Crystal - Anniston, Alabama
Entered on April 6, 2013
Themes: family, gratitude
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I believe in journeys. The lessons learned from the journeys we take stay with us and shape who we become. My journey to maturation began in 1991, when the U.S. Navy evacuated my family from the Philippines during the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption. While I was born in the Philippines, I was only four at the time of the eruption, and my memories of that night are somewhat hazy; however, my recollections of growing up in the United States, learning the English language, and growing up in American society are not.

Like most children, I never realized while growing up that my family was poor. I never realized that I was different from other American kids; I just knew that my mom spoke a language that was my first language, but one that I could no longer speak. So in May 2006, fifteen years after my mom last saw anyone in her family, fifteen long years of working hard and saving money, she and I journeyed back to the Philippines. The excitement I felt at traveling out of the United States and back to my homeland quickly dissolved as culture shock set in.

Suffice it to say that I complained about everything, from the hot weather to the lack of toilet paper in public restrooms. As a result of culture shock, I retreated into the anguished depths of my eighteen-year-old American mind. All the while, my mom’s family tried their hardest to keep me happy; one of my aunts even went so far as to buy an air conditioning unit (a “luxury” item) for the room I slept in. I began counting the days until my journey back to the U.S.

My attitude changed—too late, unfortunately—the day before we left the Philippines. My mother walked from house to house in the village where she grew up, giving away American currency to everyone she saw, stranger or no. Some villagers cried. One of my aunts took me aside and told me the people in the village were calling my mother Santa Claus. That night, as we prepared for our last night in the Philippines, I asked my mom why she was giving away money, especially since we had so little to spare for ourselves back at home. She said, “God has made me fortunate enough to live in the U.S., and now I want to share my fortune with people who need it more than I do.”

I think about my time in the Philippines, and I am ashamed. I wish I could change my behavior, but instead, I have used it as a growing experience. In hindsight, I hope to become half the woman my mother is. I still get embarrassed when I think about my disrespectful behavior in the Philippines, but one day I am going to journey back and show my relatives the real me. One day I am going to share my fortune.