By Philip C. Yan
Editor's Note: Philip Angel Casado Yan, 62, died on December 24, 2009. This piece was among his last blog posts, dated September 19 and 20, 2009.
I came to the United States in 1987, 22 years ago. All this time, I celebrated my "Filipinohood," but never cherished it. I assimilated easily into the American lifestyle.
I enjoy cheeseburgers and apple pie. I watch every sport covered by a three-letter association or league--NBA, NFL, PGA, MLB, and sometimes, even WWF. I drive an automatic. Garden barbecues are not uncommon.
I watch July 4th fireworks every year. I visit San Francisco and San Diego and other vacation spots. I vote. I pay my taxes (sometimes, just in the nick of time).
I used to contribute to SSI and Medicare; now I draw Medicare. I maintain my health insurance plan. I pay my car registration and renew my license and passport on time.
I know how to use the Thomas Guide (lately replacing my Thomas Guidebook with a GPS). I know what to do when I hear a sig alert (traffic accident advisory). I know when the best shopping days are.
In short, I'm probably more American than some Americans.
Yet, after all this time, I feel incomplete. I have regrets I will never be able to shake. I have too much unfinished business to ever catch up. I have almost forgotten what it means to be Filipino: To suffer the stifling heat while riding in a jeepney, breathing in diesel-laden air that makes collars turn almost black along the edges; to walk along the edge of Manila Bay in Luneta at sunset; to tread my way up Session Road in Baguio, without getting tired; to enjoy a stick of pork barbecue in Baclaran's barbecue plaza; to buy and enjoy taho from an itinerant vendor.
To sit in a coffee shop the whole morning with nominal compadres, drinking cup after cup of coffee and smoking "blue seal" Winstons, talking politics and solving the country's problems; to call everyone "Pare" or "Mare."
Is Manila still home for me? Or is home for me where I now live and breathe?
That, I guess, is part of the journey--to know where my home is...because there I will find my heart.
This is a long journey I am starting. It will wind through thought and emotion, through the world around me. It will wake my senses because I must write down everything I sense, every thought, every impulse. It is only with a concentrated effort to open my mind and heart to everything around me, because amid the flowers and flotsam, I will find my way home.
Where is home?
Before I can really begin my journey home, I must ask myself: Where is home?
For 22 years I have lived here in the US. Like many Pinoys, I have taken a few trips back to Manila.
But why do many Filipinos ask--when talking about upcoming vacations--"Uuwi ka ba?" And why is the reply always "Uwi ako sa amin?"
Home is where the heart is. And I have learned, after all this time, that my heart is--and has always been--in the Philippines.
In my mind, I still go to Araneta Coliseum for the NCAA games. I still go to Aristocrat for pork barbecue, La Cibeles for chocolate y churros and Ferino's for bibingka. I still hear mass at the Ateneo College chapel in Loyola Heights and pray novenas at St. Jude's near Malacañang.
Kuh Ledesma, Sharon Cuneta, Martin Nievera and his father Bert, Rico J., Joey Albert--they and many others sang tunes that still ring in my ears. The mere thought of Dolphy makes me smile.
I still remember the row of stores in front of Stella Maris--Mercury Drug, Commander Drug, Ma Mon Luk, Robina rotisserie chicken, the Chinese-owned watch and jewelry store, and Aguinaldo's. I remember jeepney rides, but at that time there were two "sizes"--the ACs and the PUJs.
I remember JD, MD, and CAM transit--three bus lines owned by the same family and garaged on Aurora Boulevard close to the 15th Avenue corner. Remember City Cab--owned by the family of a school mate--which used Mercedes Benzes for their taxis?
And the theaters we frequented--State, Avenue, Galaxy, Universal, Cinerama. The hotels--Intercon in Makati, and Bayview, Holiday Inn, Hyatt Regency, and Manila Hotel among others along Roxas Boulevard. My favorite restaurants haunt my memory and my taste buds--Casa Marcos, Aristocrat, Wa Nam, Milky Way, Mingging's, Brown Derby, Savory, Max's, Cafe Esperanza.
And, of course the people--my people. Laughing, playing, crying, loving, and living with passion and zeal. With unbridled hope, and a never-ending belief that the best is yet to come.
As my days wind down, I think and wonder "Did I leave my paradise for whatever I now have? Was it worth it? Did I do right to leave?" Sometimes I wonder...oftentimes I feel pangs of regret.
Did I leave home?