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  • Maya Pasiliao

"Just try to learn the things that were supposed to be yours."

Disclaimer: All religion and prayer talked about in the following piece is in reference to the writer's Christian upbringing.


Even though I lived most of my life in the Philippines, I believe myself to be truly westernized. I consumed all forms of western media, from the books I read, to the movies and shows I watched, to the songs I listened to. I viewed Filipino media as less sophisticated, Filipino culture to be inferior. I took it for granted, perhaps because this is what people around me liked, and when you're an impressionable tween just discovering Tumblr and its penchant for being different at all costs, it fosters a feeling of resistance. I think this resistance is true of a lot of people my age. I certainly had a decent number of friends who thought the same way I did. We were enthralled by American and British nerd culture, western contemporary poetry, classic American rock and pop punk.


One night, walking home from a class that was too long and too late in the day, I was talking with a friend. She told me about attending a (what I think was a Catholic) religious club meeting where they were praying in English, as this is indeed an American university. She talked about her unfamiliarity with the way things were done. They prayed for her in English. But when she said, "It was weird, because I usually pray in Spanish," I stopped walking. I didn't realize people prayed in their native languages. I mean logically, it made sense, of course it did. But in the Philippines, I went to church every Sunday with my biological father, where we prayed in English. I've moved around to three different churches in that country, all of which I attended for several years, where they all prayed in English. Although my beliefs are different from my upbringing, I see prayer as truly intimate. I think that to converse with God, one must use the language closest to their soul. I've never been a big prayer, but I sure knew people who were, and their language of choice was English.


I would call myself only surface level fluent in Tagalog. I can read and write colloquially well enough, but sitting down and reading a Filipino book proves to take just a little bit longer than when I read in English. Not an amount of time most would consider significant, but long enough that the difference matters. I've written in bits and pieces my whole life, but never in what was supposed to be my "native tongue". I've only recently started listening to Filipino music again. Over the summer, I binged Netflix's surprisingly extensive selection of Filipino movies. I speak it more at home.


Thursday's club meeting showed me I've been missing out. Hollywood and the American pop culture I loved so much were in fact, steeped in unrecognized Filipino tradition I've never given myself the opportunity to be proud of. Moving to New York City, faced with populations that live according to the culture and norms of elsewhere, forced me to reevaluate. They are proud.


I've always subscribed to the thought that it isn't my responsibility to learn where I came from or the things that were supposed to be mine. That I am the product of what I choose and not of where I happened to be born or who happened to be my family, that I had more agency in how I evolved. I don't know if it's laziness or an epiphany, or perhaps both. But I've stopped fighting to distance myself from what I am, because the responsibility isn't to others, it's to ourselves.

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