by alex

One of the great things about coming home to the Philippines is being with family.  It’s a joy to have that connection with another part of yourself when you meet others of your blood, those who never migrated.

One question I hope to explore in this project is “what if?”  What if my family had not moved to Canada?  What if I had grown up in Manila?

What would my life be like here?

Family provides me that mirror.  And on some levels it leaves me awash in different emotions.

You can see here in these photos images from where some members of my family live.  Clearly, my life would be much different had we stayed.

I took Vince and Dyan (a friend from Toronto who is currently in the Philippines interning with the Philippine Inquirer, a major newspaper) to visit some family in Quiapo.  They come from different family backgrounds, and for both, this was their first experience with the lives and living spaces of the common working class Manileño.

A bunch of family live in that building behind Vince and Dyan.
We dropped by and instantly they had someone off and running to buy halo-halo from a street vendor. I’m proud of both Vince and Dyan for accepting it (I know how freaked out most Westerners are by mystery water and ice!). -photo by a.felipe-

I remember my first time back and realized that my family really were living the difficult lives my parents used to tell me about when I was a kid and being a little ungrateful.  I used to think it was just a scare story far removed from my reality—like when parents tell their kids to finish their food because there were starving kids in Africa.

This truth has shaped my worldview considerably.

The place you see in the photos above and below is next to still water, waterways left over from the days when Manila was a city of canals.  The first time I visited I remember having the smell of the water, sewage really, hit me hard.  It was better this time around–probably because the flooding that came with Typhoon Ondoy.

I’m shooting this from the balcony seen in the photo above, and in the distance in the photo above that.

Speaking of the typhoon, my fam here were relatively lucky, the flooding in this area was only waist deep (at street level).  My Tito Sonny’s house in Bulacan was completely washed away, along with their very simple car (the jeep-like vehicles called ‘Owners’ here).  Now the family of six lives in a single room (about 4×4 metres), in a shared house in Quiapo (seen below).  They live on the upper floor and share the kitchen and bathroom with three other families.

My Tito’s family lives in that room on the second floor directly in the centre of the photo. (photo by v.galvez)

Who I am today grew out these realities.  What I care about and what seems important to me all come from this as one primary source.

I often wish others could understand this reality too.  Because it’s a similar story for so many other urban residents of Manila.  I often think the city and the country would be a better place if we could just try to see things from the point of view of the common people–but not from a perspective of sympathy and charity, but to see their strength and how their situation is the result of the improper governance of the Philippines, and the continuing exploitation by those (people, corporations, and nations) who have more and should know better.

Maybe then the question can change from “What would I have been?” to “What will I be ?”


*originally published in Project Balikbayan