I was born in Spain. In the capital Madrid, to be precise.
I feel very Spanish, although my roots are not.
My mother was born in Manila, and she left a lot of family there when she moved to Spain at the age of 9.
We got to know our Philippine family bit by bit through their visits to us.
For me, they were so much more than distant relatives whom we saw once in a blue moon. They were part of my family, part of my roots.
Maybe it was because I was lucky enough to have cousins my age with whom I clicked straightaway. That awoke a curiosity in me to know more about my familia filipina. I didn’t want distance to be an obstacle to getting to know them better. I wanted them to feel that their Spanish relatives loved them.
My First Visit
When the time finally came, I could barely believe it. It was the 1990s, I was in my early 20s, and I was going to the Philippines!
I flew from Madrid via Amsterdam. I was so nervous I didn’t dare wander around Schiphol airport during the 5 hour lay-over for fear of missing my connection!
Once aboard the plane, I relaxed and tried to imagine what Manila would be like.
How will they greet me? Will I be made to feel a part of the family?
Will we understand each other despite the differences in culture?
The first thing I noticed on landing in Manila was the hustle and bustle.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by people — with different features, speaking a different language — but all of them smiling.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the airport and see my aunt.
Once outside, I was struck by the intense heat. Such humid heat.
And more bustle. And hustle.
Including taxi drivers who came at me without stopping, offering their services.
Here I was – finally in Manila. With its different smell, its suffocating heat, and its astounding traffic!
I never thought there could be so much traffic in one city. No one respected the lines on the roads, nor minded what traffic lights there were. It was a jungle!
I took everything in. The cars, the jeepneys, the motorcycles, the people, the houses… everything.
First Up: Fruits & Family
One of the first things I did was eat a mango. Yes, a delicious Philippine mango. No other fruit compares.
My aunt had a basketful of mangoes waiting for me at her house.
From the day I arrived, I didn’t stop eating it in all its forms: mango milkshake, mango ice cream, mango juice, fresh mango…
Like my aunt, the rest of the family made me feel at home, too. They made sure I was comfortable, and above all — that I meet each and every one of the other relatives. Which wasn’t easy considering how many there were!
I was finally able to put faces to names I heard very frequently. Met cousins, aunts and uncles that I hadn’t yet known.
There was one moment on this “Family Tour” that left quite an impression.
I went to see a cousin of my grandmother. One of the people who worked for her wanted to meet me. She was a small, elderly Filipina lady, with hair completely white, a face full of wrinkles, and eyes that radiated kindness. She walked towards me slowly and said, in perfect Spanish:
“You are Elenita’s daughter! I so wanted to meet you. How is your mother?”
I think I loved her from that very second.
From that intimate, emotional meeting with the woman who cared for my mother as a young child, I went on to grand family events.
Weddings and graduations.
I saw them all as experiences to absorb, to help understand the customs.
One family event, in particular, stands out.
We went to my uncle’s house to celebrate the graduation of his daughter and I discovered – to my shock – that my aunt and her children sang like angels.
I, who can’t even string two notes together in tune, have relatives who sing amazingly!
One of them did “I Will Survive” – which has now become my favourite song.
I had tremendous fun that day.
There was also time for actual tourism.
They took me to Intramuros, the Walled City that’s Spain’s legacy to Manila.
Beyond the city, we had lunch on a river. Actually ON a river, using banana leaves as plates.
In all this, I squeezed in time to see one of the most beautiful islands among the 7,107 paradise isles that make up the Philippine archipelago.
Wow, what a paradisiacal island.
The whitest sand, crystal blue waters, palm trees, and the sun.
The sun embraced you on Boracay.
I didn’t want to leave.
Many years have passed since my first visit to the Philippines, but I have it clear in my memory.
Stories and anecdotes about various people and places, but most of all — family.
There was always so much laughter. They seemed to laugh continuously, and it was contagious. I don’t recall having laughed so much in my life.
I also carry with me always how united they were.
When one of them organised even the smallest gathering, everyone came.
At first, I thought it was because I was there and they made the effort to meet me, but in time, I realised that wasn’t the case.
They are like that — always.
They give everything for family. They travel thousands of kilometres to help and support a relative in whatever corner of the world.
They see each other regularly to eat, or simply to spend the afternoon together.
Perhaps, like every other family, there are fights or moments of disagreement, but at the end of the day, they know they’re there for each other.
I don’t know how to explain it.
I love them very much.
There I was, in the Philippines for the first time. And I didn’t feel out of place – other than being taller, with fairer skin, and without speaking Tagalog.
I was among family. The roots that I searched for were there. Roots born in Spain that then nested in the Philippines, with a few branches returning to Spain.
The circle was complete.
There they were; they were real.
They are my family and I’d like to see these ties get stronger and keep growing every day.
Photo by: Cristina Cerda/ Unsplash.
I returned to Spain from the Philippines bringing with me the smells, the sounds, the tastes, and the traffic – but most of all, family.
I brought back with me the love of relatives I already knew, and fond memories of those I had just met.
I also tried to leave behind a part of me so that it would continue to flourish there, finding nourishment among the people I am part of.
Thanks to technology, I stay up-to-date with everyone’s lives. No matter where we are in the world, they are my family.
They are part of who I am.
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