I've been taking all of this for granted. All of it.
I didn't realize what a privilege it is to be born in the United States until this trip.
It was my first time going to the Philippines and for my mom, 28 years had passed since she had been back to her hometown.
Raised with a single parent, I was so curious about my roots and where my mom grew up.
I finally got my answers.
For a long time the Philippines had been so far in my mind. My mom always brought up her memories of growing up on a rice farm in a household with 7 other kids, scrubbling floors with coconut husks, ironing with an iron that stored hot coals for heat, going to school because they had to and ultimately choosing to go to nursing school simply because the look of the uniform. She liked the white uniform with that signature hat. Her nursing is what lead her to this country. I'm so grateful for her tenacity and for my grandmother's sterness when my mom approched her to quit to study nutrition instead. Lola, grandmother in the Philippines, pushed her to keep going.
We were the only ones that made it to the U.S. All of her family is still in the Philippines and now they're becoming older. Her siblings are grandparents and my cousins are years older than me. I even have grandnewphews and grandnieces!
Our 14 hour flight from LA, a 4 hour layover in Manila and another 1 1/2 hour flight to her island Negros Occidental seemed all worth it at the first sight of her surviving siblings. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a huge clan of family and my aunts had tears of reunion and joy in their eyes. They had not seen their sister, my mom, in almost 30 years. I was meeting real blood family for the first time. Real cousins that weren't just my mom's friends' kids and aunties and uncles that could share stories with me of what my mom was like as a kid. I felt truly connected.
We stayed with family the entire duration of our stay being shuttled house to house and constant bombardment of Filipino hospitality, and with this I mean "Did you eat? There's food. Go eat!"
We stayed in Bacolod and even had the chance to see some main areas like The Ruins which is an architectural shell of a home from a sugar plantation owner. Notice the Spanish influence even on the buildings?
Here are more pictures of Bacolod in the gallery below
As we traveled the 4 hours by car from Bacolod to her hometown of Hinoba-an, I kept asking my mom, "How'd you make it out of here?"
This place is off the grid. The pace of life is slower out here. There are kids playing outside, there's vast farmland spread throughout with stretches of little convenience store stands, the roosters are crowing and the elderly are playing majong on their porches.
Staying here was my favorite part of the trip. We walked house to house visiting all the places my mom knew and we ate at home all the time eating meals made with love using local ingredients like seafood, pork, eggplant, banana, coconut, moringa greens, squash, okra, rice and mangos.
I loved hearing the stories although I needed some help translating since I don't understand Illonggo, the local dialect. I loved hearing it even though they poked fun at me for a lot of jokes I didn't get. I tried to look for physical similarities between me my aunts and cousins and then I would see connections with my mom and her sisters. They had the same legs and ankles.
Because we were so far from the main city, this area is rich in beaches. I kept wanting to see the coastline and longed to see the sunset so I can see the continuous scenery with that was so different from California's. Sure, the sun sets beneath our ocean too, but the water here was warm and clear with coconut trees everywhere.
The time went by so fast.
The bugs still freaked me out and I was still not enjoying the rooster's morning call every morning but my body was becoming used to the heat and the way of life here. I was just starting to feel comfortable - no fancy coffees, no overloading on media / tv, nothing was styled or trendy, no fancy shops or cafés. It's simple here. The people are what make it. My family made me feel so warm and welcome here. I'll never forget my time there.
I come away with new perspective admiring my mom much more than I ever did before. I knew she was strong having withstood some family tides of the family with me and my sister, but I had no idea my mom was a determined and driven young woman. Now I know why she is the way she is, why she thinks the way she does. I love it when she speaks her dialect that much more.
Los Angeles and Hinoba-an are worlds apart but I feel like I straddle both like my mom does in some way.