Why are you here? Reflections on returning and guilt

By Bianca Taberna, 2016 Fellow

We asked our Summer 2016 Fellows to write down their thoughts, questions, and ideas over the course of their stay in the Philippines. This is one of their reflections.

Coming into the Kaya Co. Fellowship, I was prepared for tough questions.

Questions about systemic issues in the Philippines that are daunting, rooted in complex and messy layers of western influence and colonial history. However, approaching my fourth week into the fellowship, these kinds of questions haven’t been the most difficult to ponder. Rather, it is one single question I have been asked countless times, a question I’ve recently realized is so deeply woven into my identity as a diasporic Filipina: Why are you here?

Fifteen years ago my parents decided to uproot their entire lives, careers, and two young kids. Leaving Philippines to move to Canada for a multitude of reasons, which all stem from the aspirations they had for their children. Moving abroad meant a better education system, international opportunities, and a kind of life they could only see for us in another country. My parents continue to make immeasurable sacrifices to support our family and our migration story – to ensure that Canada becomes a comfortable home for us. This is something I’ve held close my entire life. Knowing what my parents had to go through to get us here has always been my greatest motivation to achieve. To show them that their selflessness will never go unacknowledged, and that their struggles will become something they can be proud of.

Since learning that I’ve been selected as a Kaya Co. Fellow, reactions of relatives and family friends in Canada were mixed. It would be an affirming congratulations followed by a sense of confusion. It was hard to understand why I would choose to return to Philippines to work. “Why there?” Once I arrived in the Philippines the reactions were parallel. “Why are you here?” Their confusion was coming from a place I was familiar with. It is the mentality that everyone leaves in search for more, so why would you want to return to less? That returning to the Philippines was neither lucrative nor beneficial. Finally, the underlying conviction that returning to the Philippines undermines and negates the sacrifices my parents have made in order to leave.

It is confronting this latent sense of guilt that made the recent Kaya Co session difficult, painful, and immensely valuable. Reflecting on each of our stories from homeland, diaspora, and back again in the context of our fellowship was something I have been reluctant to do. I was afraid of what would manifest when I attempted to reconcile returning to the Philippines with my own self-reproach. Through this session and our conversations as an entire cohort, I have realized, at the very foundational level, my experience with Kaya Co. thus far has been a resilient and continuous journey to achieve this reconciliation.

I still have the rest of the Fellowship to figure this out, but for now I am here because I am a Filipina-Canadian, inspired by local changemakers, and determined to find a place were my work can be most impactful.