Musings: Acknowledging our fears and insecurities on returning home

As with anything, owning a public blog is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is ridiculously liberating to publish anything and write anything. On the other, the need to be politically correct and mindful of who might be on the other side of the screen restricts any true journalistic freedom. Most times, censorship wins out and we turn our filters back on–like the good, properly socialized people we are. Posts get watered down. Our messages don’t end up being as powerful or genuine or raw.

Of course, the worry of offending and being misconstrued is understandable (see: The Atlantic’s “The Codding of the American Mind”). I, too, admit to editing–at times, heavily–what I say. We have become so good at curating our online personas that we have lost the ability to share the hard-hitting, often painful conversations that we can have offline. Often at 3AM. Often on either side of a half-empty bottle of wine. I have read few things online that have made me feel the way these conversations make me feel (most recently, this). What, then, becomes the real value of publishing anything publicly? Of blogs like this?

For the past week, I’ve been struggling with a writer’s block caused mostly by this question. Like a typical liberal arts major, I am overthinking the implications of this self-imposed filter. It has made me wonder what exactly it is that I am so afraid of in writing more honestly. Is it ridicule? Is it shame? Is it just the sheer lack of control that I will have over how others will react or what they’ll think of me? Truthfully, it is probably a combination of all of these things. My hesitations have also made me consider why it is so easy for me to publicly opine about things like American politics (#makedonalddrumpfagain) or the entertainment industry’s latest drama (#freeKesha), but not about the issues that matter most to me.

In the first few weeks of this personal project, I have had incredible conversations with BalikBayanis I deeply admire. Beyond empty epithets and cushy responses, people quickly moved past the sunshine and rainbows and have been truly honest with me about the hardships of returning home to the Philippines: things like corruption, intellect-shaming and isolation. What I’ve been told has been hard to stomach. Some things frightened me; others made me angry or sad. During the worst moments, I would question why we should even bother going back. But, in many ways, knowing about these struggles has made me appreciate and respect even more the choices these individuals have made to return to the Philippines.

I have been so grateful for everyone’s willingness to be vulnerable with me and have wanted nothing more than to share these conversations in their truest form. Of course, I have not been able to do this, both out of respect for the wishes of those I interview, but also because of my personal disinclination to be so publicly open. Why are we so hesitant to share with others the things that we have struggled with?

I think the reason for this aversion lies in how closely the issue hits at a lot of my deepest insecurities. It is natural for us to want to avoid things that force us to confront our biggest fears. Publicly acknowledging the downsides of returning home to the Philippines means not only accepting the difficulties of the transition, but also admitting that it may not be the wisest or most pragmatic decision. Rationality always seems to beat idealism. For someone who loves the country so much and has such high hopes for it, this confession is frightening and debilitating. I imagine that for several of the BalikBayanis I’ve spoken to, the fear could be rooted in a recurring spell of self-doubt and uncertainty–the small voice at the back of the mind constantly wondering whether going back was the right decision. In both cases, these realities are so, so painful to confront. It is only human to want to avoid them.

But would we really rather be ignorant or in denial? Probably not. As much as we complain, worry and become unsettled by all of the warning signs, it is possible to remain steadfast in our decisions. My conversations with BalikBayanis have proven that the little spark of idealism continues to burn in many of us. The fire may have been tempered by a healthy dose of experience and cynicism (and it’s likely better that it has), but it has offered a fuller, more nuanced understanding of our country and how we fit in it. We are not doing this blindly or naively. The decision to return is instead made stronger by our willingness to be vulnerable and humble throughout the process.

So here’s the disclaimer. I have never found truth and inspiration to be mutually exclusive; in fact, I think they are strongest in tandem. So while I have been told to keep this blog light, happy and inspirational, I am frankly no longer concerned with sugarcoating any part of it. To do so would be a disservice to all of the BalikBayanis who continue to grapple with their choice to return home everyday.  To be fair to ourselves and the others we affect in our decision to become balikbayans, we should confront and acknowledge both sides: the beautiful and the ugly. As you continue to read and speak with me through this blog, I hope you can join me in doing that.

From time to time, I will publish more personal posts on the topic of returning home to the Philippines. I will collectively call these “musings” because I often think of them in the shower or during my morning commute, when I tend to muse.

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