I’m the youngest of four siblings and everyone in my family has been to the Philippines but me. If they weren’t born there, they’ve visited within the last ten years.
And yet, here I am, Mr. Woketivist, the most vocal one in my family about civil rights, Filipino culture, Filipino identity, and Filipino representation, yet I’ve never even seen the Philippines for myself. I feel like a poser. Every time my family discusses the Philippines they speak from experience — “it’s kind ob like uhhh…” — and I’m just a tourist living vicariously through their stories, nodding my head because I don’t know otherwise.
Things my family has said about the Philippines:
1.) Children begging everywhere you go
2.) Dirty streets and unclean restaurants
3.) Horrible traffic and “crazy” drivers
4.) Cheap food and massive portions
5.) Security guards going on constant power trips
6.) Thieves and con artists all around ready to snatch your jewelry and possessions
7.) Sex workers everywhere and people trying to sell you items on the street
And what can I really say to them? “Nah man, you don’t know what you’re talking about”? It ain’t like I can cancel them either, so I take their word with a grain of salt and try my best to balance out their narratives with my own research. But no amount of stats, articles, or documentaries can depict the feeling I’ll get when I’m actually there, roots reattached to my feet.
Back when I was a college fuckboy who thought white meat was the greatest treat, I fell in love with the movie “Shanghai Kiss” (2007) because — shit… what 17yo self-hating Asian dude didn’t have a hard-on for anything AMWF? Despite the cute love story and low-key problematic relationship with Liam Liu (Ken Leung) and underage Adelaide Bourbon (Hayden PanteraPanini-or-whateverthefuck), there was an unforgettable line in the film that stuck with me forever. After Liam hooked up with Micki (Kelly Hu), he commented on how it felt being a Chinese-American in Shanghai.
”I spent my entire life running away from anything Chinese including my father. But I come here and I feel like I belong here. Here, I'm not a Chinese guy, I'm just a guy.”
Tomorrow, after 28 years, I’m hopping on a plane to Manila for the very first time to see if I belong (well, actually, I’m there for work so I gotta come back home.)
What’s it gonna feel like when I step foot in Manila and for the first time and I see nothing but “representation” staring back at me? How will it feel to exist in a city where I’m the majority race? Will they notice I’m not one of them? Will I blend in and not have to worry about the white gaze? Or will they snipe me from the crowd and expose me as a foreigner?
I might feel like I belong, but will hometown Filipinos see me the same way?
For many POC activists born outside the motherland, there’s a philosophical — borderline spiritual — force that tells you to come back home and reclaim your identity. It’s like I’ve been sleeping on the same side of the pillow for 28 years and I’ve never taken the time to experience the cool side.
I don’t know what it’ll be like in the motherland or how I’ll feel (what if I hate it? what if the food sucks? what if everyone’s an asshole? what if it’s dangerous just like my mom always says?) but my mind is spinning with anxiety. I feel like I’m about to pop with excitement and fear all at once.
I know what to expect, but I don’t. I want to love everything about the Philippines, but what if I don’t? I could fire off hypotheticals till my thumbs shave off and the keyboard starts smoking, but perhaps the best question to ask is…
Will I leave Manila the same person I was when I arrived?
Tune in next time to “The Love Life of an ‘Ay Nako, I’m Going to the Philippines Tomorrow’ Guy”