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Even though I’m half-Filipina and the Philippines is a nation made up of over 7,000 islands, I was born and raised in Indiana, a landlocked state that is 629 miles from the nearest ocean. 

During the pandemic, on a rare night out in the suburbs of Indianapolis, I was reminded of my island roots. A friend and I ate at a restaurant called Lil Dumplings, headed up by a Filipino chef named Carlos Salazar. It is rare to find Filipino food outside of a Filipino person’s house, especially in the Midwest. After dinner, a quick Google search led us to Ohana Donuts & Ice Cream, a Hawaiian-inspired shop, where they happened to make fresh donuts at 9:00 p.m. 

I drove home wondering, how had these island-inspired places made it all the way to the middle of landlocked Indiana?

I have been listening to a podcast called, Someday is Here, focused on Asian American and Pacific Islander women talking about leadership, culture and often faith. So far every guest has felt like a kindred spirit – offering insight to everything from family to faith to racism to food. In episode 32, Pacific Islander Emma Tautolo talks about how Asians and Pacific Islanders are sometimes in a category together and other times separate. She made a comment about the Philippines’ unique spot in the in-between.

A few years ago, I read a book called, I Am a Filipino and This is How We Cook by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad. It has one of the best summaries I’ve ever read about the Philippines, its many influences and its complex identity. 

The indigenous people of our Southeast Asian country…have been influenced and colonized over and over again in what has been described as the “Malay Matrix.” The influences range from China and India (through trade), Arabia (through trade and Islamization), and Spain and America (through colonization). Not to mention the brief and grisly stints by the Japanese and British…

From my travels and life, I know that despite those influences, the Philippines has kept its spirit of hospitality, caregiving and welcoming – traits commonly attributed to Pacific Island cultures like Hawaii. In Hawaii, the aloha spirit is actually law. It is defined as the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others.

As I deepen my self-awareness as a peacemaker, I can’t help but wonder if my life (and maybe the life of those restaurant owners) is rooted in part by that deep island spirit. Others may try to shift it this way and that, or even extinguish it, but it remains strong, whether we are on the island or not.