September 23, 2020 / Source: The Bizz USA
By Isabelle Sitchon; Edited by Haarika Kalahasti
A sweltering heat engulfs my entire body as I step out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I grimace as the blistering sun rays blare into my eyes. “I’m definitely looking forward to these next two months,” I thought.
“Ate (big sister), come meet your tita and tito (aunt and uncle)!” my mom calls out to me. On my left, I spot two figures stepping out of a grey Jeep. “That’s weird,” I pondered, “Tito is stepping out of the passenger seat--wasn’t he the one driving?”
After stuffing our luggage into the back of the jeep and strapping our buckles securely, we drove off into the streets of Manila. Scattered around us was a sea of cars, motorcycles, jeepneys, and tricycles. My younger brother and I marveled at the crowdedness of the Manila highway. It was nothing compared to our wide, suburban roads in Texas.
Finally, we arrived at my tita’s house-- a dainty one-story home surrounded by an enchanting flower garden. My tita opened the door, and we were immediately greeted by an older woman who looked to be in her mid-20’s. Without saying a word, the woman took my luggage down to the bedroom hallway. “That’s their housekeeper,” says my mom, noticing the bewildered look on my face. After settling in for a bit, I took a seat on their low couch. An episode of “It’s Showtime” was buzzing on the old television set with its blaring audience laughter and “boing” noises. Suddenly, the door swung open, revealing my younger cousin. She was donning a racing swimsuit, and her hair was dripping water droplets onto the floor. A few moments later, my older cousin walked in, taking on an appearance similar to his younger sister. “Who picked you up?” I asked my younger cousin. “We took a tricycle here,” she replied, “Noone picked us up from swimming practice!”
When I first came to the Philippines, thirteen-year-old me didn’t know what to think. She leaped into a world that she thought was a part of her own heritage. In reality, she didn’t know this intricate part of her background at all. A part of her felt terrified of all the new sights and phenomena. Another part of her, however, was eager to explore. I yearned to get out of my tita’s home and see the wide range of new experiences that I could become familiar with. So curious and full of hope for my home country, I climbed into my bed, itching for tomorrow to come as soon as possible.
A few days later, I stood in the middle of an H&M, stunned at the fact that I couldn’t even speak my native language. The clothing I held in my hands felt heavy; --it felt as if I was carrying; it felt as if I was carrying a 500-pound weight. The store employee’s questions wouldn’t register in my mind; it all gathered into a jumbled clutter in my head. At that moment, I felt isolated from my home country. I felt as if I wasn’t meant to in the Philippines at all. All of the curiosity built inside me suddenly faded away. Did I really deserve to learn more about my own culture?
A week passes by when I meet my lolo (grandfather). He’s completely bed-ridden, confined to the wires hooked up to his IV stand. I hear an episode of “Showtime” playing on the TV again, complete with its cheesy sound effects. I greeted him with a smile and pressed my forehead against his hand. “Maganda ka, (pretty),” he tells me, taking my hand into his fragile one.
Despite not knowing much about my background, I did deserve to experience my culture. Being close to your culture isn’t just a matter of responsibility. There is much more purpose to developing a relationship with your heritage. For me, it’s being able to sing and dance along to the songs that your tito plays on the radio. It’s being able to laugh at the Filipino jokes that your jokester dad makes at parties. It’s being able to have an in-depth conversation with your cousins, reflecting on life’s trials and tribulations. It’s being able to finally see--with your own eyes--the beautiful cultural landmarks that you’ve always gawked at in pictures. It’s being able to feel closer to your family-- the people who carry the same DNA that runs through your blood. Although my Filipino genes have always been a part of me, I didn’t notice how disconnected I was about that major aspect of my life. My trip to the Philippines inflamed a burning epiphany into my brain-- that I needed and wanted to be more intimate with my heritage to feel closer to my family.
In the beginning, I talked about my arrival in the Philippines and introduced little instances of culture shock that I experienced. Days pass by as I travel across the Philippines, and I noticed that there were more differences between my life and my culture than I thought there was. While my cousins would be hugging each other every time that I saw them, my brother and I would crack up while mispronouncing grocery store items. In every house that I stayed at, I would shiver at the never-ending stream of cold water that hit me as I stepped into the shower. When I was shopping in Iloilo, my tita told me to walk with my purse in front of me, as I was at the risk of getting pickpocketed. Regardless of how frightening these experiences may have been, I still loved getting to know the Filipino lifestyle. Soon enough, I got used to the overbearing Filipino heat, alike to the lifestyle I encountered while in the Philippines. These moments hold a special place in my heart because it provided me with a new understanding of life as I see it.
Nowadays, I’m still working towards connecting with my Filipino background. No matter what insecurities I may face, I’m not giving up, however. I’ve come to appreciate more of my culture and take part in that “Filipino” pride. The beauty of culture shock is that you’ll feel an urge to self-reflect upon your morals and values, while also wanting to grow closer to your culture.