October is Filipino Heritage Month and the one month of the year when I reflect upon being part-Filipino. It’s not as if that’s lost on me during the rest of the year; I am reminded every time I look in the mirror, but since I have identified as Native Hawaiian for the better part of my life, the month of cultural introspection certainly allows for much-needed perspective.
When recently emigrated people ask if Iʻm Filipino, the conversation usually plays out like this:
Stranger: “Are you Filipina?”
Stranger: “Ahh! Where is your family from in the Phillippines?”
Stranger: “I know Ilocos!” then speaking in Tagalog or Ilocano
Me: “I’m sorry. I was born here, but my family is from Ilocos.”
Stranger: “So you aren’t from the Phillippines?”
Stranger: “And you don’t speak Filipino?”
They are disappointed. For me, I use the term “Filipina” to confirm my ethnic composition, while they often use it to forge a connection with someone who shares a national identity.
My grandpa was the last link to the Phillippines and when he passed, my connection to his homeland faded. Today, I barely feel a connection to it at all. He had moved to Hawai’i at a young age and probably continued to send money to family back home his entire life. He and his brothers maintained contact with the relatives we never met. These days, no one flies “back” to the Phillippines anymore, to take money and care packages of food and clothes. When that generation passed on, so too did those familial bonds and monetary obligations. If it was his intention to absolve family ties and responsibilities with his passing, we’ll never know.
The earthquake that devastated central Phillippines earlier this week, ravaging Bohol and Cebu and killing so many people, jolted me. Maybe it’s because it’s October, when my awareness of being Filipino is heightened, but as soon as I heard, I grieved for the victims and wept for the country and people I should know, but don’t. Two generations removed, the Phillippines is a part of me, and in not knowing it, I really don’t know myself.
I missed my grandpa. He was the link to a part of our family history we will never know. I began to wonder if family members are in Bohol or Cebu and if they were spared from the disaster. I didn’t know, but it’s not like I didn’t know because lines of communication were down. We had never been in contact to begin with, connected by blood, yet separated by currents and centuries.
I am on a severed branch of the family tree that was replanted, took root and is now thriving. I often wonder if there is a distant relative who looks like me back in the Phillippines. Select features passed on to me from my grandfather and perhaps relatives before him, looking back at me.
Weekly Writing Challenge prompt: Living History. | http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/writing-challenge-history/