How traveling to the Philippines helped me reconnect with my roots


The University of Santo Thomas, the third oldest university in all of Asia, is one stop I made on my trip back to my family’s homeland.

Coming back to Asia after a decade feels very different when you’re old enough to remember it. Living in America my whole life as an Asian person means I didn’t really get to connect with my roots as much as I would have liked. Most of growing up is Americanized, and you don’t often come across someone with a similar background. 

I took a trip to the Philippines in December and stayed there for a month. There, I learned about my ancestors, my family, and where I really come from. We paid respect to my Taimah (great grandma on dad’s side) and Taikong (great grandpa on dad’s side) on a shrine, and even participated in a tea ceremony.


In a Chinese tea ceremony, elders and children gather and drink tea together. The children present the tea to their elders.

While I was there, I was introduced to things you normally wouldn’t see growing up in America. I learned about the different superstitions outside of just chopsticks. For example you aren’t allowed to wear black in the house because of the associations with death, Spilled rice represented bad luck, and that if you wear a jade bracelet with no clasp, you’re not supposed to take it off, as it would represent you separating yourself from your roots. 

When I attended a wedding, I sat with the elders of my family and they showed me how to participate in a tea ceremony with them. We enjoyed tea and noodles, and they told me how eating the noodles represents you wishing the married couple a long life together, hence the long noodles. 

We also practiced different kinds of ways of showing respect for different parts of the family. For example, with elders you address them. We learned how to address different people, like my grand uncles were Twakukong, Sakukong, and Dekukong. My grand aunt were Se-epo and De-epo. It was very interesting learning about the different language my family uses, than the basic english we use here. 

There aren’t many finds online where people can really research this kind of stuff. I feel like cultural ties should be more talked about. 

This is a real photo from the dragon dance when the dragon was blessing the rooms of the building.

I also watched a priest bless a freshly opened building. Afterwards there was a dragon dance and the dragon went through every room of the building and placed blessing on each room. They threw money off the side of the building to represent wealth and I got the opportunity to catch a bill!

I am so grateful I was able to go back to the Philippines and get to know my family and culture outside of just short explanations over a video call. Only a few people have the access or ability to go back and visit their home country, and those people might feel disconnected from their own roots. 

It does need to be talked about how if you’re a first generation child living in America, you can feel deprived of your culture because you get used to living the way we live here. Not everyone can afford the plane ticket to go back home, especially if your roots run through Asia. 

When I was there I felt a connection that I don’t feel here in the US. You really do feel the communal difference and the difference in how they live there versus how we live here.