“What do you want to become?” My mother asked me this when I was seven years old. It’s a question I think everyone has been asked at least once.
I have thought about becoming a painter, a marine biologist, and even a professional circus performer. And well … instead I was told I should be a lawyer or a doctor. I grew up in a conservative Asian family, and they would certainly not approve of me becoming a painter, marine biologist, or a circus performer.
And most definitely not a writer.
During college, I struggled with this question. I loved the idea of creating something of value. I wanted something akin to becoming a scientist and a designer at the same time. But that’s not really seen as a concrete career path. It’s just not something you’re allowed to become.
Realizing this gave me the type of sucker punch I needed to figure things out for myself instead of heading straight to law or medical school. Instead, I took the opportunity to travel around Europe for the summer after my college graduation.
Europe is vastly different than the Philippines. From the climate to the food, and all the history and art everywhere you went. Great ideas were always being shared, the coffee was amazing, and I was introduced to a different way of living.
The last stop on my summer itinerary was Barcelona — a city I thought about visiting because I was a fan of Antoni Gaudi’s work. But not much else drew me there — I didn’t know anyone who loved to vacation in Spain as opposed to Paris or Rome.
Barcelona was a complete surprise in the best way possible.
There was beauty, there was glamour, and there were a lot of tapas. Beyond that, it was a city that was so … alive. It had spunk and spark, it was fast-paced and relaxing at the same time.
At 11 p.m., you could still hear children laughing as they gallivanted through the streets. You’d be greeted with court jesters, bubble blowers, and authentic Spanish turon. There’s a wide array of wine to choose from, restaurants to try, and people to meet.
Popular tourist spots like Las Ramblas had a mix between foreigners and locals, trying to bargain their way into good deals. You’d have a taste of fresh fruits at La Boqueria market and still have time to taste test chocolates in between.
Aside from their love of football, the Catalans (people from Barcelona and the Northeastern region of Spain) are loyal to their own national identity. They love living in Barcelona. You can easily tell by their easy smiles, mischievous eyes, and boisterous laughs.
Going around the city gave me a sense of belonging I never experienced back home.
Was it because I am Filipina? Was it because our language and culture was highly influenced by the Spanish? Did our entwined history make Spain the closest thing to home outside of the Philippines?
Maybe. I don’t claim to know. Not now, anyway.
There was just something about being in Barcelona that drew me in like no city had before.
It felt like coming home for the first time in my life.
Since then, I’ve made it a mission to find my way back. I didn’t go to law school or medical school, despite those things being the top priority for my family.
I wanted to find a way to travel the world. To keep chasing that thrill, to find new cities, and in turn, find myself.
That’s how I became a writer and have been working to continue traveling, something that many of my mother’s, and even my colleagues find hard to believe.
That summer trip was the first step on many great adventures.
Many months of language and life lessons later, an aunt of my father’s called me for my birthday. That morning she regaled me with stories of my grandfather, who was born in Barcelona. He spent the first 10 years of his life there before moving to the Philippines.
That was the day I started thinking about my own family’s history (and that many Filipinos’). I thought about the places we’d been, the people we had encountered and how I’ve always felt a kinship towards the city. I thought about how it felt when I arrived in Spain.
I understood my feelings a little better then, and a little more of my history, too.
I’ve come to learn that by understanding my own family’s roots and constantly chasing what I’m passionate about, I’ll be one step closer to answering my mom’s question.
“What do you want to become?”
But you know? Throw it away. Forget that question and whatever answers we’re told to say.
Instead, let me offer a better one:
“Who do you want to become?”