There are just those decisions we make that are absolutely transformative, and for me, that would be moving to the Philippines last year to study. It was a move I never anticipated for myself, but I made it nonetheless, because of so many personal reasons of my own, as well as things I needed to figure out for myself.
Growing up as a migrant Filipino child in Hong Kong initially, and then Macau, I never had the real Philippine experience. And by that, I mean that I never really knew first-hand what life was truly like in the Philippines at all. Sure, I got to see a variety of people in melting pot cities in both Special Administrative Regions of China, as well as having seen a few different cultures up close while growing up in an international school, but it left me feeling disconnected with my Filipino heritage.
It is true that in almost all countries there are ample amounts of Filipinos who form communities away from their home country for the sake of still connecting with their Filipino roots, but I only ever experienced that as a child growing up in Hong Kong for the first 8 years of my life, and I didn’t really bother too much about that side of life when I was younger – I was more engrossed with games and having fun with my childhood playmates. After briefly moving to the Philippines for a few months when SARS hit Hong Kong, we moved to Macau. Here we stayed for around a decade and it became my main playground, seeing as it was the place where I became conscious of more things than what a mere child is aware of. In other words, I spent my adolescent years here and was where I was formulated to be the person I am now.
And while we were in Macau, we weren’t exposed to the Filipino community as much as we were in Hong Kong. What happened was more the opposite, and me and my brother grew up in isolation away from Filipino culture. And that’s when we both started to resent being who we were.
On my end, there were times I didn’t exactly like being Filipino, but there were also times I felt indifferent about it. However, I do remember intense episodes of hatred towards being Filipino and I’d try my hardest to hide my Filipino-ness, blending in as much as I could with the locals.
Some may assume that life abroad is easier and much better, but there are also challenges unique to living overseas. I find such an assumption highly erroneous. Loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and that inner fear that the locals might one day turn on you and force you out – it really builds constant anxiety and paranoia. Maybe that’s just me though.
When the Filipino name is synonymous to being a helper or a maid, which aren’t always looked upon with high regard or respect, the generalization can become very difficult to deal with. Respect can become very hard to find at times, even from within the community.
One specific memory I have when I was still young, and which has never left me, was when my mom was taking me to my kindergarten school. I was still 3 years old at the time, but what was said to her still haunts me to this day.
“Alaga mo ba yan?”, another Filipina says to my mom, while indicating towards me. Understand that my mom graduated from university with a degree as a nutritionist dietician and has had over ten years of working experience by then. She’d also worked in Saudi Arabia for many years before giving birth to me. But all my mom did was to confirm the Filipina’s assumption. Years later, when I’d already grown up, she told me how much it actually pained her, as a mother, to be thought as just a maid to me. Since then, she’s done her very best to dress better no matter the circumstance just to avoid being assumed as such to both me and, later, my younger brother. And in a way, I’ve also inherited her way of thinking and added onto it another layer of my own – I just didn’t want to be Filipino.
I know everyone deserves respect and that being a maid or helper doesn’t refute their right to it, but the way those two terms have been used as a word is nearly akin to any derogatory word out there, if not fully used a derogatory term even. It hurts knowing our nation is generalised by quite a number of people as the country for which maids and helpers come from, but it’s the reality and seeing that as I was growing up has probably scarred me into believing very little of myself. I could have focused on the more positive side of things, sure. But then, I tend to be a pessimist, as well as a sensitive one. I’ve grown a thick skin over the years, but I can’t deny that it still hurts sometimes.
And that’s exactly why I could never come to terms with me being Filipino. But if I cannot accept myself for who I really am, where would that get me?
Despite the initial culture shock and personal struggles I’ve faced adjusting, moving to the Philippines helped me see the brighter side of being Filipino. I no longer see the Philippines in such a negative light as before. I always knew Filipinos weren’t just maids or helpers, but fully seeing this extent by actually living in the Philippines for a year, I can safely say I’ve changed my perspective on the matter of my Filipino-ness.
We are a nation more than just maids and helpers. We are a nation filled with intellects and very competent professionals. We are a nation abounding in creativity and talent. We are a nation filled with amazing people. We are a nation that has the ability to offer more than what the world thinks we are capable of. We are a nation that also deserves respect.
Poverty limits us as a nation and corruption ruins our country’s name, but having lived in the Philippines showed me how vibrant it really is – our nation is multifaceted.
“Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit sa hayop at malansang isda.” A stranger told me this once, merely because I could not speak Tagalog fluently and was speaking English to a Chinese friend of mine. And while I felt insulted, it hit me and made me realise how I really didn’t love who I was as a Filipino back then. It challenged me to change my perspective and years after hearing it, I made my decision to reconcile myself with my Filipino heritage.
Moving to the Philippines quite literally changed me and gave me a totally new outlook. It really has been a transformative move. The one concrete thing for me right now is to get that sablay and my Mass Communication degree from UP Cebu. And although I don’t really know where I will be heading in the future, one thing is certain. I truly wish to serve the Filipino people, be it within the nation or abroad.
To close this, here’s another Tagalog quote that now resonates with me:“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggagalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.”