For my parents and everything they’ve done for us

For some Filipino children, it’s common to have a parent or even both parents working abroad to provide for them. Their only connections being through balikbayan boxes, nightly Skype calls and texts. But for some Filipino children, they’re transported to another country and navigate a new language and a new culture, all while keeping up their motherland’s culture at home.

Faye experienced both. Her father took an “opportunity and moved to Ireland,” leaving her and her family in her hometown of Naga City in Bicol. She said she never felt the impact of his absence, however. “I didn’t really notice he was gone. Whenever he came home, we had a wishlist like ‘Dad since you’re like in a foreign country, get us these things as presents.’ I wasn’t sad about it. I miss him, but I wasn’t wishing he was [there in the Philippines].” “I didn’t really take the idea of not having my dad around for most of my childhood, but I never thought about it as as a bad thing, I didn’t hold it against him.” She describes his homecoming for two weeks as “happy”, they would go out for excursions for arrozcaldo [Filipino congee] and visit their extended family. “It was weird though because whenever he left, I wasn’t sad because it’s just like I’m gonna see him again in a year.”

Life started to shift for her as she prepared to move to Ireland. She was homeschooled by her mother and “established a rule where we weren’t allowed to speak Tagalog, we had to try and practice our English. I remember hating it, I was like ‘why do I have to do this, it’s such a chore.’” The decision was made her parents, and also her father “wanting to see [her and her siblings] grow up. It was hard for him, I think if he had moved back to the Philippines we would have struggled financially. I think the best choice was for us to move here.”

She remembers being excited to see her dad. “When I saw him, I think I was happy knowing that we were gonna live as a family . . . but it was still weird living with my dad for the first few months, he was like a stranger to me when I saw him.”

Raphael and Alyssa were both born in the Philippines, and moved to Ireland as young children. Alyssa moved after her father found a job here, while Raphael came with his mother, with his grandparents having already moved here before him and were already working. “They could have gone to Canada, but they chose Ireland because of catholicism.” Raphael didn’t fully understand the implications of moving to Ireland and the shifts taking place in his life. He didn’t feel heartbroken leaving the Philippines; “The friends that I had back in the Philippines were sad to see me go, but I was just like: ‘What do you mean? Why are you all sad?’ I’m coming back. I thought we were just going to move to another place. It kind of felt like that, it didn’t really feel like ‘Oh, you’re gonna move to a different country, life’s gonna be different for you.’”

In contrast, Alyssa “didn’t really think about it much.” “I didn’t have the thoughts of ‘Oh, I’m not going to see my family for such a long period of time.’ I didn’t have those thoughts because I was a kid. I was thinking, ‘Oh, we’re gonna have new places and more stuff for me to remember.’”

Faye recalls her “awkward interactions” during the first day of school as she tried to negotiate a new culture, language and environment. “I asked my third class teacher, in the Philippines you call the toilet ‘CR’. I had no idea what that was and I asked: “Can I go to the CR please?” And she was like ‘Huh?’ I stood there for a whole minute in silence. She realised, ‘Ah, bathroom. Yes, yes you can go.’ I remember, at that point, this was like an hour into my first day and I was really scared and I wanted to see my mum. Back in the Philippines, the parents and the yayas could sit outside your classroom and wait for you. That was my school back then and I thought it was the same thing in Ireland, so I thought I could go outside to the toilet and go outside the school and look for my mum, because you could do that in the Philippines. [The teacher] said, ‘Yeah sure, the bathroom is inside the classroom.’ I thought ‘Oh shit’ and I started to get really scared, because people would start asking me for things to borrow. I think they were trying to test how good my English was. They asked  ‘can I borrow a rubber?’ I learned American English so I didn’t know what a ‘rubber’ was. It took me a while to realise that what they were asking me and I replied ‘What? Oh, an eraser.’”

Alyssa and Raphael recount primary school as a pleasant experience; Raphael’s school “had a lot of Eastern Europeans and non-Irish already . . . [he] interacted practically with everyone and then at that point they just saw [him] as another person. They were used to it.” While Alyssa describes herself as “lucky” that her school was welcoming and that there were already many Filipino children there. Not only were there Filipino kids, but there were “a whole bunch of African people, there was a bunch of European people, people from India, there’s people from Sudan and Asians like Chinese people. I just fit in like a glove.”

Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, is what keeps Raphael connected to his motherland. Raphael’s parents “spoke as much Tagalog as they could in Ireland” to him. He says that “they didn’t want me to be embarrassed to try to [speak Tagalog]” when they go back to the Philippines. He laments not having spent as much time learning it as a young boy and the lack of need to use it. “I realized that I should have spent more time with Tagalog… but I feel like I won’t be able to use it as much. With my family, it’s already fine using Taglish (a language made up of English and Tagalog). They’re not really speaking fluent, forcing me to speak in absolute fluent Tagalog.” Language also plays a large part of Raphael’s identity as a Filipino living in Ireland. Raphael describes the switching from English to Tagalog and vice versa a turning to “Irish Raphael” and “Filipino Raphael”; “When you’re speaking in Irish, your brain goes to the part that’s like “I’m Irish”. In the same way, I’m back in the Philippines it’s almost like my brain switches to ‘you’re turning into a Filipino Raphael again’ and when I’m back in Ireland it’s like I’m turning into Irish Raphael.”

Raphael still sees himself as both Filipino and Irish; “I still do see myself as Filipino, and I still see myself as Irish as a result, I would rather just move to a different country altogether just like say that I’m Filipino, but I grew up Irish. It seems more natural. But if I stayed in either Ireland or the Philippines, you’re kind of stuck in a rock and a hard place. You don’t know what you are.”

Alyssa knows “at heart [she] comes from the Philippines and [she] would identify [herself] as Filipino. However, the “situation is contextual” and explains having a “dial” that goes “0 to 100”  “so if [she] needs to be more Irish, if [she] needs to be more Filipina I can do that.” “It depends, in Ireland I’d be more Irish, but if I’m in the Philippines I’d be more Filipino. Honestly there isn’t a between, I’m either Irish when I’m in Ireland or I’m all Filipino when I’m in the Philippines. Obviously when I’m talking to aunts or uncles I’m going to be a little more Filipino towards them; when I’m in a Filipino gathering I’m gonna be a little more Filipino. But with my Irish friends, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be more Filipino around them again it’s me turning the dial when to be Filipino or when to be Irish.”

Faye sometimes feels like she’s “in the middle” of being Irish and Filipino. She also associates herself with how people treat her. “When an Irish person talks to an Irish person they engage in conversations, they ask them more questions. But when they’re talking to me the conversations limited, I don’t know whether they’re assuming that I can’t keep up a fluent conversation even though it’s obvious that my English is very fluent. I always see a difference,  even right now in my workplace. I was just being treated differently I guess because I’m Asian. It’s only me and my sister now who are the only Asians who work in a hotel. We’re always being treated differently, it’s evident.”

They all express wanting to go back to visit the Philippines. For Faye, it’s for family. For Raphael, he occasionally feels “homesick” and has nostalgia for the Philippines. “Every time I get back home all the smells that I grew up with, just having food where the ingredients are Filipino. If we’re cooking Filipino food here it’s going to be Irish, all your ingredients are going to be Irish made even the meat, you go to Tesco and buy meat, there it’s not going to be the same as going to a local supermarket in the Philippines or even having fast food there is completely different. It’s just a different culture.”