As I listen to Kanye West’s “Homecoming” from his album Graduation while editing these photos, a sweet feeling of nostalgia kicks in.
I went back to the Philippines during the winter break. The last time we went back to visit was about six years ago. My family on my mother’s side was having a reunion to celebrate our blessings throughout the years and to also spend time with each other.
To me, family was the sole reason I wanted to go back to Manila. I wanted to show my “Lola” (which means “grandmother”) the appreciation and love she deserves for raising my cousins and I when we were kids. Even though I was an only child, I never felt like that because I grew up with my cousins. I also wanted to meet the newest addition to our family; my cousin gave birth to her daughter and I was thrilled to finally meet her.
When my mother told me that we were going to the Philippines for the break and that we were going “home,” I felt excited but I also had an odd feeling. Being in Toronto for eight years now and being immersed in the culture here, I consider this city my home. The idea of “going back home” to Manila felt strange to me because I hadn’t been there in a really long time and didn’t know what to expect. I feared that when I got to Manila, I’d be a stranger to my own hometown.
I was wrong.
As soon as we landed in the airport, a sense of familiarity came back. Manila is an overpopulated and polluted city, but the spirits of the people there are unbreakable. They don’t let poverty get in the way of their hustle. They also don’t let the struggles of life prevent them from smiling as they make the best out of the situation they’re given.
And then I realized, this is what I was made of. This city toughened me up as a kid and taught me that when things get tough, to look up to God and get to work.
I also realized that even though Manila is overpopulated and polluted, it is still a beautiful city. Some of these photos remind me that there is beauty in struggle.
Our family spent a weekend out of the city to take in the natural sights that the Philippines has to offer. We were welcomed by fresh air and beautiful sights of mountains, volcanoes and lakes.
I also had the opportunity to meet my grandmother from my dad’s side. Growing up, I didn’t really get to know her because she lived in the province and we barely made trips there. Seeing her and having the chance to finally get to know her was such an amazing experience as we shared stories with each other.
I learned something during this three-week getaway to my motherland: the idea of home doesn’t have to be restricted to one place. Toronto is home because it adopted me and bred me to the person I am today. But Manila is also home because of family and the lessons I’ve learned growing up.