I was born and raised in Quezon City, right next to the nation’s capital, Manila, so I was used to living in a setting a little short of suburban – somewhere between urban and suburban. I would compare it to living in Brooklyn or Queens in relation to Manhattan – there were trees spread out sporadically, but the atmosphere was largely polluted compared to where I live now. That’s why they say some medical conditions only exist here in the west; I guess if you grew up in a more polluted environment, you’d develop a better resistance because your body calls for it.
On a typical day in the Philippines, maids wash laundry outside and hang them in clotheslines, and interacting with neighbors. Kids would play basketball after changing out of school clothes, men would walk around shirtless, hollering and throwing colorful exchanges at each other, and neighborhood convenience stores harbor conversations between the owner and his customers, people who he usually knows personally. Nearly all of the interactions are personal, laid-back, warm, and involves people you routinely come across. In the US, this sense of community is not as prevalent. I barely know my neighbors, and everything seems to be a five-minute drive away. The cold weather certainly discourages people from leaving home if they don’t have to, and the way of life here is driven by a strong sense of urgency, whether in work or in school. Look no further than the NY subway during morning rush hour for example. I’ve never seen so many people close together approximately but feel so far apart. Maybe that is why I miss most from the Philippines.
My first year in an American school was memorable, both in good and bad. I would say that my experience as a student in the first few years were rougher than most. My experience in English prior to moving was only in film and television, never really having an opportunity to apply it. Even then, practice would not have prepared me for the real thing. Here, English is so used casually that people who grew up in it spoke in what, at the time, sounded like a version that was either too rapid, distorted, or heavy in accent that it made it difficult for people like me to understand any of what anyone ever said. Hence, the confusion in the classroom and the hallways. This made me an easy target for teasing, which made things additionally hard for me. Immigrants go through an adjustment period, and that is where Filipinos’ penchant for English helps ease the transition.
Without a doubt, my family thrives here more materially. Having lived in both worlds – the Philippines and the US – in my lifetime, I can say that a lot of the things Americans take for granted are difficult to obtain back at home. Here, the internet is fast, health insurance and other government services are comparably excellent, and school materials are better. I think the experience of living among other ethnicities and cultures also helps Filipinos like me identify what makes my culture unique from others, and in effect, appreciate my differences, as well as others. I think that immigrants in general develop a better sense of togetherness when they’re in a foreign country. I probably would have thrived better in the Philippines in the area of developing my own work ethic. The circumstances would have probably been more stacked against me there, forcing me to step out of my comfort zone more often. Admittedly, I’ve had it easy here in the States. It’s as if you have to create your own challenges at times; it’s very easy to fall into the comfortable life if you’re not careful.
For me, it’s not a matter of preference where I live – where I am right now is where I prefer to be. I believe I’m here because my experience of living in two worlds gives me something unique to contribute to the people around me.
Interviewed by Lea