02 March 2012

Suburban Scrawl

My schoolmate Vittorio wrote this post earlier this week to imagine, what if his family had pushed through with plans to move to the US?

Immediately, it had me imagining a similar scenario—what if my family had never returned to the Philippines?

What if, instead of growing up here:

Kalsangi, aerial view (Google Maps)

I'd grown up here?

Our old neighborhood, Fresno, CA (Google Maps)

I'd have gone on to the fifth grade and stayed on the spelling team. Maybe I'd have made it to nationals and been on ESPN (come on, who knows?).

It was in the fifth grade, here in the Philippines, that a teacher first singled me out for good writing. It was only then that I really thought I could be good at something in particular (well, aside from spelling). Until that day, my life had been about playing with my friends and wearing out my library card. Only after that teacher—and the teachers who followed—praised my writing did I begin enthusiastically writing stories and making up characters and worlds. Only after that did I join the school paper and make it my goal to be EIC in my senior year.

Would a teacher in my American schools have done the same thing? In the US, I was one of those Asian kids in advanced math and reading classes; I seemed to be good at everything. What if my teachers had pushed me toward the sciences instead, especially after visits to the Monterey Bay and Chicago aquariums introduced me to the idea of marine biology?

I still had good piano teachers then. In the third grade, I told my homeroom teacher that I wanted to be a pianist when I grew up. What if I'd run with that and tried to become a musician instead?

And speaking of running, I used to be on the track team. I have no idea if I had any real potential, but what if I did?

When I think about going on the middle and high schools there, I immediately think of the friends and crushes I left behind:
  • The best friend in advanced class who was the lead in the school play and is now working happily for a Hollywood tabloid
  • The other friend in advanced class who explained what virginity was and is now a food server
  • The choir member best friend who treated me to my first slumber party and is now in a theater company, I think
  • The blue-eyed spelling team crush who wrote me a sweet goodbye letter and is now—?
  • The next-block neighbor crush who invited me to a pizza party and is now a missionary
  • The two Joshuas: the now-married one who teased me in the lunch line and first called me Cat (when I wasn't Midget); and the redheaded, trouble-making one who is now—?
I could go on, but what I really think when I think of them is, would we still have been friends? Would I have been torn, in the style of teen movies, between my popular cheerleader / student council – material friends and my laid-back, average good friends? Keeping the high grades and not getting called a geek? Getting a boyfriend and not? Losing my virginity and not? What kind of choices would make what kind of friends, and vice versa?

Would I still have become a Christian? That's a really interesting question. My family had always gone to church, and I'd always gone to Sunday School. But it wasn't until my senior year in high school, here in the Philippines, that I started taking my faith seriously and trying to understand what being Christian meant. Would I have found myself asking to be saved? And if I did, would I still have left the church after years of asking other things?

Would I care as much about whether I was "Filipino enough"? As a third culture kid back in the Philippines, I've never been able to shake off the feeling that I don't quite belong in this or that country. In the States, though, I was part of a community with other kids growing up Fil-Am. What kind of ethnic identity would I have had as a result?

I don't know where I would've gone to college. The only college I knew of at the time was the local one, Fresno State. I'm sure in high school, a teacher would have put me on to UC Berkeley, NYU, Yale, or Columbia. Would I have cared about getting into an Ivy League School?

I think I would definitely have benefited from the US system in which college students don't declare a major until they know what they want. When I applied to colleges here, I thought I was charting the course for my future, but really, I was throwing darts. I applied to mass comm. or its variants at other schools, partly because I liked the idea of becoming a powerful editor, and partly because it seemed expected of me, school journalist whiz that I was.

I really wanted to put down creative writing, but my parents convinced me that I'd starve. At the Ateneo, I landed in a management course that was nothing I'd hoped it would be. I got depressed and stopped studying for a whole semester, but I managed to shift into communication before my grades fell below the requirement.

If I could go back now, I'd tell myself to take up humanities, computer science, or, yes, creative writing. Would I have been able to discern this, in the US? Or would I have found something else, like marine biology, architecture, urban planning, social work, or cultural studies?

I'm pretty sure I'd have been fascinated by the subcultures of the early 2000s. Would I have been emo? A hipster? Or would they have been too intimidating, like all these cool city kids were intimidating, when I went to college? I'd have been a city kid, too, though (or as city as someone from Fresno could get, anyway). Maybe I'd have been more confident than I was fresh out of high school.

Where would I have gone after college? Career-wise, if I'd still gone into journalism or the humanities, probably at a newspaper, ad agency, or art gallery. If I'd studied a science, then probably grad school, the academe, and a corporate research facility.

Other answers to where I would have gone include LA, San Francisco, Monterey, Chicago, and New York. Or just Fresno, still Fresno, because it wasn't a bad place to live.

It probably wouldn't matter once the recession happened, though. Then, really, who knows.

Would I still have had that mental breakdown? Again, who knows?

In some alternate world is a Katrina who is the answer to all these questions. At this point, I can't really imagine how life will go for her, because right now, I can barely imagine how life will go for me.

In the end, though, I don't really mind not being her. I just hope she's happy.