Written by: Vanessa Taningco
Pilipinas. Thousands of islands separated by the sea.
I yearn for the smell, the taste and the sights.
An ode to a country I never lived in
and yet feel profoundly connected to.
Fruitful were the lands that were stolen from its people.
Over and over again.
Resilient grew their bodies.
Independence only gave way
to new power struggles.
How do you govern a nation,
when its memory has been distorted by exploitation?
Me, a daughter of the diaspora.
I watched as my mother struggled to find words to defend herself.
Her eloquence silenced by countless attempts to assimilate.
Me, a cultural hybrid.
I watched as my father nearly worked himself to death in order to fit in.
Me, uprooted with two homes in my heart, both not quite accepting of me.
Behind the color of my hair, my skin, my eyes I feel a heaviness.
Me, born in the heart of Europe;
a woman of Filipino descent.
A childhood shaped by the western gaze.
Always made aware of my otherness.
„Where are you from?“
„No, where are you really from?“
„Can you say something in Chinese?“
Me, resenting my so-called „foreign features“.
Rejecting my native tongue.
Bending to unattainable Eurocentric standards.
Me, paralyzed by privilege.
Haunted by shame and guilt.
Guilt, fearing I might not be able to live up to the expectations
of a little girl who told herself to aim high and hit high.
Pure determination and divine timing brought her out of the slums of Manila
and took her to the land of chocolate and watches.
Shame for not having to use elbow grease, blood, sweat and tears
to build a new life from the ground up.
A boy leaving behind a coconut farm in the depths of Sultan Kudarat
in pursuit of a better life.
I’ve inherited their pain, anger and grief.
Underneath the veil of suffering
lies a stronger force
Embedded in my DNA.
Indigenous knowledge courses through my veins.
Seeded in the soil of a rice field half a world away,
I carry the wisdom of my lineage.
In my heart beats the rhythm of the ancient tribes.
Me, making peace
with being between worlds.
I am the legacy of those who came before me, who adapted to centuries of colonization, surviving war, hunger and rape.
I am healing.
For them, for us.
My ancestors voices speak
behind this aching body.
Tending to the unseen wounds.
Me, breaking a generational curse.
Tapping into my own power.
Exhaustion has given way to agency.
The hard shell broken open.
Vulnerable flesh peaking through.
Stripped bare to reveal
what no longer can be hidden.
There is work to do,
to unearth the past
and connect it to the present.
To become aware.
There is another way
Time erodes identity.
And so I ask you to come out of the shadows
and step into the light.
To face the mirror
and see beyond the mask that is your face.
Now answer me this one question:
Sino ka ba? (Who are you?)