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Mel Legarda illumelation Filipina British Travel Blogger UK at Jones Bridge in Manila

Mel Legarda – British-Filipina writer and creator at Jones Bridge in Manila

May is National Heritage Month in the Philippines, a celebration of Filipino culture and history. And for the first time, I feel truly ready to own and celebrate being British-Filipino.

Nationally the former, ethnically the latter.

 

A note on belonging

Whenever I go back to the Philippines I’m confronted by the idea of “belonging”.

Each trip I take to the motherland helps me figure out the parts that make up my identity, and whether I belong.

How I slot in.

I am swept up in where my Filipino-ness begins, and my British-ness ends. Especially in my field of work as a journalist, travel blogger and photographer.

I spent the younger years of my life feeling raggedly and ashamedly comprised of halves: half-local, half-tourist, half-outsider.

Always observing, looking into communities, never quite feeling like I was part of one.

 

At sunrise in the ocean – Siargao Island, Philippines

The beauty of diaspora

As a Filipina, as a mixed Filipina, and as a British-Filipina, it is fiercely rewarding to be part of a diaspora so culturally nuanced.

In my teens I was utterly convinced I could belong only to one place or another, fixated on binaries.

It was only in my early twenties, when I started writing about British-Filipino culture and engaging with the diaspora, developing friendships in this community, did I start to recognise how much joy, beauty, cultural richness and WHOLENESS exists in these in-between spaces.

Binaries do everyone a disservice, because we are so much more than one thing or another.

Where wholeness exists

I feel most whole when I lean into embracing the hyphen, my hyphens.

I am Filipino. I am British-Filipino. I am British-Filipino-Spanish. I am mixed Filipino. I am all sorts.

There is so much wholeness that exists in collectively figuring out what it really means to belong in a country you were not raised in, but whose legacy simmers in your bloodstream.

That is what is means to belong to diaspora. To have this community who gets you, who is also in-flux.

At a hotel in Parsons Green, London

At a hotel in Parsons Green, London

The agency of hyphenation and self-identification

We as individuals have the agency to hyphenate and identify ourselves in a way that matches with our complex realities.

It is so lovely, and so imperative, to be able to have this level of hyper-specificity when we engage with our own identities.

After decades of trying to flatten my identity into neat boxes for external convenience, I’m returning to the simplistic brilliance of hyphenation.

Winding road lined by coconut trees in Siargao Island, Philippines

Reasserting one’s complexity

I often find that we diaspora kids, us children of immigrants, are so hasty to make our “complicated” identities more palatable for others that we equally risk diluting and neglecting to honour the layers of heritage that shape who we are.

Hyphenation combats reduction and reasserts complexity in the most simple and humble way.

So I celebrate this National Heritage Month with the newfound joy of truly knowing the space I occupy in the weave of Philippine diaspora.

And for anyone else who exists in the in-between, who hyphenates, who also contemplates cultural belonging…

I see you. 🤍

Mel Legarda

Melissa Legarda is the founder of illumelation. She has worked as a travel blogger, creator and writer since 2015, and has collaborated with well-known brands worldwide. She has helped over 1,100+ students improve their travel photography skills since launching her creative courses. Her mission is to encourage and empower others to travel and create more. Find her on Instagram.