I have never felt more Pinoy until Dada and I lived abroad for years.
Which was a far cry from how I felt when I was in my teens. Living in the US, and then London during the 90s, everything felt like such an adventure, an escape from the mundane, parochial Pinoy life as I knew it.
No noisy afternoon variety shows, no smoke belching jeepneys clogging the streets, no depressing shanties peppering the city. No teachers insisting on unreasonable amounts of homework. And wow! We were baking our own brownies and chocolate chip cookies, instead of having guinataan and banana cue for merienda.
Everything seemed fast, vast, green, clean. And in the case of London, so important and grand.
Don't get me wrong, I come from what I'd call a patriotic family. My Dad was in the military, and he was proud to be representing the Philippines wherever he was stationed. Sneakily enough, his impressionable kids i.e. us, after having been exposed to what was out there, were already plotting how to get out of the Philippines and make these new countries home.
But all that changed from 2007-2011 when I finally got what I wished for.
Maybe it was maturity, or a new perspective.
When we started building a family, it made me realize how important it is to be where I felt most at home. In my case, where family and friends are. Where the food tasted like the food I grew up with. Never mind if where I was at that very moment was a lot more efficient, more picturesque, more comfortable.
In short, I found myself looking for the comfort of what was warm and familiar. No amount of shopping at Barneys or at Celine in Ngee Ann City could compensate for the homesickness, and my desire to see my daughter grow up in the company of family.
Because despite the many things that I used to complain about back home, I realized, Ang #SarapMagingPilipino. Here's why, from the perspective of someone who has "been there, done that":
1. The Filipino Support System. I totally get why new moms abroad get post-partum depression. It's the lack of a support system I swear.
Imagine yourself tired, hormonal, lacking sleep, hobbling from pain with a screaming baby who needs to be fed every two hours. Plus you need to prepare three meals a day, get the groceries and laundry done. Not only that, you need to get yourself looking presentable when the husband arrives from work. Think about doing that day in and day out, once you pop out the baby.
I swear, it can drive a woman nuts, no matter how much you love that baby. I mean, even if you can afford a nanny, granted that the one you found is not a psycho nanny, nothing can ever replace the peace of mind knowing that your Mom, Titas, sisters, cousins, in-laws even your girl friends are just a few steps away, ready to take the baby into their eager, equally loving arms, so you can have some precious "me time". Plus, the women in the family would have made sure that there's hot food on the table, fish soup for breastfeeding, black chicken and all your ge lai food and drinks ready when you need them. They would have also done some shopping for you, with lots of gifts for the new baby!
Filipinos can count on family, especially when there are new babies around, and compared to women abroad, we can get spoiled silly, seriously.
I actually have this theory. People who have successfully made a new country their home, usually have their immediate family and friends close by. At least if not immediate family, there are aunties, uncles and cousins who open their homes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because there is nothing sadder than a holiday spent "alone".
Case in point, December of 2007. Dada and I spent our first Christmas in New York with our brother-in-law Jun. All three of us had just recently moved to the East Coast at the time. The air was crisp and the sky was clear. We had dinner at Benjamin Steakhouse in Midtown East, just across Grand Central Station.
Christmas dinner at Benjamin Steakhouse
We walked around Manhattan - went to Rockefeller Center to check out the skating rink, Fifth Avenue to look at the brightly lit shops, the kind of New York Christmas we see in the movies.
Jun took our photo here, then we took his picture after, ahihi
And it was nowhere close to being at home with the rest of the family. We were glad and happy to be together, but also nostalgic for the kind of Christmases we grew up with, the noisy, chaotic kind of Christmas with the entire clan present.
2. Friends who are like family. I don't know if this is unique to our culture, but I love how the friends we have are practically like our family. Where even our friends' parents are Tito and Tita, and they treat you as one of their own.
Dada & I can never thank our friends Me-an & Eric enough for all their help and support in helping us get settled when Dada decided to move to New York from Boston to work for a firm in Manhattan. I love how my best friend Nina and my good friend Miriam pulls all the stops so they can supply me with Ilokano pinakbet, replete with Ilokano vegetables when I am craving. I can never forget the pancit that my friend Tet would whip up for us in her Brooklyn townhouse. Quick, impromptu trips to TJ Maxx with my friend Paz and her baby Carissa. How my friends Xsa and Sarj remember me and the kids from out of the blue when they go shopping for themselves. They were also first to visit when I gave birth to Berry in the US. How my other best friend Aileen immediately volunteered to be Berry's Ninang all the way from the Philippines, and how our friends Tots & Ches would invite us over regularly to their apartment in Midtown for home cooked meals that Tots would lovingly prepare in her well-equipped kitchen. A Fourth of July BBQ with Cathy & Jon. When we moved to Singapore, settling in was a breeze, thanks to our friends Naomi & Tony, Frances & Raffy, Sara & Bob. We arranged playdates and activities for the kids, regular lunches and get togethers.
I dare say, Filipino warmth and hospitality is unparalleled elsewhere.
3. Philippine mangoes, calamansi, adobo, kare kare and Jollibee. It's crazy how I wasn't much into Pinoy pantry essentials like Maggi Savor, canned tuna and champorado back home, but I would feel the need to stock up on them when I would see these in Pinoy stores.
When I was pregnant with Berry, no amount of Mexican mangoes could replace my desire for just one sliver of green mango, or a cheek of sweet, ripe mango from the Philippines. I would dip green apples in bagoong, and imagine they were our green mangoes. It was the saddest thing.
I made kare-kare with kale to replace the pechay, used french beans to replace the sitaw in sinigang. One made do with the ingredients on hand to just get a taste of "home". Oh, the joy when I finally managed to replicate my mom's adobo! You can just imagine my excitement when I found frozen saging na saba and frozen calamansi packets in a Pinoy grocery store.
And how Sarj and I freaked out at the idea of Peach Mango Pie when we found out that Jollibee opened at Woodside in Queens!
As I've said before, sometimes its the things that we take for granted back home that also instantly transport us back home, even for just a while. And I guess, that's what also makes us Pinoy. We don't have to have the fanciest of things to feel connected to our roots. Because what makes us proud about being Pinoy is ingrained deep down in our hearts.
And with that, I leave you with this short video about "Foreign Pinoys".
While many of us dream about leaving the country for greener pastures and better opportunities, there are a new breed of Filipinos who have come to love their adopted country as their own. "Why?! How?!", you ask? Watch this.
How about you? What makes you proud and happy to be Pinoy?
Join the conversation by tweeting using the hashtag #SarapMagingPilipino!
Because in spite of all the disheartening news that we read in the papers and see on TV, there is still much to be grateful about.
Let's celebrate our Independence Day by focusing on what's positive, which hopefully will bring in a collective wave of welcome change.