van at the “Arrivals” curb at the airport, opens the passenger side doors, and suddenly my mom right next to me, along with my auntie in the back seat start talking and cheering with excitement. As this was going on, two darker skinned equally excited teenagers hopped into the van, gave me hugs and kisses, and joined my auntie in the back seats as my dad hopped in the front next to my uncle. I was very confused on what just happened, especially with who these two teenagers were. I later found out and understood that those two teenagers were my older brother and older sister, my kuya and my até.
From that point on, despite the fact that my older siblings knew how to speak English my
mom told them to speak to me in Tagalog so that I could learn the language too. I picked up
learning Tagalog pretty quickly thanks to my curiosity along with always asking “what does that
mean?” This was especially true whenever my siblings were joking around/making fun of me but I had no idea what they were saying. At four-years-old I was able to speak full sentences in
Tagalog with my family, and as I grew up it was often Tagalog (plus The Filipino Channel) at
home and English in school. My proficiency with the language grew and started to balance out
with my English. In addition to learning Tagalog, my parents taught me how to mano po and
other traditional mannerisms as well.
In 2007 I got the chance to visit the Philippines for the very first time with my mom
while my dad stayed home in order to work. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited about this
trip since there were many firsts. This was my first time traveling overseas along with the fact
that I got to see and meet my mom’s side of the family for the first time also. During this time
social media wasn’t as advanced as it is today and I’ve only spoken to my relatives on my mom’s
side via “long distance” phone calls. When we finally landed at our final destination, the first
thing I noticed was how many people around me looked like me with regards to skin complexion and facial features which I thought was pretty cool. I also noticed how hot and muggy it was
right when we stepped foot outside of the airport. As my mom and I were looking for my tito and tita (uncle and auntie) at the “Arrivals” section of the airport, amidst the crowd of people a man and a woman approached us and I knew right away that they were my tito and tita as they
hugged and greeted us. During the duration of our trip my mom and I stayed at my auntie’s
house about 45 minutes outside of Manila. A couple days after our arrival other relatives (aunts,
uncles, cousins, etc.) came to visit the house. However, my mom noticed that after my cousins
would greet me they wouldn’t really talk to me afterwards. So my mom would ask them “why
don’t you talk to your cousin? He knows how to speak Tagalog, just go talk to him”. Next thing I
know I hear “kuya JD!” or “kuya!” coming left and right whenever my cousins were visiting, it
felt good to be the kuya for once. About a week into our trip I got to speak with my lolo
(grandfather) over the phone and jokingly to him to come and visit while he lived eight hours
north in the province. The following day early in the morning my lolo had arrived, surprised us
and decided to stay with us for a few days. During his stay I got to talk and bond with him a little
bit. I remember one moment when we were outside of my aunt’s house during the late afternoon he told me that he likes sitting outside during that part of the day because “the breeze of the wind feels cooler and it feels good especially after a hot day”. When it was time for my lolo to head back to the province it was really bittersweet, but I was glad that he made the trek just to spend time with my mom and I. After my lolo had left the rest of our trip flew by and before I knew it, it was time to head back home to Oregon. As our plane was taking off from the airport runway I had a feeling come over me as if something was telling me that I would be back to visit the Philippines again someday, and at that point the Philippines felt like a second home to me. I just didn’t know that I would be back again ten years later.
In December of 2016 my mom had passed away. After her death, my siblings along with
my dad and I thought it would be best for her final resting place to be back in her hometown in
the Philippines alongside her mom, my lola (grandmother). When my mom passed away there
were other Filipino customs that my family and I had to follow such as not being able to wear the color red for a year, praying the rosary for nine nights in a row since the day of her death, etc. I remember that first year without having my mom around was really tough for me personally.
During September 2017 my dad, my kuya, and myself finally traveled to the Philippines for a
couple of weeks in order to bring her ashes home. As soon as we landed we went straight to my aunt’s house where I stayed last time, rested for a few hours, then the three of us hopped in an
SUV along with two of my uncles as we began the twelve-hour road trip to the province where
my mom was from. When we arrived at the province my kuya couldn’t help but notice and point
out how much things have changed since the last time he was here 20 years ago, especially since he was born in the same town as my mom. We stayed in the province for a few days in order to properly prepare the burial of my mom’s ashes. When we weren’t busy with burial preparations, the five of us would spend time with my lolo on his farm. On our second to last day in the province the burial took place as we laid my mom to rest and also paid our respects to my lola.
We spent the rest of that day with my lolo until we had to depart ways once again later that
evening. The following day, the five of us hopped in our vehicle and drove another twelve hours
back to my aunt’s house. During the course of our travels back coming from the province, I felt a
feeling of closure come over me, a sigh of relief if you will since we brought mom back home
safe and sound, but also as a “thank you for everything” to her. A week later a few days before
my dad, kuya, and I were scheduled to fly back to the U.S. the three of us got to visit my dad’s
hometown about thirty minutes away from where my aunt lives. During our visit, my dad
showed me the church where him and mom got married. As my kuya was exploring other nearby sights, I just sat outside across the street and stared at that church. To me, in that moment was the culmination of my Filipinx identity as I realized that things had come full circle. From visiting both of my parents hometowns and where they grew up, to seeing the church where they got married, having my kuya and até immigrate to the United States, having my family instill the culture upon myself, and thus me being able to visit my roots with the cultural assets that were molded into me; I am my Filipinx-American identity thanks to my pamilya.
JD graduated from Portland State University in 2016.