My Filipino Roots

Whenever I tell people that I was born in the Philippines and only moved to Canada in 2008 at the age of 10, they’re almost always shocked.

“But you don’t have an accent?” Actually, I beg to differ. I do have a very mild Filipino accent which gets even more prominent when I’m emotional and/or not really thinking about what I’m saying but, I digress. 

If not that, some people don’t even believe that I’m Filipina when they first meet me. I’ve gotten Latina, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Half White etc., whenever people try to guess my ethnicity. But, I always proudly say that I’m Filipina. I’m Batangueño and Ilocano (Northern Philippines) on my father’s side and Mandaya and Bol-anon (Southern Philippines) on my mother’s side.

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I lived in Davao City during the first ten years of my life and grew up speaking Cebuano and Tagalog. Even though relatives back home always point out how I’ve developed an “American accent” whenever I speak Cebuano/Tagalog, I still speak the two languages fluently and enjoy watching Filipino movies and TV shows without subtitles.

I do consider myself lucky in the sense that I can still speak Tagalog. Many of my Filipino friends who were born in Canada/came here really young either a) know just enough of the language to understand but not respond or b) they don’t speak it at all.

I find it really unfortunate that many of these parents don’t teach their kids their heritage language. A lot of times, they do so because they might not see it as a disadvantage. After all, speaking English is a sign of prestige for obvious reasons. It’s what’s gonna get you ahead in life, for the most part.

In the long run, though, many of these kids feel a sense of disconnect to their culture because there are so many things that you can’t pick up when you don’t speak the language. Language is culture. Language is an integral part of your identity.

Living over 13,000 KM away from home

Despite this, I do go through the occasional identity crisis. I haven’t been to the Philippines since my debut  in 2015 and I find myself rewatching clips from the comedy sketch show Banana Sundae and watching Filipino movies to brush up on my Tagalog (I can still speak Tagalog but because we only speak Cebuano at home, I’m forgetting words. Bilingual? More like Bye-lingual)

Because I live abroad, I often find myself missing home. Toronto is technically my home right now, but my heart will always be in Davao City. I miss the jeepneys, the tricycles, the mangga with bagoong, the kwek-kwek, the beaches, summer-all-year-long, loud family parties complete with the karaoke, you name it.

Being Filipino in Canada

Did you know that Tagalog is the fastest-growing language in Canada? There is definitely a large Filipino community in Toronto, which I’m very grateful for. I can just go to Wilson and Bathurst if I’m ever craving the snacks that I grew up eating in the Philippines.

Fellow Filipinos that were once complete strangers became the extended family that we celebrate birthday parties and holidays with whenever we can. There’s even a Filipino Student Association at York University.

Even though I’m miles away from home, I’m still reminded of my roots every single day.

Back home, we have a saying:

“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.”

(English Translation: “Those who do not know how to look back at where they came from will never get to their destination.”)

Like many others who are in their early 20’s, I’m in a constant state of thinking about what kind of future I’d like to have for myself. I’m graduating next year (fingers crossed) and to tell you the truth, I don’t really have a clear-cut answer to the question, “So what’s your plan?” 

A part of me is hoping that the answer lies somewhere within reflecting on my roots and where I come from.

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