When I was six months old, my mom brought me over from the U.S. to live with my dad in the Philippines. I grew up in Iloilo, one of the many cities in the small southeast Asian country made up of over 7,000 islands.
There, I went to school, played outside in the streets, and grew up alongside all my cousins and relatives. In 2006, my dad and I moved to the U.S. to live with my mom and younger brother in Philadelphia, where I have been living ever since.
Since moving to the U.S., I immersed myself into American culture, but I began to compartmentalize my Filipino culture. Many times, I felt out of place in school and in my community, because it seemed like I was the only Filipino there. I was an outsider, a foreigner.
In summer 2016, I returned home to the Philippines for a month-long family vacation after ten long years away. I visited my old house in Iloilo and walked through familiar streets where I played with friends as a small child. Everything was smaller than I remembered, which made me realize how much I had grown up.
During that trip, I was reunited with my relatives, whom I haven't seen in a decade. Everyone was older, bigger, and it felt surreal to see them after such a long time.
I thought things would be different, but to my surprise, they all greeted me warmly and happily - I was home with my family again.
Since that first trip back home to the Philippines, I looked forward to the next time I would be coming back. Little did I know that it would only be within the next 3 years.
In March 2019, during spring break, my aunt and I took a trip back to the Philippines, to pick up my grandparents who were returning to the U.S. While the trip was short and hectic at times, I was able to go around Iloilo and revisit old sights, as well as see my family again.
One of the highlights of the trip was when my cousins took me out into the city to eat and drink, and afterward, they drove me around in the back of a pickup truck going back to my hotel, with the wind blowing in my face.
I felt freer, happier, and more at peace than I'd been in a while.
Going back to your roots, your family, and your home is always humbling, and it reminded me of how my culture and identity as a Filipino-American has shaped who I am today.