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Homecoming Jitters

Written by: Kharina Miramontes

In 2010, I took my first trip to the Philippines. I was seventeen years old and had never been out of the country. My grandparents wanted to go back for the first time in decades and wanted to take me with them. My mom sat me down and asked how I would feel–I could tell she was nervous and looking back, I don’t blame her. My grandpa was always softer with me as the first grandchild, but he was a tough man–especially one-on-one. That coupled with her only child going so far without her, her trepidation now makes sense. At seventeen, though, I didn’t understand. I was just excited: a new place, out of the states, and family I had only ever heard about.

Why would I say no?

I remember zip lining in Tagaytay.

I remember posing in front of a waterfall and eating off of banana leaves. I remember white sand beaches and being stopped in the streets because people could tell I was American. I remember karaoke with my family by the Pasig river. I remember food–so much food–shopping trips, pedicabs, and more. I remember seeing my grandma sitting in the kitchen: unburdened, comfortable. I didn’t know she was uncomfortable in the states until I saw her there, laughing and easy-going, chatting with her sister.

I remember her teasing me for not speaking Tagalog, not realizing that since we had arrived, she had slipped back to her mother tongue and had not spoken English to me in weeks. (I learned to adapt and learned how much she had adapted as well.) I remember the first fight my grandpa and I had ever gotten into–both of us too stubborn to apologize, but sitting uncomfortably with each other the next day, our toleration of each other the most audible apology either would get. I thought I remembered a lot.

It is now 2022 and for the first time in twelve years, I am returning to the Philippines. In the time that it has taken me to go back home, I lost my grandpa to pancreatic cancer and my grandma to a brain aneurysm. Instead of my grandparents, I will be going with my parents and suddenly, it feels as though I don’t remember a thing.

With each additional excursion tacked onto our trip, my mom asks me: “Did you do this when you were there?” I used to be able to confirm things with my grandma…but she’s not here anymore. I find myself stuck in the rolodex of the memories I’ve saved from my trip and become more and more frustrated that there isn’t more. Why didn’t I remember the names of these places? Why didn’t I recognize the importance of this trip?

I try my best to breathe, to remind myself that I soaked in every moment. That while I didn’t remember the names of the places we visited, that wasn’t the reason for the visit. Upon further recollection, I remember family members teasing my grandpa for not taking us to more places: “Kharina must be so bored!” I remember defending him, saying how much fun I was having visiting with the family. I remember my grandma’s face in the kitchen. I remember my stubborn face mirrored in my grandpa’s as we argued in Hong Kong. I remember my cousins showing me scary movies–”Thai horror is the best!”--teaching me Tagalog, finding things in common. I remember the houses my grandparents grew up in.

I think, in a lot of ways, this trip brings a new layer of grief. Not only for the loss of my grandparents, but the understanding that I am no longer the wide-eyed seventeen year old who was so excited to go home and embarrassed that my grandpa had brought so much liquids in his carry-on (“It’s giveaways!” he had tried to explain to the non understanding TSA agent as they trashed bottles of cologne, shampoo, liquid gold).

My understanding of culture and heritage and Filipino history is different, so the things I remember and stress importance on will be too.

(I think, now, how I would not have been embarrassed, but defended my grandpa from that TSA guard–asked for a checked bag, something…)

At seventeen, knowing my family, seeing my grandparents be themselves for the first time–that was enough. In fact, it was monumental. But now, older and more knowledgeable, I want to remember the name of each city I go to. I want to apply the history I know to the places I visit. I want to learn and listen and submerge myself fully.

I want to grieve my grandparents and celebrate the beautiful trip they gifted me twelve years ago.

I want to introduce this newest version of myself to my family and my homeland; to get reacquainted with all the memories I’ve left tucked away in corners of the land and my heart.

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