As I write this piece, I am surrounded by palm trees, the sweet heat of the island air wrapped around me, the sun on my face. The sky is full of wisps of clouds, accenting the bright blue backdrop. Back in Michigan, the temperature is well below freezing, making me even more grateful for the tropical climate.
The second I stepped out of the airport onto the streets of Metro Manila, the warmth of the city enveloped me, and I cried. I had forgotten this warmth, this warmth which settles into you and welcomes you no matter how long you have been away, this warmth which claims you and caresses you and ushers you home.
In the States, there is a feeling of camaraderie, a sense of kinship, each time we spot a fellow Filipino on the street. Here, that feeling is magnified exponentially. The feeling of togetherness comes from not recognizing one Filipino in a crowd but from being surrounded by a crowd of Filipinos, by being surrounded by people who share your cultural and familial values, by people who are proud to be Pinoy.
There is no replacement for this feeling. It is an overwhelming sense of belonging and acceptance to be with your countrymen, to hear people everywhere speaking in Tagalog.
When I am here, it is as if almost no time has passed since my last visit. Yes, my family members are a little older and the buildings are a little taller, but the fabric if Filipino culture remains the same. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of being a part of such a powerful concept. I am part of a nation and a people whose hospitality and generosity are inherent fixtures.
No matter how far away from the Philippines I am, no matter how long I am gone, these things remain constant. Being Filipino is an indelible mark. Transplanting ourselves from one country to another does not erase this.
Nothing we do can erase our heritage, our culture, our people. And who would want to? Who would want to sacrifice this spirit of unity? Who would want to be rid of the belonging and acceptance that come from being part of a centuries-old tradition?
Being Filipino sticks with us, no matter where we are. And no matter how far we may be, the Philippines is always here waiting.
We can always come home.