Earlier this week, my mom reminded me to pack my suitcase for our trip to the Philippines. This is the first time our family will go to the Philippines in five years, and my mom is very excited.
“Remember,” she said, “We’re going home soon.”
Her words made me pause. My mom has been an American citizen since the ’80s, and has lived and worked in Southern California for decades. Yet, she is among many Filipino Americans I know who still call the Philippines, “home.”
As for me, I was born and raised in Southern California, and I even go to college in the area; I’ve only ever known one home. And as an American of color, I’m hesitant to call any place other than the stated as home. This is because the phrase, “go home” is often associated with anti-immigration. And second-generation Americans are just as subject to questions of legitimacy or loyalty as first-generation Americans. Just ask San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Judge Gonzalo Curiel or any Japanese American who lived in an internment camp.
It seems like to be American, a person needs to give up or distance themselves from their ancestral culture and fully assimilate. Even then, there are certain things that are impossible or difficult to change: the color of a person’s skin, the shape of their eyes, the occasional grammar issues. These often lead others to ask, with well-intentions or not, “Where are you really from?”
Just to be clear: my family loves America and we are proud to be American. We’re fortunate enough to live in an area where life is better and safer here for us, and we contribute to our community with our tax dollars and our time.
But for many Filipino Americans, regardless of generation or how long they’ve been living in America, “home” will always reference the Philippines.
The reason is clear for my mom. Most of our blood relatives are in the Philippines, and my mom gets nostalgic every summer when her barrio has its annual fiesta. The Philippines calls to my mother because it’s the country where she grew up, where the culture is familiar, and where family and childhood friends are within walking distance.
If home is where one feels a sense of comfort, love, and shared culture, the Philippines will always be my mother and grandmother’s home, just as much as Southern California has become their home.
But me? I didn’t grow up in the Philippines, nor visited more than a couple of weeks over the course of years. I may be ethnically Filipino, but there’s a big cultural difference between a Filipino who grew up in the Philippines and a Filipino who grew up in America. I don’t think I can really call the Philippines, “home.”
And yet, I learned much about Filipino culture and history through Google searches and being in Fil-Am communities. I feel a sense of shared heritage with others when I’m in the Philippines, despite being a cultural outsider. There’s a comfort that comes with being around people who know what it means to do mano or hang a paról lantern at Christmas. This comfort keeps me returning.
It’s ridiculous to think that having pride in my heritage makes me less American than someone whose ancestors came on the Mayflower. Just like the pilgrims, my family crossed an ocean to have a better life in a foreign land. We’ve just been living in the states for a shorter amount of time.
In the end, America is without a doubt my home. My favorite people in the world are here. My favorite views of Los Angeles are here. I got my black belt here, my high school diploma here, my first kiss here. All that is familiar to me is here.
But as much as America shaped me, I’ve been shaped by the Philippines through my mother. Everything I learned about generosity, celebrating, loyalty and duty, I learned from her. And in turn, she learned those lessons while growing up in Philippines. Her love for her home country and for the family she left was passed to me. The Philippines is where my family’s story began, and America is where it continues.
So even though I’m American, the Philippines is always calling.
Always calling me home.