Breadcrumbs back to the Philippines

I feel like I’m trying to taste the ocean by eating a spoonful of sand. Like I’m not quite there yet, but maybe its closeness to the element at hand is good enough. Like licking little nuggets at a time will give me the full experience.

***

For the last week now, I’ve been trying to acquaint myself with my home country, the Philippines. I left it when I was three years old, and haven’t been back to visit for 12 years now.

I don’t know what prompted this powerful urge to familiarize myself with my mother culture. I guess all my life, I’ve been ashamed, but now that many aspects of my life are starting to solidify, it feels wrong not to know, and not to be able to relate.

I am heavy into context. So, of course, I simply started this reintroduction process by taking a crash course on Filipino history—the early days of island trading, the Spanish Invasion, the rebellions, and the US takeover. I’ve never been a great history student. I could never make myself feel the blood and struggle through mere words on a page—well, in my case, words on a phone screen. It felt human enough though, reading about José Rizal, feeling sympathy for one of the most beloved Filipino nationalists, struck down in his prime at Bagumbayan Field, fighting to free his country of oppressors. Imagining the love his fellow Filipinos bore for him made my heart sick.

Jose_rizal_01

 

After hours pouring over my phone screen, going from one hyperlink to another, I decided I’d polish off my weekend making Filipino ulam, meaning ‘dish’ or ‘main course’. (No pics of the finished result! My mouth was too fast for my camera!)

 

My most recent connection with my Filipino roots was this evening, on my way home from work. A Spotify playlist of Filipino love songs. The app on my phone that usually detects lyrics didn’t work this time around; the foreign language rendered it impotent. So, I used Google Translate for what phrases I could catch.

 

And suddenly, it all became too much. I don’t know if it was the words I was translating, or my sudden realization of what I was doing, but I felt my face grow warm and tears form in my eyes. I half-recognized the futility of all my efforts and half-reminisced on what I could remember of my few visits back home.

I mentally shook my head at my naive attempts over the last few days. Did I really expect to know my country just by reading about it, eating its food, and listening to a few songs? I looked around at my surroundings.

Where’s the stiff, unwavering heat of Cebu City? Where’s that sense of being surrounded by family? Where’s my lola, fingering her rosary in mass? Where’s rice wrapped in coconut leaves? Where’s the bustle and honks of jeepneys, and the crazy backrider who spreads out his pesos on one hand like cards? Where’s the cement staircase of my father’s house in Banawa Hills, the zapote tree in the front yard?

 

I suddenly felt homesick. But, how could I feel homesick for a place that’s never really been my home?

***

As naive as my endeavors are, maybe this is how people do it. One bite, one song, one history lesson at a time, maybe I’ll find my way back to Cebu.

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8 thoughts on “Breadcrumbs back to the Philippines

  1. Hello! It’s been a while and I feel bad from going away from this medium. Life has been full of adjustments at the moment. But I felt compelled to answer with this thought.

    This even happens when you have lived in your national country for many years as well. I lived in Puerto Rico for 20+ years and to be honest, I feel disconnected. I listened to the music, ate the food, lived the culture and communed and communicated with many Boricuas. But I still felt like an outsider.

    Maybe it’s because I was dealing with being in that evil school and dealing with problems that took more of my life. It goes as even wishing people to leave because it’s not great over there.

    But I admire that you are at least trying to connect with your culture. And don’t be discouraged because you can’t smell your country’s air or feel the busy streets. You can feel this in many ways, and the fact that you want to is already a huge step. I hope you keep doing this and find happiness.

    Tip- you can use meetup.org to find groups that you can meetup with. I’m sure there are groups with people like you, who are looking to reconnect with their culture. 😉 Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Words can’t express how giving and empathetic a person you are! I saw this when you first replied, and when you posted, but I’ve just not had enough time to respond in kind yet. But just know I will, and that your words comforted me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well thank you ;). I’m glad to hear this and I look forward to your response. It is a bit long and it seems almost a little mean but it’s definitely what I was feeling and it would be disingenuous to not post if that isn’t what I’m feeling. I keep going with this and I might not make some peeps happy but if the people that read like it, then that is just a bonus that will make me happy. 🙂 I’m happy to hear from you again. Take care!

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  2. National pride is more than skin deep..It never meant that once we left our home country that we totally forgot everything about it..after all its in our blood. I have the same feeling as well although I have just been an OFW at first, for many years I felt like I am like an alien anymore whenever I came home for a vacation..I couldn’t even recognized the streets or the way to commute..lol
    I have always been a firm believer to never forget where we came from..and also, to not lose sight of where I am going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, and yes, my mother was an OFW, and so, I grew up disconnected from Filipino life. My siblings spent most of their life in the Philippines, and so, their feelings about home are completely different from mine. My sister will sometimes play guitar in her Canadian kitchen, feeling nostalgic to the point of crying, because she misses it so much.
      Anyway, I digress. I hope you get to visit the Philippines often, even with the “alien” feeling you get.

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    1. I’m sure many do look back. I have always looked back. But as I grow older, it becomes even more apparent to me that I need to get back to my roots—if not for me, then for my future children. I don’t want them growing up not know the country their mother came from.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

      Like

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