I was born in the bustling city of Manila, Philippines on July 3, 1998. Shortly after, my mom moved to the United States to work as a nurse and my dad hopped around from Singapore to Malaysia and to Saudi Arabia to work for different airline companies. Although they didn’t want to, they left me in the care of my Lola (grandma) and Tita (aunt) so that they could focus on earning money for our family.
For the first few years of my life, I grew up in my dad’s hometown of Mayoyao, Ifugao. It was a hidden rural area with the most beautiful rice terraces and waterfalls cascading from the edge of mountains. My family wasn’t very rich but they got by and made the most out of everything they had. I used to run around freely catching dragonflies while my grandma planted rice in her field. My Tita was the pastor of the only church around and since it was a small town, I was known as the mischievous pastor’s niece who was always be messing around. Our neighbors were very friendly and always said hi to me.
Something about me that most people don’t know is that the first language I ever learned to speak was the dialect of the Ifugao people. This was the mother-tongue of my dad’s side of the family, so it was just natural for me to pick it up as well. Family members have always said that I was very talkative with my Lola and we would always be bickering.
It was a bittersweet time when I turned four years old because my mom came back to the Philippines to come get me and bring me with her. I completely forgot the Ifugao language because my mom only spoke Tagalog to me. Looking back at it now, I really wish I still knew how to speak it because I can’t really have a conversation with my Lola anymore since we don’t understand each other.
My mom and I both moved to Saudi Arabia to live with my dad for a few months and it was a completely new environment. People prayed five times a day and fasted often. Many men wore traditional qamis and women wore abayas to cover their faces. It was alright for men and children to wear casual clothing but women could not, so my mom had to wear an abaya even though we didn’t practice the same religion as the rest of the country.
When I was of age to start elementary school, I immigrated to America and lived with my mom, grandma, and aunt in their townhouse in Des Plaines, IL. My grandma on my mom’s side didn’t like being called Lola because it made her feel old and liked it better if everyone called her Nanay which means mother in Tagalog. I didn’t know any English coming to the U.S. but I learned quickly from going to school and watching cartoons on the TV. Tagalog was only spoken at home with my family.
My mom and I moved around many times to different apartments and when my dad immigrated to the United States to live with us, we moved to different houses, too. By the time I was in 3rd grade, I had moved to six different homes in four cities and attended three different elementary schools. I was always the new girl at school and was forced to make new friends all the time. It wasn’t a problem because I was an outgoing ball of energy but I never really had the same group of people that I grew up with.
In 4th grade, my family finally settled down in Hanover Park, IL after the birth of my younger brother. It felt good to finally have that stability that my early childhood lacked. I had the same friends from year to year and we lived in the same house and the consistency just felt right. I finished elementary school and went to middle and high school in the same town. During this time, I met some of my best friends and the most influential people on my life.
I grew up in primarily white neighborhoods and I found it sometimes difficult to talk about my Filipino heritage with my friends. At home, my parents always emphasized the importance of upholding Filipino values, eating the food, and speaking Tagalog even though we were living away from the homeland. There were times, especially in high school, where we would have disagreements because they believed that I was forgetting where I came from. At the time, I didn’t appreciate what they were doing but I realize that they have taught me a lot about who I am and even more about the country I was born in. I am the only granddaughter on my mom’s side that can speak fluent Tagalog, I know how to cook Filipino food for myself, and I will never forget what it truly means to be Filipino.
Coming to college, I have been able to find a community of friends that support me in exploring more about my culture. I’m learning more everyday but I still give all the credit to my parents. I am very thankful for all the sacrifices they’ve made for me to be where I am now. They’ve taught me everything I know and have taught me to be proud of my culture."