“Are you sure you want to go to the Philippines? Everyone in the Philippines wants to come to America.”
“It’s corrupt over there.”
“You have a steady job here, why move?”
“Your parents moved here to provide you with a better life.”
These were all valid remarks that weighed on me as I made my decision last year to return to the Philippines.
I was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. Last year at the age of 29 I moved to the birthplace of my parents. I had my mind set on this personal quest, and I assured family and friends I was making a carefully thought out decision.
But first: Was I even qualified to live in the Philippines? Luckily my parents are both Filipino and this helped me greatly with my application for dual citizenship that would allow me to work and live in the Philippines.
Life as a Fil-Am
I loved my life as a Fil-Am. I already miss the New York Yankees, my favorite Taylor ham and egg sandwich from Tick Tock Diner in Midtown, and lining up in front of Bape in Soho if I needed to freshen up my wardrobe.
I was the first Filipino to get into Montclair State University-New York Law School articulation program, where qualified students get accepted at New York Law after graduation. This personal triumph paved the way for me to become a commencement speaker for my graduating class of 2008.
I started my human resources career as an HR/Safety Associate for Coach USA. Eventually, I became the youngest employee and first Fil-Am to be rewarded with a company-paid trip to Venice for getting employees involved in volunteering. Life was good in America, no regrets whatsoever.
However, my Filipino identity was yearning to emerge and I was not as confident with taking pride in being Filipino. I look Filipino, have Filipino American friends, eat Filipino food and yet know very little about the country my parents call home. I know there is a very trendy “kamayan” restaurant in NYC called Jeepney; Pia Wurtzbach is the new Miss Universe; and the co-founder of Snapchat is of Filipino descent. I am proud of these facts and prouder still that I have my ethnicity to share with them. Because I love a good challenge, I decided to travel across the world and explore my Filipino heritage. It was an opportunity I did not want to miss out. The biggest dilemma would be leaving my family and friends, something I struggled with as I made my decision.
A headhunter found me on LinkedIn and put me in touch with the California-based startup, TaskUS. This “not your usual” BPO company in the Philippines was in need of an HR Manager. I met with CEO and NYU grad Bryce Maddock. I was intrigued that Bryce and TaskUS were in the Philippines and creating job opportunities there.
I am now the TaskUS HR manager, working for a company that has a steampunk theme office décor, plays beer pong during company Happy Hour, and promotes fitness through our in-house gym. I have DJ-ed at work while taking HR questions, watched “Iron Man” during our Marvel Movie Marathon, and volunteered for the Philippine Red Cross. I have a fancy title too; I am the Chief Heart Officer.
I have been in the Philippines almost a year now and continue to hear more admonitions of concern: “Don’t take the jeepney”; “Don’t walk around at night, the drug dealers will mug you”; “Don’t eat the street food.” I remember as a little boy walking with my dad in Caloocan and eating dirty ice cream with my mom and brother. These were some of the best memories of the Philippines for me. While I agree that you have to be mindful of these potential situations, it should not bar you from trying it. Taking the jeepney and having the “bayad” experience is a lot of fun. I’ve tried it Sunday mornings when there is not a lot of people. I walked along Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City in the early evening to buy some delicious Philippine mangoes without any trouble. I still eat dirty ice cream and grilled street food during my jogging trips around UP Diliman. As for the drug dealers, just read the news about President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs, and you can tell the campaign is going well.
As a Fil-Am, I am happy to see American culture evident in the Philippines. Uber is everywhere, and there’s NYC’s Moe’s to chow on. I live in the Bonifacio Global City aka “The Fort” where half the people you see walking on the street are originally from somewhere outside the Philippines. My cousins, Carlos and Michael Agassi, took me to Revel Club and I got to see NFL cheerleaders partying the night away. There was a Kanye West, Afrojack and Ultra Music festival that I managed to check out.
My American culture and Filipino culture are blending beautifully right here in the Philippines! I am enjoying the experience. @The Filam