By Myrna Lopez
I am proud to be an American. I take it as a personal affront when my America is excoriated mercilessly. The time has long passed when I viewed this country merely as my chance for advancement and opportunity.But I am equally proud to be Filipino. I see no contradiction in my appreciation and embrace of both. It had not always been so.
Two decades ago I promised loyalty to America. I sought this. This wasn’t forced on me. But my heart was in turmoil. I was vainly holding back the sobs so close to drowning out the solemn ceremony.I turned my back on my native land and felt terrible conflict. I did as I was bid – publicly renounce my love and fealty to mycountry and in its stead, pledge allegiance to the United States of America.
A friend left for Europe 18 years ago and has not been back. ‘My Philippines, my native land, I miss you.’ This is her passionate comment. It has become a familiar refrain among us, the Filipino diaspora, about our longing for the land of our birth.
I know the ache in those words. I feel her hunger for the family and friends she left behind. I left for the US in 1975 and it took 15 years before I had the opportunity to return for a visit. The mind-numbing hours of travel took its toll I felt like stale spit from the plane’s maw. Euphoria and some days of rest lifted the fog of jet lag. But the time and distance exposed the truth – I was a stranger in my own country.
It took several visits before that feeling of oddity disappeared. I had begun my yearly visits to my parents who returned to Cebu, Philippines.I felt the tug of indescribable longing each time I left for Virginia, my home for the past thirty years. I felt like a woman torn between two lovers.
There is a Philippine proverb – Ang taonghindimarunonglumingonsapinanggalingan, hindimakakaratingsaparoroonan – He who does notlook back from whence he came, will not reach the end of his journey. Interpretations of this often quoted saying range from humorous advice – embrace the past lest you become duling (cross eyed), and mabantot (fetid); to outright coercion – acknowledge the past or you will meet with a catastrophic crisis.
Some years ago my husband and I co-chaired the Philippine Festival Fair and Parade which was held near the US Capitol in Washington, DC. It marked the hundredth year anniversary of the Filipino migration to America. I saw the exuberance of the unexpectedly largecrowd of smiling faces milling around me. I smiled back distractedly, my mind awhirl with a thousand and one things that needed my attention. Mitch and I boomeranged from one end of the festival area to the other since before daybreak, often passing each other with only a token nod of recognition. The heat and the long lines did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm.
That proverb mocked me. There was conflict after all. My divided loyalties reared its sardonic head that day.It broke even through my exhaustion and unnerve.
What am I? A fraction? One half this and one half that? The answer is further complicated by the Filipinos’ tendency in associating with one’s region first, country second.‘Saan ka saatin?Where (in the Philippines) are you from? is one of the first questions asked. I am tempted to say I am a diwata, the daughter of Maria Makiling, our most famous faerie.<D> My mother is Ilocana; my father is Cebuano; and I grew up in Batangas. It’s like saying I’m a Yankee-doodle-dixie who grew up in Oregon.
I did not have a ‘eureka moment’. It was a slow realization that I am a lucky woman who came from a diverse Filipino background and was given opportunities by two extraordinary countries. They both claim me as their own. And I am proud to be.
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