A Brief History Lesson
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The Philippines was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. In 1565, the first Spanish settlement to the Philippines began with Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition, establishing the first permanent San Miguel settlement in the island of Cebu (perhaps why modern day Philippines produces San Miguel beer, and the San Miguel company currently produces Philippines’ most popular beer of choice, Red Horse). One of Spain’s main goals was to spread Christianity to the islands and thus why Catholicism is the predominant religion of the Philippines, and the third largest Catholic nation in the world, preceding Brazil and Mexico.
We ascend the steps towards the majestic Catholic church and I past the angel statues. I wonder about things like angels and if they even exist. And then I realize that they do exist; in our minds. Candles are lit everywhere in remembrance of loved ones who have passed. The ritual, as I stare at the flickering flames, is something foreign to me. As my family hands me a candle, I try not to look completely clueless. When in Rome…
I find an empty candle spot and light it using another candle’s flame nearby. I say a silent prayer for my lola (grandma) who died of ovarian cancer after I visited the summer of my freshman year of high school. You don’t just forget things like that. How happy she looked when she greeted me, everyday. As if she hadn’t just seen me the day before. The way she would always wake me up and say “good morning my pretty little rose bud”. The way her smile lit up the room with her young-at-heart youthfulness. She never let on that she was hurting, when the cancer spread. She always looked so happy to see me…
I made the sign of the cross like a good little Catholic girl. But I haven’t been Catholic since I was 10 and stopped going to church. Like my lost language, my lost religion, now since foreign to me, is something I sometimes wish I were a part of. Guilty that I’m not. Sometimes, I feel like I’m dishonoring my heritage by not being Catholic, but then I remember that Catholicism is borrowed from Spain’s culture, and then I don’t feel so bad. I’m only as pinoy (Filipino) as the blood rushing through my veins. But I know I am an outsider here, in my own homeland, and I don’t want to make it even more obvious by telling my family I’m not Catholic. (When in Rome…)
These days, I align much more closely with Buddhism. But even I feel disassociated from the label because I don’t feel I’m a very good Buddhist. I hardly meditate. I eat meat. I kill bugs. I don’t live in the present moment most the time. Which brings me back to Catholicism. I can’t escape that good old Catholic Guilt. Guilty that I am not Catholic, like every other Filipino, it seems. I’m not “Buddhist enough”, and I’m not “Catholic enough”, so I can’t be bound in boxes.
There are remnants in me. This Catholic birth. Even though the religion seems so strange, and Lent hasn’t carried over to my yearly life rituals, I can’t escape the guilt.
I am a free-spirit and a freethinker. I am independent. All my life, I have been a rebel, a heretic, in more ways than one. I have called God (Personified) a fairy as fake as Santa Claus and then believed in a higher force that I eventually felt comfortable enough calling “God”. It’s a struggle to be different, and non-traditional. To dare to explore the world when everyone is telling me I should be settling down, have a boyfriend. I did that for five years and it didn’t work for me; even had my own house and dog. Sans the wedding ring (thank God), I was as “settled” as they get. I knew I was too free-spirited to be bound in boxes.
It’s like taking the red pill or blue pill. All my life, I’ve felt guilty for not believing in God, and then guilty for not having a religion. Guilty for not fitting the American Dream. Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t have it any other way, even if I could banish this guilt away by being more conventional. Challenge is what keeps the process (life) interesting. And when I think of that–that I am living life exactly the way I’m meant to, and trusting my heart and intuition–the guilt goes away.
“The Cui klan is quiet, but strong,” my tita (aunt) said to me.
Up until now, I hadn’t ever considered that my personality traits had to do with a family unit as a whole, and not just me, as an individual. This quiet confidence I have, that embodies my introverted nature, embodies my family heritage too? Who would have known. I didn’t realize such a thing could be a familial trait. But it’s true. My family here are small, quiet people. But strong. Just like my family has a handful of talented artists, so too do I.
This “quiet confidence” that I have that everything will work out? It’s embedded in generations. I like that. It makes me smile, and nod like the rolling of the hills.
In America, it’s so easy to forget where you came from. Not only is it a young, “melting pot” nation, it is also built on a model of Independence because of it. American’s rugged independence is so embedded in my world view that going back to my roots, to Asia, has got me so surprised to realize I am a part of something. I am a part of the Cui klan, and the Cui klan is strong. I am strong. It makes me proud to think that I am made up of a collective family tree, ancestry and heritage. It sounds so silly to write that as if it’s some big revelation, but I really do forget sometimes, so far removed from this place. Never mind the fact that half of my family history is a complete mystery to me. I never met my biological dad.
The Philippines is both foreign and familiar to me all at once. The dialect is familiar but foreign, as I still grasp hard to understand the language and my surroundings. I am slowly picking up words and what I call communicating in “three-year-old sentences”. I had a full on, legitimately Filipino conversation with a neighbor boy on Facebook for about 10 minutes and was proud of myself that if I couldn’t form sentences out of my mouth, where my brain synapses are still much too slow, at least I could type them out. I’m learning and that’s all that matters.
Being a part of the Cui Klan in a foreign culture, yet, my culture, is confusing at best. I blend in too easily here. I’m not a Westerner, or a Foreigner, but legitimately a Filipina. People assume I speak the Cebuano dialect and then I am found out when they realize I don’t. They assume I am Catholic and so I say a little prayer and make the sign of the cross like a good little Catholic girl should. Everything about it is foreign, including the religion. It’s equal parts sad as it is fascinating to me. Sometimes, I wish I could be that good little Catholic girl, but I know my spirituality is better off beyond boxes and statues and communions and churches.
I have a quiet confidence, and I got it from my family. I have an artistic touch and I got it from my family. It’s all here, in plain site. My family, like me, no longer practice their art in the traditional way, but they have transferred their creativity in other ways. Through cooking amazing meals, and through starting their own hair salon. And, through writing. A quiet confidence that things will happen naturally when they’re meant to, and meant to be.