By: Sophie Diego
It started with a Wi-Fi password.
After a long, 12-hour trek to Chesapeake, Va., I thought a mandatory scroll through Facebook and Tumblr would be a nice accompaniment to a hot homemade dinner. I asked my uncle for the Wi-Fi password. I expected the usual 12345 or the typical Bible verse password that seems to carry with most Filipino households.
I made three attempts before it gave me access. I jokingly asked my uncle why they chose such a specific and long password. He gave a sideways glance to my older cousin – in a way to communicate to her: tell her, I don’t think she knows.
She explained to me that the password was some inside knowledge within the family. It meant that my uncle and aunt would retire back to the Philippines in the coming years. Now, I would’ve got it the first time if it didn’t look like a serial number. But that shared moment, between two relatives who spent a lot of time in the Philippines, was what I felt to be exclusivity.
I’m a full blood Filipino, but I don’t remember living in the Philippines. I don’t speak Tagalog, as much as my cousins and relatives encourage me to learn. I’ve never spent my pesos buying dirty ice cream at the vendors at Balogo, I was never sent to the fish market to buy tonight’s dinner, I didn’t spend free time kicking sand on a crystal beach.
I don’t have memories of the Philippines to share with my relatives when they come over to visit. I’ve always been the one that needed some sort of explanation for the traditions and translations that I didn’t understand in my family.
The only thing that ties me to my heritage is food. I look forward to halo-halo during the summertime and sinigang during the colder season. But to me, it feels like a weak bond. I feel like a white person saying he’s integrated with Spanish customs by eating tacos and churros.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines with my family for two months. I saw the glorious landscapes of palm trees, blue waters and the colour of busy Manila streets, I have never felt so welcomed – but so alienated at the same time. I met my cousins who I haven’t seen since I was a baby. There was this weird air of “we are related, but I have no idea who you are.” It felt like I was a piece of a puzzle with the wrong prongs and edges to fit into the bigger picture.
I wasn’t used to the blazing humidity of the sun or the winding roads that curved around the mountains. I felt ashamed to speak English when all I could hear was the current of Tagalog being tossed back and forth. All I knew was the snowy landscapes of Canada, the towering pines in rural areas and my white friends back home.
“Am I more Canadian than I am Filipino?” I wondered.
I can hear my mother shaking her head vigorously. But then she’d pause and ponder if she should have taught me Tagalog when I was five.
However, I’m always confronted and somehow at peace with a scenario I keep playing in my head. If someone were to ask me which country I belong to, I’d quickly answer the Philippines.
When my relatives invite my family over for dinner, I feel this sense of connection. I’m sure this exists in other ethnicities, but it’s this unconscious bonding when you are surrounded by the same blood. Sure, when I hang out with my cousins and they talk about their experiences in the Philippines, I do get a little sad. However, they are sharing those stories with me because they understand that I come from the same heritage. It’s almost like they are writing me into their narratives.
As I grow older and nearer to the “eligible to be married” age, I wonder if my culture and heritage will be carried on to my children. While it is not as rich as my mother’s, uncle’s, or cousins’, I get to pass on this hybrid of being Canadian and Filipino. I’ll still try my best to study Tagalog and find other ways to immerse myself in my culture.
Because if it seems that Canada is my first home, I’ll always look back to the Philippines as my “first ever home” – filled with relatives I hardly know who somehow find it in their hearts to welcome me back.
Because that’s the Filipino way.