Recently enrolling in a graduate program here in the States from France, one of Terence’s friends asked me if I often visit Manila. We often talk about being from another place and having a different culture. The only time I’ve ever been to Manila after moving here in 2001 was 4 years ago when my grandfather died. He asked if I miss it there, and I said not really. Merely half a second after I said it, I felt bad, like I was brandishing a brand of unpatriotism because it seems cooler that way. It definitely had nothing to do with patriotism, since I don’t deny to anyone my origins, that I’m of Filipino descent, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I was in a position to wholly claim that yes, I miss Manila deeply. When I reminisce, the nostalgia that I feel is for my childhood in Manila, for my extended family who I grew up with, for the many characteristically Filipino elements of growing up in a private, Catholic school and raised by strict parents deeply committed to Filipino conventions and values… that’s what I miss, and Manila was just a backdrop to it all.
I started to wonder if I should miss Manila more; if I needed to correct my earlier opinion since that may be a better feeling to nurture. I wondered how he felt about France. I know that we’ve had completely different experiences, mostly due to the timing and purpose of coming to the States. He asked if I experienced difficulties in adjusting to the culture. A lot of people asked me this when I first came here, and I would always say it was not so much the culture that shocked me, since Manila is pretty Westernized and seems to worship all things Stateside. I’m familiar with a lot of the cartoon shows, the food, the jokes– all of those were the things I had been exposed to prior to coming here. The challenging part was adjusting to a whole new thing I’ve never experienced before age 14– teenage and adulthood. To be plucked from your comforts and thrusted in an environment where people are eager and bright-eyed, randomly talk to strangers, speak in idioms, drink sodas like water, and laugh at umbrellas being used as shelter against the sun. When you come from a place where girls think they’re elite if they speak English, and all of a sudden you’re thrown into a place where all girls speak nothing but English.. it’s a whole different world.
It’s been 10 years since we’ve moved and while for the most part I feel I belong in this place because this is the place I’ve known for most of my teen and adult life thus far, there are still some situations when I feel my difference. There are times when people are not sure how to react to me; they perceive I’m completely assimilated, yet I pronounce some words differently, use a set of unfamiliar gestures, and present myself a certain way. After which, they are not too sure. Not just the way I look but the way I speak, the way my thoughts are constructed and the way I react to things. While I am aware of Nickelodeon and all of the Disney princesses, there are pop culture icons that I’ve never really been acquainted with, in those popular 80s-90s movies. There are childhood experiences they all share, such as knowledge of American elementary and middle school systems, repartees with comebacks they know by heart, jokes they’ve told many times over and expressions familiar to their ears… these are the details you obtain when you’ve spent your childhood here, which don’t get transported overseas along with the Barbie dolls and Hershey’s chocolates.