measures enforced in Hong Kong and the Philippines. In Chapter 4, I analyze the Igorot migrant as an emergent microcelebrity Influencer, publishing content on YouTube and Facebook. I highlight how indigeneity and domesticity are made into social media content and self-brands and its opportunities and consequences that enable self-making, social mobility, and creative agency. Finally, in Chapter 5, I analyze the showcasing of the “modernized” inabel in the Igorot migrant pageants and the figure of the Igorot migrant pageant queen. While the inabel Indigenous textile connects Hong Kong to local weaving communities in the Cordillera, fostering a transnational/local creative community, the queer cultural cross-dressing of the traditional form and function of the inabel spotlights the empowered self-making of Igorot contestants defying pure notions of tradition and bodily conventions while restaging the colonial and national discourses of pageantry, politics, and migrancy.

I conclude the study by reflecting on the construction of the Indigenous home village or ili in the diaspora that sustains and enables transgressive indigeneity, fostering Indigenous belonging in the cosmopolitan context of Hong Kong. Ultimately, I reiterate transgressive indigeneity by linking to key arguments made in each chapter, including the limitations and recommendations for future research to expand on this study’s transgressive possibilities.



Recommended Citation

Calabias, J. K. C. B. (2023). Challenging domesticity, mobilizing indigeneity: The Igorot migrant domestic workers of Hong Kong (Doctoral thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from