My way of life is very polarizing to most people. I learned at a very young age on how to deal with being “poor.” My mother had to work three jobs just to provide for me, make sure that I get a great education, and make sure that I’m not marginalized in a commercialist society; that means my mom still made sure that I had a GameBoy like most kids.
Growing up in both the beautiful islands of The Philippines and the United States, I never gave a thought about living within our means. I never gave a thought about how hard it was for my mom to buy shoes for me or to give me good clothes.
I was sixteen when I came back to the Philippines. There I witnessed the resilience of the Filipino people – my people. I saw shacks of houses along Roxas Blvd. in Manila, a couple of old infested tires acting as paperweight to their roof. I saw people digging for recycles at a dumpster. I saw good hard working Filipinos earning $2 a day, driving pedicabs all day just to feed their family. I’ve experienced it.
A story that always stick to my mind is when I borrowed a neighbor’s pedicab on the pretense that I would just try riding it around but then I actually worked for the money. I found a few passengers and drove them to where they lived.
I probably earned less than 50 pesos then. I gave the money to the owner of the pedicab as I had no need for it. I said to him in perfect Tagalog, “that’s really hard work!” (Mahirap pala talaga ‘yan) It wasn’t charity to give that money to the man but it was charity for myself. To feed my soul and realize that there are people less fortunate than myself.
In the town where my mother was from, the entire community know each other. Generations and generations of different people get to know each other. Most of them poor, most have persevered and earned an education. Some due to circumstances they cannot control, have lived through the aid of their own families and friends.
I saw many kids in the streets playing their street games of hopscotch, “Chinese garter,” tag, and hide-and-seek. It was wonderful to see their faces but I couldn’t help but wonder if these kids will be able to go to school with shoes or with new clothes. I couldn’t help but wonder whether these kids would have lunch money or packed lunch.
The least I could do while I talked with people was to buy street food for everyone. For less than $2, I was at least hopeful that I made their day. We enjoyed some fish balls, “kikiam,” squid balls, and etc.
When I came back from that trip, I always hesitated to ask my mom for anything ever again. Yes, I would have the urge to splurge a little bit. I would have the “want” to buy things here and there but to this day, I’ve lived simply. I would rather have myself surrounded by people I love than to spend an entire day at the mall. I would rather stay at someone’s house and indulge in long conversations than go clubbing.
Whenever I hear natural disasters hitting The Philippines, I always think about those whom I interacted with in 2007. I always think about the happy people, their dreams and talents, their families, and the friends I’ve made during that trip. It is not only when I hear of such calamities but from time to time, the smiles of the Filipino and their resilience always leap out of my heart for me to stare at it and smile.
What I learned over there is to be resilient, hopeful, and always have a dream for the good of many. I learned not to be selfish and to promote the values that our parents have taught us. I learned that people are more important than money.
I found myself in 2007 at the age of 16. I learned more about the history of our people and the history of my friends and family. I learned to be Filipino and American at the same time.
Now, I am very excited to see the same faces again when I go back this year. This time, I’m going back with the love of my life, my girlfriend of four years. Jessica embraced my culture, my language, my history, and the Filipino way of life. I couldn’t ask for more.
I apologize if I don’t have any pictures from that trip as I never had a camera nor a phone with me at the time. I never bothered to take pictures as I was in different homes everyday.
I hope you come back and hear my stories about my trip at the end of the year, 2014.