Serrano family picture at the old ancestral house, Lobo, Batangas, circa 1961

Culture Thrives through Remembering and Writing About My Childhood in Batangas

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What is culture? Oxford Languages defines culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” It is also defined as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.”

“Culture is what is remembered in terms of our practices and how we live our lives,” I said in an interview about my book with a startup media company in Vancouver just last month. “And it’s our family culture that I really wanted to preserve.”

You see, when I learned that my older brother, Boying, had cancer, the notes I had jotted down about my childhood took on new meaning. Memories of my time with my family in the Philippines came rushing back. At the center of those memories were the precious moments I’d spent with Tatay, Inay, my Ates, Kuya, extended family, and even neighbors in the same subdivision where I lived.

Faced with my brother’s impending death, I asked myself: “What if one day I lose my memories? Who will remember us?” Thus began my yearslong journey of immortalizing not only my childhood but also my country’s history and traditions. I would jot down my memories of my life in the Philippines on pieces of paper, napkins, and even airline menus, back when they handed them out. After Facebook became popular, I continued doing this on a section of the social media site called “Notes.” Kuya took notice and read my stories as we stayed in touch, and he encouraged me to keep writing.

I grew up in the southern province of Batangas, on Luzon Island, I tell my mostly Canadian and American audience. Batangas: My Sky and Earth is a celebration of that childhood. This memoir takes you into a world made rich by the intricate descriptions of life in the Philippines during the last century, where the family unit is close, and many households are multigenerational. From family dynamics to church duties to delicious food and the inevitable annual typhoons, I invite you to experience my culture from the inside.

Why Batangas: My Sky and Earth? A Batangueño cousin asked about the title. How do you express loving someone so much that they’re your everything? In Tagalog, you say, “Ikaw ang langit at lupa ko!” My childhood was everything to me, hence the title Batangas: My Sky and Earth or Batangas: Ang Langit at Lupa Ko.

Throughout this memoir, I honor my childhood home and country and the memory of my beloved brother. The choice to interweave Tagalog throughout this book’s pages helps to steep the story in Filipino culture further. A whole village raised me, and as I look back on my childhood, the lessons I learned come to the foreground: clarity, forgiveness, tradition, and love.

I’m neither a historian nor an anthropologist. I’m just an expat who has flourished overseas in search of a better life, like any one of the close to a million Filipinos living in Canada and more than 4 million Filipinos in the United States. Yet, my desire to remember and recall my Batangueño roots burns like an eternal flame in the Filipino diaspora, bringing me back home.

Once upon a time, I was the apple of my family’s eyes, receiving abundant love in Batangas. This place was my sky and earth. Writing about it, turning my grief into functional art, is my way of thanking all those who loved me as a child and returning the glory to God.

I wrote my book motivated only by the overwhelming mission to preserve life—my brother’s life and our time together as a family in Batangas—in my own way as a writer. It’s with that burning desire that I hope to inspire other Batangueños and all Filipinos alike from all walks of life in the world with my book, celebrating our heritage by remembering and writing about our childhoods.

I hope you’ll seek my book and read it as if you’re looking in the mirror, envisioning yourself as a young child once again, immersed in Batangueño culture or whichever culture you deem to be your own. Recall your own stories and document them for generations to come. Love your children, for one day, they, too, will write about you and each other.

Magbasa ka, Batangueño. Read more, Batangas. Magsulat ka, Batangueño. Write more, Batangas. The world is our stage, and the world needs more Batangas! God bless the Batangueños! God bless Batangas!






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