Traveling the world has a way of changing you. Like an earthquake, it can rattle your foundations; I was fourteen and I was rattled. Until then I’d spent my entire life in Canada. I was born in Canada and had never ventured farther than a few trips to the USA. My parents, having spent most of their adult life in , were still immigrants, and often spoke of visiting "home". So there I was in the Philippines, seeing "home" for the first time in my life, sticky with sweat, and covered in hundreds of mosquito bites.
I stuck out. Not only was I awkwardly tall for my age, but I couldn’t speak the language - though I could understand it. I didn’t know what manners were expected of me, my clothes were different, and everywhere I went, I felt like people were staring. Even the mosquitoes could tell I was a foreigner.
Never in my life had I felt so uncomfortable. When I was younger, whenever anyone had asked me what my nationality was, and I would answer ‘Filipino’ and never thought twice about it. My friends were a diverse bunch and it never really mattered. Now, in the midst of my relatives, my family, and in the face of my heritage staring back at me, I felt like a tall, sweaty, itchy alien.
When I came back to Canada, the awkward feeling did not go away. Who was I really? I didn’t feel quite Filipino enough, but just calling myself Canadian didn’t seem right either.
It wasn’t until almost ten years later that I found my answer. One day I was in class and the professor took out a piece of string and started winding it around two push pins. There are different kinds of maps, she explained. This was a map of a journey between two points. As she ran her fingers along the string, the answer hit me like a slap in the face. I could feel my foundations settle back into place.
It was simple, really.
I didn’t have to be one or the other. On any given day I could see myself sliding back and forth on the string cradle between two cultures. I could be both Filipino and Canadian simultaneously. I didn’t need a hyphen or a dash. Both cultures made me who I am, and the string would hang limp if one of those pins were missing.
People are complex and full of unexpected contradictions, but that’s part of what makes us human and interesting. You can be an artist, scientist, mother, child, or student… we are all many things at once.
That’s just a bit of my story. The story continues, changes countries, involves letters mailed across continents, and a kiss with a mysterious stranger, but that’s something I’ll save for another day.
remember - everyone has a story. i'd love for you to tell me yours. email me and let's talk.