Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two Worlds

My sister-in-law tells of an encounter with a local taxi driver, a migrant like ourselves. He's from Malaysia but has lived in New Zealand for many years.

This man tells my sister-in-law that his children don't consider themselves Asian -- at all. They make fun of his accent. They don't understand the old ways. They don't want to.

This, admittedly, is one of my fears. I'm afraid that not only will my children know little about their roots; but that they will be disinterested or worse, disrespectful of them. I'm scared that despite my best attempts at fostering and inculcating a deep sense of love for our country of origin, none of it will stick and I will end up with kids who look Asian and yet disavow any connection to that part of the world.

God Forbid.

Perhaps it's the weather, but as yet another fierce winter day passes; as the chill of the season creeps into my bones, thoughts like this increasingly fill my brain and I find myself laden with a strong sense of nostalgia and homesickness. I long for warmer climes, for summer evenings spent catching up with old friends, for Sunday lunch and afternoons with family. And even as my heart explodes with the ache of wanting all these things; my mind betrays with wayward thoughts of how what is familiar and safe to me - all the things I grew up with; the sights and sounds of a noisy, huge metropolis; the highways and backroads I used to navigate and know like the back of my own hand; the stomping grounds I used to haunt; the food (oh, the food!) so difficult or nearly impossible to get over here -- all these things are in fact, alien to my children. They've either not seen or heard or tasted or experienced many of these, or else only have a vague remembrance. My daughter was only 4 when we took the plunge and moved down under. My son was born here, and we haven't been back since. Manila would be as unfamiliar to them as New Zealand is to me. And all the things about living here that I have only just been coming to grips with will now, in fact, become their own anchoring reality -- even as my own anchoring reality slips further and further away, each day that we remain on NZ soil.

I love our new life here and yet like many first generation migrants, I will always be torn. I'll always have one foot in, and the other one jutting out just ever so slightly in the direction of some 5,028 miles north. While we've done well enough to cope and settle in, the truth is I'll always have one eye in the direction of what I left behind, even as I continue to look ahead and forge bravely into this new world. Sometimes however I do wonder if in my constant looking back, whether I am in some way impeding the forward momentum with which I must move on. After all, I can't keep living in the past. And yet, I can't - mustn't ever -- forget, or leave it completely behind either. I also can't help wondering - in a parallel universe, what would our lives be like if we had stayed? What would that look like? In the end, would all have been for the better? Worse? I will never know. And for that fact alone, I know I must stop asking.

We are scheduled to return to Manila in December 2010. It's something to look forward to. You can bet we'll make the most of it. It will be a time to catch up with old friends; have lunch with family and all our titos and titas and pinsans and pamangkins. If we can, we'll laze around the beaches and be warm. We'll stuff ourselves with Taho and Litson and Jollibee chicken with sweet-style spaghetti topped with hotdogs, and Tropical Hut hamburgers and Auntie Anne Pretzels and Goldilocks polovoron and fat juicy, ripe, Philippine mangoes. We'll drive by and through the suburbs bursting with Christmas lights and bright parols; eat Bibingka and Puto Bumbong dripping with butter and heavy with coconut shavings; and catch Misa del Gallo at least once (I doubt we'd make the whole nine-day novena.). We'll also make time to pay our respects and visit their Grandparents' graves. We'll make memories worth holding onto - and repeating. Hopefully that will go a long way to ensuring that while my kids reap the benefits of this new life, they also come to know all the things to which they should hold fast and dear, and why that must be so.

A wise man once said, "He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination. " (He also said "He who does not love his own language is worse than an animal and smelly fish. " Somehow it sounds cooler in Tagalog.) As my kids navigate their way through life, I hope this is something they'll always keep in mind. May they always keep a part of the Philippines alive in them. May they keep returning. And when they look in the mirror, may they see themselves as Filipino still, even as we continue to celebrate and embrace all things Kiwi, and all things which our adventures in New Zealand bring.


Kitchen 37B on July 8, 2009 at 6:56 PM said...

oh *sniff*... you're making me miss home too... ;(

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