Celebrating My Heritage

Last weekend I had my regular morning FaceTime call with my sister. I was excited to share that I had bought all the ingredients to make a Filipino dessert. Making a Filipino dessert is rare for me. Typically, my dessert repertoire consists of flourless chocolate cakes, fruit tarts and apple crumbles. Coincidentally, my sister had intentions to make the very same dessert. In that moment, we agreed to make our mother’s recipe together so that my big sister could pass it forward.

What made this moment stand out for me is that I committed to setting intentions to celebrate more of my cultural heritage.

These intentions arose after educating myself on the history of the Filipino people. Under American reign, they were tamed and taught to assimilate to a Western culture to be offered new opportunities across the world. Looking back at being raised as a second-generation immigrant one way my parents preserved their culture was through food. When I was a kid we would share sacred family time in the kitchen. When my mother was still with us, my sister and I would learn how to make filipino food as her sous-chefs, peeling, mixing and rolling to her request. On the weekends aunts, uncles and cousins would come over to join in on the joy of preparing all the traditional foods.

My sister decided to share the making of the recipe live on Instagram. Step by step, she walked me through making Ginataan, which translates to “made with coconut milk.” Spontaneously, friends and family of all ages virtually stopped by, saying hello, asking questions and making comments. It reminded me of the good ‘ol days pre-pandemic when everyone could take part in the rituals of cooking together in person.

The rainbow of colors from the purple yam, plantain and jackfruit brought joy, and the first taste of the Ginataan instantly took me back to my childhood. Each spoonful felt like a warm hug from my mother and my ancestors. 

I shared a bowl of it with my 14-year-old son, and he had the opposite experience. He didn’t care for the dessert much and questioned the ingredients and combination of flavors. It was his first time trying it. I recognized a disconnect with my son and the food that is part of his heritage. “Was it because I rarely cooked filipino food?” Reflecting on this small moment made me think of a time when he was young and he asked, “Am I Filipino?” I remember thinking to myself, “How could he not know?” I’ve always had good intentions and assumed he would see and feel that he was Filipino, but it seemed like my good intentions had a different impact on him. 

On the one hand, this moment made me feel more connected to my ancestors through food, and on the other hand, it made me recognize how my intentions are really impacting my son’s connection. In reflection, it makes me sit with the idea of impact over intention. It is an awareness and conversation that I have come across over and over again during this time of learning and unlearning as I recognize how my actions or inactions contribute to assimilating to systems of power. During these times, I am deeply grateful for my mindfulness practice and the awareness to discover the subtle opportunities and micro-shifts that guide me to reclaiming my roots. I am even more grateful that I can lean into compassion to forgive myself for the lack of making sure my son knows where he comes from and to forgive my parents for moulding me into assimilation as survival. As more of this anti-oppression and decolonization work integrates within me, I see the value and importance of transforming the language around intention into impact, and wonder what that may look or sound like as a teacher and practitioner of Mindfulness.

Bilo-bilo (glutinous rice four balls) are my favourite ingredient in my mom’s Ginataan recipe. The Tagalog word bilo comes from the word bilog, which translates to “circle.” Taking that extra step to think of impact over intention inspires me to take into consideration the full circle of how our intentions, actions and beliefs either connect us to or disconnect us from ourselves, others and our environment. And as I continue to be inspired by the story of these soft, pillowy balls of deliciousness, I hope in one shape or form, you do, too.

If you are curious about making this recipe, you can find it here.

My journey to reconnect with my heritage is a lifelong commitment. I will continue to find healing and reconciliation through poetry, journaling and meditation.

The following poem is a representation of this experience and arose through a #decolonize30for30 challenge held by the Center for Babaylan Studies community, an organization that focuses on bridging those in the diaspora with living babaylans of the Philippines and with indigenous living traditions. 

i've felt your blood simmer to a boil.
at times you’ve overflowed 
with volumes lost.

other times, with a dedicated watch
i’ve followed you to
a voluntary rolling tumble.
softening the most tender piece of purple yam. 
a single piece melts your my mouth

singing the sweet songs
of your motherland
while preserving 
the sabaw (soup) of your elders.

By Natalie Matias, a first-generation immigrant of the Philippines and settler of Tkaronto (Toronto), Canada. Born and raised under the prairie sky’s aurora borealis, she is inspired by the dance of life and expresses herself through the love language of, “acts of service.” Her path in meditation started in her youth after experiencing the loss of both parents to disease. At Mindfulness Without Borders, Natalie is the Community Engagement Lead as well as a program facilitator of youth and adult programs, where she integrates her teachings from nature, neuroscience, mindfulness-based stress reduction, trauma, social-emotional learning and conflict resolution.