Rooted in Two Worlds: A Narrative of My Early Years in the Philippines and Transition to the United States

I spent my formative years in the Philippines, born in Bacolod City in the Visayas Islands and later raised in Butuan City in the Mindanao region from the age of three. Growing up in a developing country, I embraced the values of a lower-middle-class upbringing, thriving in close-knit, collectivist communities, and grounding my identity in faith. These experiences, coupled with witnessing both the beauty and challenges of a developing world, have profoundly shaped my perspective. This distinctive background has significantly influenced how I navigate my identity and approach life, providing a unique lens informed by the diversity of my upbringing and my subsequent life in the United States.

Looking back, my formative years in the Philippines shaped a practical and down-to-earth outlook on life, proving to be an invaluable asset when I transitioned to the United States. Having experienced different public school systems and later attending a faith-based Academy from the age of five to nine, where character-building was as crucial as academics, I gained a profound understanding of self-discipline and self-reliance.

Advocating for myself in an environment that lacked certain luxuries but prioritized discipline, character-building, and spirituality laid a sturdy foundation. Surviving, thriving, and growing personally in an environment that emphasized common decency further strengthened this base. As I ventured into the diverse landscape of the United States, I felt at ease exploring various ideologies and lifestyles, as I anchored this exploration in the assurance that I possessed a resilient core of character, discipline, and faith—qualities that served as a compass through new ideas and a reliable fallback when needed.

Having spent about half of my life in the Philippines, I must acknowledge that the stories, realizations, and experiences from that period can't truly be captured on this site. Nevertheless, the underlying theme persists—the lessons learned and memories from my upbringing continue to serve as a guiding influence, acting as a prevalent consultant and integral factor in shaping the way I approach life.

Navigating Diversity: A Journey from Monoculture to Immigration

I immigrated to the United States when I was nine years old. The big thing I like to tell people when asked about how I transitioned and approached culture shock once I immigrated is the fact that coming from a monocultural community where everyone shared similar appearances, beliefs, and languages, the variety/diversity in the U.S. took me by surprise. Having been raised in a monocultural community, where people looked and spoke like you, believed the same things, etc. It was surprising to me that, for instance, when I was coming down the escalator at O'Hare Airport in the Chicago area, there was a girl who had pink hair, or that there existed people who had darker skin than me, or that when walking past some people that there were some that didn't speak the same language. Rather than fearing this big change, however, I engaged my curiosity and was fascinated by literally everything and everyone, using my big mouth to strike up a conversation with people who didn't look like me or spoke like me and essentially investigating what made us different and if there were any significant similarities at all. Since then, the pursuit to navigate differences and appreciate diversity has been a continuous journey, driven by the memory of not having such experiences during the first half of my life.

What motivated our move from the Philippines to the United States was, essentially, my mother had been working even prior to me being born, to come to the United States. It was her mother's dream, my grandmother, for our family to pursue the American Dream and establish a life in the U.S. It was no wonder why she was taking so many trips to the embassy or immigration offices up north during the earlier years of my life, as she had been working and trying, again and again, to be accepted for some kind of visa and/or permanent citizenship in the United States. It all came to fruition in 2013 when we finally got accepted, and I thank God often for the grace that brought us here.

The way in which immigration has impacted my identity and worldview revolves around my capacity for resilience, curiosity, and appreciation. I've always found myself more adventurous and curious than most people about my surroundings back in the Philippines, but those instincts were more or less driven by my identity as an only child rather than an immigrant. Upon immigrating to the United States, going off of my emerging appreciation for those who were different and more unique than I was, I found myself gauging my curiosity and appreciation more along the lines of my identity as an immigrant more or so than an only child. The fact that living around a monocultural community for the majority of my life was all I knew, and then being tossed into this diverse, developed, and totally different world after immigrating just invoked a curiosity in me that made me want to explore what else was out there and having appreciation be the driving force when interacting with people of different backgrounds, faiths, races, etc. Ever since I honed my curiosity and appreciation for such things in this way, it ultimately contributed to my growing capacity for resilience and change. Embracing change, whether personal growth or navigating different environments, has become second nature. Thus, all ventures I have along these lines, with these capacities, have given me deep admiration for the life and world we live in, and great understanding for anyone and everyone who comes my way. 

A Musical Journey Through Identity and Culture

I grew up surrounded by music, thanks to my parents who are both singers. My dad, a multi-instrumentalist, played a pivotal role in ensuring that music became an integral part of my identity, and it served a meaningful purpose. From my earliest days, I was taught to sing, initially performing in intimate family gatherings and church services. As I matured, I ventured into competitions, formal gigs, and more elaborate performances. Around the age of five, my dad introduced me to the piano, but my interest waned after a year or two. I ended up switching to the violin when I was seven years old, being inspired by my grandfather, my dad's dad, who played it just as well as my dad could play the flute, his principal instrument. Over time, realizing the convenience of accompanying myself on the piano, I honed my skills around the age of thirteen and became proficient at supporting other singers too. My dad often emphasized that music is the universal language of the soul. Since then, music has been my outlet for creativity, relaxation, and meaningful connections with others. I can't imagine my life without it.

When it comes to musical inspiration, my taste is pretty diverse. I find myself drawn to various genres and artists, appreciating the broad spectrum of musical expression. Categorizing my musical engagement into two aspects—listening and performing—shows my scope. In the realm of listening, I can immerse myself in anything, spanning from baroque classics to contemporary rap to sensual salsa. However, when it comes to performing, my preferences lean toward songs with lyrical depth and classics. Noting Whitney Houston's remarks, "I listen to singers. I very rarely listen to people who cannot sing," I explore a range of genres based on my vocal register. From classics like Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble for my lower range to the soulful tones of Stevie Wonder and Bruno Mars for my mid-range, and reaching into my higher falsetto range with artists like Dionne Warwick and Adele, my musical journey is both expansive and nuanced.

My love for music is deeply rooted in the vibrant culture I grew up in. It's a common stereotype that all Filipinos can sing, corroborated by the vibrant nature of karaoke culture in the Philippines and the vocal capabilities of Filipino artists in replicating classical sentiment in their music and culture, from Lea Salonga to Gary Valenciano. Thus, for me, music is more than a hobby—it's embedded in the culture and essence of my life. Beyond being a means of personal expression, music serves as a channel for my faith and emotions. I often reinterpret classic church hymns and explore the rich history of Soul and its significance in the Black community. Words alone can't capture the profound impact of music on my life; it's an essential part of my existence, conveying emotions and stories that words sometimes can't express.

Beyond Memorization: Embracing History as a Guide to Modern Living

I developed a deep interest in history during my late freshman year of high school, particularly after enrolling in Advanced Placement World History. Before high school, I hadn't really developed a keen interest in social studies or history, viewing them as subjects tied solely to the past and, consequently, irrelevant to the present and future. However, a period of excessive burnout prompted a shift in my approach to learning. Instead of pursuing grades or GPA, I embraced a more application-based method. History became the first subject I actively incorporated into my daily life. Viewing the broader historical narrative and closely analyzing its nuances and stories revealed that history is not confined to the past—it surrounds us. The seemingly old and outdated stories persist in the present; same story, different time. This idea brings to mind a Bible verse from the book of Ecclesiastes:

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

- Ecclesiastes 1:9

As I delved into connecting historical dots and discerning various patterns and plays throughout history, not only did I gain a better understanding of how we arrived at this point and develop the ability to detect nuances in the present day, but I also deepened my comprehension of the people around me. From a social perspective, whenever I engage in conversations with individuals discussing their background, nationality, and/or ethnicity, I promptly grasp their history, establishing a baseline understanding of who they are and where they're coming from—both literally and figuratively. The most gratifying aspect of this process is witnessing their reactions to my knowledge of their history, fostering a personal bond rooted in our shared appreciation of backgrounds and histories. The fact that I possess this baseline knowledge about almost everyone I encounter explains why I can cultivate diverse friendships and connections that transcend backgrounds, politics, race, gender, nationality, and more.

One way I've been thinking about the connection between history and contemporary issues, despite its past nature, is through the lens of the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Reflecting on the mix of praise and criticism directed at AI—its productivity boost and streamlined processes versus the concerns about potential job displacement and rising unemployment—it evokes parallels with the era of the Industrial Revolution. Back then, capitalists and industry leaders embraced machines for productivity and cost efficiency, while a specific group, the Luddites, vehemently opposed them, fearing loss of livelihood and purpose, mirroring present-day concerns about AI.

Despite the challenges of the Industrial Revolution, we emerged successfully. Who's to say we can't navigate the current AI Revolution? Therefore, delving into this historical period becomes crucial. Studying how society adapted to emerging technologies, where successes and failures occurred, and identifying modern equivalents can guide us in evolving resiliently. By learning from history, we can raise the bar for what humans bring to the table, ensuring our continued relevance in the face of technological advancements.

History plays a significant role in my approach to daily life. Whether applying Bismarck's statesmanship tactics to negotiate with industry leaders, examining Emperor Meiji's innovative approaches during Japan's Meiji Restoration to foster my own sense of innovation in the workforce and beyond, or deepening my understanding of the indigenous and African roots of Soul and Salsa music to complement my musical talent, I aspire to be a living example of how history remains a timely and relevant topic that advances the way we think about the world, society, and technology.