Going home to Butuan to be with family and ‘ig-agaw’

The author (right) with Pinsan Lorenz and Pinsan Allen

By Candace Copio

Last year, I had applied to a five-week, service learning program in Jamaica. I was accepted to the program and was ready to accompany my fellow college peers to the tropics. Weeks after my acceptance, I remember being in the foyer of my house talking to my mom.

My mom, with a tone of concern, mentioned my Aunt Laura and her family living in the Philippines. My Aunt Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago and had gone through treatment. My mom began to express the challenges that were facing my family on the other side of the world. Suddenly, I was struck into this focused thought: I needed to be in the Philippines.

In 1996, my Filipina mother and American father brought my 4-year-old self to the Philippines for the first time. In July of 2012, it was the second time to see my mother’s homeland as a young adult. It was time to be in Manila with my Tita Laura, Tito Vic, Pinsan Allen, and Pinsan Lorenz. It was time to travel to Butuan City in Mindanao to see my Lola Paquita and to see where my mom was raised.

Before my journey in the Philippines, I had learned about Filipino life through family and friends in America. As a college freshman, I joined the Temple University Philippine American Council or TUPAC. I was able to meet awesome students who were strongly tied to the Filipino culture on a multitude of levels. These students were proud of the race, the land and the identity. TUPAC would operate under the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue or FIND, and I would attend their formal dialogues and conferences. I am fortunate to have been involved in such great FilAm networks.

This past July, I was able to embrace as much Filipino as possible. More importantly, I was able to understand life from within the Philippine nation. Logically, I started with understanding my family. My mom is one of six children. Three of my mom’s siblings live in the Philippines while the other two are in America and Qatar. Through conversations and bonding experiences, I became very close with my Gingo family. I did everything from zip-lining and shopping in the Manila mega malls to relaxing with my Tita Laura while eating delicious food (‘Sobrang sarap.’) and watching Philippine news. Every moment filled me with excitement and unconditional pride.

Every time I saw my cousin Tata, he would warmly say, “ig-agaw” meaning “cousin” in Visayan. “Ig-agaw” would be the response I proudly returned. The ties I created with my families ran deep, allowing me to learn how my mom lived before she immigrated to the America in the mid-eighties. In three weeks, I had transformed in ways I could never have imagined. It was as if I could feel the Filipina side growing stronger, helping me to appreciate and connect easier to an ethnicity that I had been exposed to for so long. I know there will be more experiences and more journeys to come. One difference I can predict for the future is my time in the Philippines, next time, will be longer.

Candace Copio is a senior Sociology major at Temple University. In her hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Candace has been connected with various Filipino networks including church organizations, the Temple University Philippine American Council, and the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue. Within sociology, Candace is concentrated in education and race studies. She can be reached at cand.copio@temple.edu.

With Lola Paquita

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