What does freedom really mean? It’s a question often posed to Filipinos both here and abroad every time June rolls in.

For Filipinos in the diaspora, it always comes with a follow-up—what does it really mean to be a free Filipino anyway? Answers are often varied. It can be as whimsical as the ability to share one’s culture by way of making kare-kare from scratch to something as sobering as resisting colonial influence at every turn.

Few things, however, can bring out the pride of being free and unite Filipinos away from the Philippines than Independence Day celebrations.

The food, merriment, and celebration of our independence and culture during this time of year is something people always look forward to. In between bites of lechon, the Filipino Ambassador’s speeches on the importance of independence and bravery, and clapping for the children dancing tinikling, you often hear Filipinos longing for home and what they’d do when they can finally go back for good or even just a vacation. They look forward to the time they can show their kids around or even their foreign friends they invite to visit them.

Still a Filipino

“It’s important to me that my children are aware of and that they practice their Filipino heritage,” says Lea Millares-Sylvester, a Filipino teacher in Germany and mother of two daughters. She adds that the experiences she had growing up are a big part of how she raises her kids despite being in a different country.

“My daughters just read First Around the Globe: The Story of Enrique,” shares Lea, whose kids have been eager to visit Cebu since reading about the Filipino interpreter. “They want to learn the language, visit the beaches, and try the food.”

Lapu-Lapu Monument in Mactan Shrine, Cebu. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Apart from beaches, Cebu boasts of some key historical sites that speak of Filipino achievement. Visitors often see the statue of Lapu-Lapu in Mactan, celebrating his fearlessness in facing what was then a rising global power.

Mount Samat National Shrine or ‘Dambana ng Kagitingan’ (Shrine of Valor) in Bataan. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

There are many places in the Philippines that have become part of history books, which may just rekindle one’s love for the country even after being away.

Just a few hours from the capital is another cross. This time, on top of Mt. Samat, surrounded by over 31 thousand hectares of land that’s part of a national park in the province of Bataan. More commonly known as the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor), the place is great for a minor hike. This allows you to connect with nature while honoring Filipinos who fought against the invading Japanese in 1942.

Don’t skip Manila

For Kriztel Lorbes-Goetze, a mom of a Filipino-German boy, it is imperative that her son has love for both his parents’ cultures.

“Living outside the Philippines is a challenge as I believe immersion is one factor that really helps a person identify with his or her heritage,” she adds. Pre-pandemic, Kriztel has already travelled to the Philippines with her husband and her son who was, at that time, still a baby. Once it’s safer, they’re excited to do it again now that he’s bigger.

Even while living in Berlin, her son is taught to speak Filipino along with German and is growing up to be a big fan of tinola. “I wish to take him to Bohol where his dad and I got married,” Kriztel says. “And to Manila, of course, to learn about its history.”

Often overlooked by Filipinos themselves for being busy, our capital city still has a lot to offer.

Within Intramuros and the walls of Fort Santiago, the cobblestone streets have stories of bravery to tell. Like that of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal who was, for a good part of his short life, a part of the diaspora himself.

While incarcerated in the old fort and waiting for his execution, Rizal penned his goodbye poem in the form of a love letter to his country. His ideas, which were embodied by his novels, inspired many of his contemporaries, including the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, to rise up against over three centuries of colonial rule.

Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila. Photos courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Nowadays, Intramuros has moved on with the times, eager to welcome visitors practicing safety protocols and tell its stories. Even dining options within the old city have improved, making it a destination that can fill one’s head with culture and historical information while satiating one’s gastronomical cravings.

Ruins of Corregidor. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

A short boat trip from Manila, meanwhile, takes you to Corregidor. The island is known for being the site of the Philippines’ last stand against the Japanese in 1942.

With its poignant history that can be appreciated with even just a day trip, Corregidor is more than enough to rekindle one’s love of country. There, stories of bravery and sacrifice Filipino soldiers and their American comrades exemplified during the Second World War abound.

When talking about places related to our independence, there’s no way the Aguinaldo Shrine in Cavite cannot be mentioned.

The home of the first Filipino President, Emilio Aguinaldo, was where the country’s independence from Spain was declared on the 12th of June 1898. The national anthem was also played for the first time on that day. These days, the mansion is a museum showcasing the country’s long and arduous fight for self-determination.

Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite. Photos courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Looking back, moving forward

Centuries after these historic events, one must ask: what can these places teach us and the next generation about being Filipino?

Is it patriotism? Most of us should hope so. It may not be inherent and it may be something we have to keep cultivating within ourselves and share. However, love for one’s country, its culture, and its people can be infectious. A love that goes beyond political colors.

It’s not enough to like the food, to carry the passport, and to have Filipino blood in one’s veins. Patriotism even varies in intensity but transcends borders and paperwork. Being Filipino is about being proud of who you are and where you come from every single day of the year.

Travel safely!

The Department of Tourism (DOT) reminds the public to always wear a face mask and shield and practice social distancing when outside. For up-to-date information on open destinations and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.