balikbayan: to return home to one’s town or nation; to go home.
I write this post from while sitting in my temporary “office” with the view pictured to the right. No, I didn’t up and leave San Francisco for the islands. I am in Dumaguete, Philippines to preach at the National Church Worker’s Convocation that is held in conjunction with Founders’ Weekend at Silliman University.
Tough life 😉
This is my second time to the Philippines, both of which happened this year, this past February and now this summer. Both came about because of my role as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and were centered on deepening relationships between the PC(USA) and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. But both trips have also been so much more for me personally. At the risk of sounding trite, both times I have come here, there has been a deep and inexplicable feeling that this is home. Both visits there have been moments where the holy have spoken and reminded me of who I am and who has come before. Yeah, yeah, yeah another American-born trying to find his roots romanticizes the experience of returning to the homeland of his foreparents. In the words of JT, “Cry me a river.”
But alas, I am guilty as charged because it’s simply true. I have felt my inner balikbayan and I shall never be the same 😉
If you have had the same experience you know what I mean. While there are plenty of reminders of one’s United States of AmericaNESS, there are also plenty of reminders that there is a connection that runs deeply through one’s cultural and familial DNA. Be it just FEELING right or be it tangible like food, speech cadence, family structures, etc., I have found myself laughing on multiple occasion because it is so clear that I was raised with/by some seriously Filipino folks*. Now, of course, I knew this already, but coming here to feel the land, see the landscape and sit in the culture makes it all that much more real.
I suppose the dig of those of us who feel this way is that we don’t really do anything meaningful with it. We travel back to the “homeland,” get all culturally excited and then return to our home context failing to live out of that gratitude and awareness. I remember in college thinking the same thing about those who were in my Asian American studies classes. I would judge those who were taking Asian American studies classes, would get all hyped up about Asian American issues but would then go right back to living life as if our actions didn’t matter. Folks treated the experience like nothing more than an “intellectual vacation” through Asian American culture that sure was fun while it lasted, but there was not way it would create long-term commitment.
I certainly hope that this will not be the case with me. It is my hope and intent that these visits, have begun a long-term relationship between my family and the Philippines. While I have a textbook knowledge and a subtle understanding of this place, it’s my deepest yearning to find meaningful ways to wrestle with the complexities that are Filipino politics, culture and history. It’s also my hope to leverage any energies and influence I have in the United States to build movements of positive change. Be it helping with groups to visit, raising public visibility and/or slowly learning the language, I am hoping to pass up short term personal burnout instead claiming a passionate deliberation that plays a part in long-term positive change.
One can and should dream.
I suppose if I look back five years from now and these visits turn out to be nothing more than drive-by interactions driven a part of me that doesn’t want to be a “coconut,” naysayers should feel free to point here and say, “I told you so.”
And while there have been and certainly will be “I told you so” moments in my life, this shall not be one of them. But only time will tell.
So I guess I would also love to hear about your “going home” yearning and experiences. I know I am not the only one.
* This note is not about denying my Chinese (Chow) side, but the reality is that I was raised more by my mom and Filipino family. I still bring some Chinese with me too, don’t worry 😉