As I finished my last day of class, I got my usual adrenaline rush to leave campus as soon as possible. The next day, with help from a friend, I was able to finish jamming everything into my car that I drove for four hours to get home to Virginia Beach. My and my mother’s flight was only a week away and we had so much to do before then. As usual, we prepare for our departure months ahead by sending balikbayan boxes filled with our daily necessities and pasalubong for friends and family at home in Ibaan. 

I am always asked, “Would you rather live in the U.S. or the Philippines?” or “Where do you like it more: The Philippines or the U.S.?” Honestly, I can’t pick. My identity isn’t binary; both cultures have influenced me and I consider both countries to be my homes. While I was raised in the United States, I have the unique experience to visit the Philippines often during my summer vacation (2-3 months at a time). I was never forced to assimilate into American culture and I was raised with Filipino values. As a result, neither part rises above the other.

As far as I can remember, my mother and I were frequent visitors of Lipa City. I still remember when the Star Tollway was only a one-lane road going from Ibaan to Lipa. And having to ride a tricycle to town and transferring to a van just to commute to Lipa (usually to SM or Robinsons). And having to worry about being done with our errands around 5 or 6 pm so that there would still be passenger cars (at Robinsons) to ride home. A lot has sure changed, and improved, since then – something that I can’t help but feel proud of.

Lipa City is dubbed the “Little Rome of the Philippines” for its beautiful churches, and I agree. The architecture alone is impressive, considering how many years have passed since they were built. However, Lipa has so much more to offer than this. Last year I worked at MarLiCa Art Gym, the first of its kind here. It was such a rewarding experience for me to work with the kids and see first-hand how their skills improved. As an art major, a field of study that is criticized for its unsteady income and uncertain success, it’s amazing to see how many people are supporting and pursuing the arts. It’s heartening to see parents encourage their children in the arts just as they would in sports or dancing or music (I believe there is a hierarchy of activities and the arts are on the short end of the stick).

Because my summers are already pre-filled with plans, I’ve never had the chance to explore Lipa City as much as I would like. I never would have thought that we would have an outlet mall so close to home (and yet I’ve still never been). Soon, I’ll have too many things to put on my bucket list to do and visit in Lipa, and that’s just one city! I have yet to even see and experience all Ibaan has to offer. 

I am lucky to be able to work with the Hello Lipa team because I am finally able to explore bits and pieces of the city. There are so many food options that I would not have visited on my own, especially with my aversion to unfamiliar places – it’s good for me to be with a group of people and try these things. 

My takeaway: In our search for new adventures, we sometimes forget our homes in the process. Learn to appreciate your home, its beauty, and what it has to offer. Even if you’ve lived here all your life, isn’t it exciting to see the place you’ve grown up climb up the ranks of places to visit in the Philippines? Rather than being the “Little Rome of the Philippines,” I prefer the “Lipa City of the Philippines”: it deserves its own identity.