When I was twelve years old, my parents decided to move the whole family from America back to the Philippines. At twelve, I had to figure out how to live as foreigner in the country I was born in.
I don’t remember having the same existential worries my peers did upon entering my teenage years. I had worries, of course, but they were different. I had no other choice but to be me because, at the time, I was alone though surrounded by people. I had gained friends fairly quickly, but I knew it was mostly out of people’s curiosity about me. I was a spectacle, a living, breathing prototype of what my peers thought young Americans were supposed to be.
It was awkward at worst, almost like an out of body experience because of the questions that were asked and the theories posed about my behavior and beliefs. If one thing confirmed my Filipino-Chinese side, it was because my parents raised me “right.” If something I did was contrary to the norm, it was because I was American. Whether these explanations were true or not, it didn’t really matter. It was a gift to not have to worry about being different because people already expected this of me.
As life would have it, 10 years later, we would move back to the United States. I had to start all over again. This time, I was the Filipino in the States. And once again, I had to remember my roots.
I had to remember how to be an American again, how to assimilate and acclimate. There was internal struggle of feeling American but being treated like a foreigner. I still remember when I first started working, people would seemingly talk a little slower to me, in case my foreign brain couldn’t comprehend the quick utterances of American English.
I recall the surprise I’d see on their faces because my accent wasn’t what they expected. They would ask me to repeat myself to make sure they heard me correctly. I remember the amount of time I had to spend explaining my background, the moves, the constant proving of myself.
The blessing is I’ve been left to my own devices, not necessarily having to conform so much under cultural pressures because expectations of me have always been in between. It’s either I’m a foreigner in the Philippines because I think and act independently, much too practical than socially acceptable, and less inclined to social conformity. Ironically, I’m a foreigner in the United States, because of my belief in feng shui, family tradition, filial piety, parental reverence, and fierce loyalty to my family, my loved ones and my job.
It’s been 15 years since I left my country and moved back home. These experiences have helped me raise my own children to know that people’s perception of “foreigners” are limited to their own understanding. To me, living a full life means being who you truly are – an amalgamation of your culture, your values, and the experiences that shape you.
Words by Aprille Foz
Art by Roc Verdera
Aprille Foz is raising her family in California, USA. She is @faradysmama on Instagram.