MANILA - The reason why I am in the Philippines is actually thanks to my daughter Myria. We are both dual citizens and she has been invited to play for the U15 Philippine National Soccer team. While watching what's going on in the field, I find some perspective on the sidelines through other parents who understand my desire to find my lost heritage.
The path to my past is found along side a soccer field -- alongside the life of people like Reygie Cera.
"I grew up here, moved to the States when I was 16," Cera said.
Cera is here to support his daughter Viviana who was also invited to join the national soccer team. Cera lives in Nevada now. He is a proud U.S.Marine. But, before all this, he grew in a northern Philippine province called Pangasinan. Like many Filipino families, his was split apart by the need to make money overseas.
"My parents moved to Hawaii when I was 9 years old," Cera said.
He was left behind with his four siblings while his parents found work to support the family in the Philippines.
My mom and dad moved to the United States after college to financially support their families back home, too, because that's the Filipino way.
"That's what we do here. We sacrifice," Cera said.
As I was growing up, my parents didn't teach me to speak Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines.
We focused on fitting in with everyone else in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
"It's a way of Filipino parents from here, from the Philippines to show that they have to live the American way," Cera said.
Looking back now, I feel disconnected from my heritage stuck somewhere between being fully Filipino and fully American.
"I was born in the Philippines and I went to America when I was 11," Margette Hill said.
Hill is also on the sidelines watching her daughter Malina. She says no one is really to blame for the way our parents chose to raise us.
"Maybe because they feel like, you know, you're in America, this is your home. You're born in America, you're raised in America. You're an American," Hill said.
Her mother raised her in California with her new husband whom Hill considers to be her real father, but something was missing.
"I wanted to learn all the tradition and the culture so I can pass it down to my kids. So, it doesn't just stop with me," Hill said. "So, I educated myself. I came to the Philippines after I got married. I wanted to experience and also I looked for my biological dad."
Hill says he left her and her mom when she was 5-years-old. She wanted to reconnect with something real, not just heritage.
'I felt incomplete. I wanted to know where I came from," Hill said.
When she found him, Hill says her perspective on life changed.
"Yes, I'm a lot happier, a lot happier that I met my biological father. It was very difficult before, but I do, I feel complete," Hill said.
Hill and her family moved to the Philippines from California last year.
Her daughter Malina is going to high school here so she can learn what it means to be Filipino..
"That's why it's so important to get my kids to know my culture and that's why I brought my daughter here to go to school to learn the language," Hill said.
So, Hill and Cera both understand why my trip to the Philippines is more than just to sit along side of a soccer field.
"I appreciate it. I know how to live the hard life. A lot of people in the States don't really know how hard it it is to live overseas," Cera said.
Hill says learning one's history is important.
"I was born here and I was raised here till I was 11. So, there was a lot of things that I carried with me and I took with me when I migrated whereas you for example. You were born. You were raised. You don't know anything," Hill said. "So, I don't feel like you've lost or you're missing something. But, I do feel that maybe it doesn't hurt or be curious about it and research it because you are Filipino."
CONTINUING COVERAGE: Through Friday this week, Nelson will share parts of his experience in the Philippines. At 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nelson will run a 30-minute special called "Storytellers: Lost Heritage". It will run on Channel 20.
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