I was born in the Philippines to two Filipinos, but a month later we shipped off to the USA and I lived there for a straight 26 years of my life. Filipinos will say I’m not fully Filipino but then Americans would say I’m not fully American. I had the pleasure of being raised by two cultures – my parents taught me their Filipino ways and customs, and television and friends taught me how to be American. Of course I identify more as an American, but I know in my heart I will always be Filipino.
I’ve gone back a few times – the first time, I was 7 years old and my lolo (grandfather) passed away. We spent a little over a week there; it would have been longer if it wasn’t for Mt. Pinatubo scheduling to erupt. The next trip was in 2004 for 2 weeks, one of which was spent in a hospital battling a horrible food poisoning stint. Both times we stayed primarily with friends or family, spending little time in a hotel just for the sake of not inconveniencing our hosts (both homes were very small). Since working for my current airline, I’d been on a few layovers but spent them all in the hotels since family were a bit far away or had scheduling conflicts.
This January, I spent a week on holiday visiting family from the US and family in Manila I hadn’t seen in years or hadn’t even met. Since traveling for a living for the last 1.5 years, my adventurous side has taken control of my life, to which I have no protest. Along with my fellow Filipino-American cousin (born to Filipino parents in the USA) we let ourselves go and become as true a Filipino as we possibly could. We bathed with tabo and room tempurature water, ate homecooked diniguan (pork in blood sauce), bangus (milkfish), langonisa (sausage for breakfast), Red Ribbon pastries, and did so about 6 times a day. We purchased taho (sweet soy dessert) from the street vendors and burnt candles for our loved ones at church on Sunday, walked on black sand beaches, sat in traffic for hours, and of course, we video-karaoked.
I practiced my poor Tagalog with my little cousin, which actually wasn’t very productive because he was set on only speaking English in our presence. My cousins proposed a snacktime with balut (Filipino delicacy, a fertilized duck egg) to which I objected; that’s too close to my roots than I’m comfortable with. We paid respects to my lolo from my dad’s side, the World War 2 hero who is responsible for my privilage of having a US passport. But sharing these experiences with both my US cousins and Filipino cousins only furthered my appreciation of my home country. Oh, did I mentioned I awoke one morning to a live chicken in my face? Just an example of my family’s keen sense of humor. But what I would give to able to spend much more time there; to be able to really soak it all in and not have to say goodbye when I am just getting comfortable. Anyone who wants to say I’m not a real Filipino, well, I’m working on it!