It’s simple to tell people that I’m Filipino, that my parents were born and raised there, and that my brother and I are the first generation of both their families to live in the United States. All these things are true about me, but what does it really mean to be Filipino? I look it, I understand the language, I’ve met relatives from the Philippines, but am I truly the Filipino I claim to be? The heritage of my people is important in truly understanding who I am and what I can ultimately be. It’s no surprise then that I was excited to return to the Philippines after about eight years.
Before this major family vacation, I had been to the Philippines only twice. Once when I was about a year old, the second when I was five. Both instances are fuzzy in memory. It had been a long time and though I was looking forward to the trip, I was nervous. My parents had brought me up speaking a mix of English and Tagalog, but were forced to stop this after it began affecting the way I spoke in class. Because of this, I only understand the language and cannot speak it. Will my handicap ultimately burden my older relatives there? Will I be able to communicate at all with my cousins, titas (aunts), and titos (uncles)? In addition, I worried about how they would perceive the new me. Many of them had met me as a little child. Would they be disappointed in what they saw?
These questions continued to plague me as my family and I took the Korean Air international flight from JFK airport in New York. We touched down at NinoyAquinoInternationalAirport in Manila, the capital. The first people that came to meet us were my Lola Oding and neighbors from my father’s hometown community of Nagtahan, Manila. The first night was a blur. I remember the happy banter between the adults in the car. I remember the flashing lights from the main boulevards of the city. And I remember crying in my room at my Lola’s house. I didn’t cry because I was sad or angry. I cried because the idea of visiting the Philippines had finally come true. I cried because it was the only way I could release the immense emotion inside of me. I cried that first night, but never again during the whole trip.
From that first day we traveled to CebuCity, my mom’s hometown, to Aklan, my Lola’s birthplace, to Boracay, the oasis of the Philippine islands. We experienced and saw so many amazing things, but what struck me the most about my time in the Philippines were the people I met and reacquainted with. The relatives that opened their homes to us and cooked us meals. The cousins I laughed with. The titas and titos that offered me a smile and sweet advice. The Philippines is a beautiful place but even more so are the beautiful people. The love I received pierced my heart. The happiness I felt cannot be compared. I learned that sometimes a vacation to a tropical place isn’t necessarily always about the pristine beached, the glorious malls, and the swanky hotels (although there were plenty of those), it’s also about the people you share the experience with. Now that I look back, I truly realize the extent to which my relatives put themselves through to make my family comfortable. Their love is just that vast and for that I am forever grateful. My next visit there can’t come soon enough.
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