overseas Filipinos

Balikbayan at 26: How love pushed a young Filipino to move back to the PH

Michelle Abad

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Balikbayan at 26: How love pushed a young Filipino to move back to the PH

VIDEO CALL. Dan and Yra during one of their long-distance video calls. Screenshot courtesy of Yra Cuyugan

Filipino immigrant Dan Ramos had the opportunity pursue his career in the United States, but life takes a turn as he meets his love in the country his family left

MANILA, Philippines – Would you give up a promising life in a more developed country to be with the one you love?

Dan Ramos, a 26-year graduate of health information management in California, United States, did just that for Phoenix Yra Cuyugan, a 21-year-old psychology student who lived in the country he left. Dan, who comes from a family that immigrated from the Philippines to the US when he was four, found a reason to return to his homeland, despite the difficulties.

As the two are young lovers, some may call it reckless. While they don’t have everything figured out just yet, the one thing they’re sure about is each other.

The failed set-up

Dan and Yra’s story is one of modern love, and it started on Discord.

One of Dan’s close friends happened to be Yra’s cousin in the US. Yra and her cousin thought it would be fun to set up a friend of hers with a friend of his, and Dan wanted to be a part of this plan.

Dan and Yra found friendship in each other, and began speaking through direct messages. But the set-up operation soon became an excuse to talk to each other.

“So we would bundle up a lot of updates of each other so since she was close to her friend… She would save up all of that chika (gossip) and I would save up all the chika about [my friend], and then would have calls like once a week,” said Dan.

“The rest of the four-hour call isn’t even the discussion about them na. We would make excuses like ‘Oh, I have an update about them.’ After 20 minutes: ‘Anyway, so kumain ka na ba (have you eaten)?” Yra continued, as the two laughed recalling it.

Their friends didn’t end up together, but they did.

TOGETHER. Dan Ramos and Yra Cuyugan on vacation in the Philippines.

At the point when they were honest about their feelings for each other, they had yet to meet in person. That wasn’t until months later, when Dan visited his home province Laguna, and the couple had each other’s company for two weeks with their families.

“The goodbye after that time was definitely the hardest of all the visits. Having met each other, the months apart were more painful than the seven months when we haven’t met in person yet because now we knew exactly what we were missing,” said Yra.

Yra and Dan faced the same challenges most people in long-distance relationships felt, like sacrificing sleep just to talk. But they believed their relationship progressed quickly precisely because they were able to focus on each other.

“You’re forced to see and connect with your love as who they are as a person only. So much builds up when you’re apart: communication skills, understanding, and most of all, trust. There are absolutely no other factors (sex, kilig, peer pressure, physical intimacy) we had that could distract us from seeing who the other really was, especially since both of us have very strong values for keeping honesty at our number one,” said Yra.

The big move

Dan began making decisions for his life with Yra in mind. Before meeting her, he was an administrative staff for employee health. While comfortable in the position, he did not see much growth in it. He quit his job to work as a health information technician, as he viewed it as a better opportunity to support Yra.

As time went by, Dan knew that he wanted to be closer to Yra, even if it meant leaving the States. For him, he was her home, in whom he found sincere love, comfort, and safety.

When Dan was little, his mother found an opportunity in the US to work as a nurse. In his single-parent household in America, all the siblings contributed to the household. He was the youngest of three, and he asked his two older brothers first if they were ready for him to leave the nest. He handled a number of expenses, such as groceries and the internet and phone bills.

While experiencing a mix of approval and worry for her youngest, Dan’s mother eventually came around, too.

Cultural, family differences

Yra recalls how the beginning of their relationship was difficult due to their cultural differences.

“Even though he is a Filipino and his parents are very, very Filipino, province-Filipino type, he didn’t really grow up being that way. So the culture is still very American, so that part, nahirapan talaga ako (I had a hard time). But along the way, he learned to understand that I’m struggling. And so he adjusted everything he knew for me,” said Yra.

A lot of their misunderstandings came from their differences, Dan recalled. For one, he had to learn the concept of tampo.

Another challenge was how Dan came from a traditional Adventist family who wanted him to marry an Adventist woman. Yra also struggled with Dan’s family’s apparent disapproval of her weight. 

“I was bigger than what they initially thought I would be. It went as far as when they had arguments, his mom called me a liability because of my weight as they are a whole family of nurses who have very strong opinions and routines with health,” added Yra.

Accessories, Glasses, Face
GOING OUT. Yra and Dan out on a date. Photo courtesy of Yra Cuyugan

Yra’s family, meanwhile, approved of Dan because of how transparent he was with his intentions with her. They saw how he sent money to her from the US to buy groceries, and when they were together in the Philippines, he accompanied her to a doctor’s appointment for an ailment she had been bothered by for years.

“They saw how much [our relationship] changed me into a better person and to take things more seriously,” said Yra.

US as the means, Philippines as the end

Yra and Dan imagine going to the US together to build their careers and save money for a future with children. Dan hopes to be a work-from-home data analyst, and own multiple properties to rent out. 

Meanwhile, Yra wants to finish her psychology degree, and maybe go to graduate school to be a therapist or psychologist – all while honing her skills in cosmetics, as she has also worked as a contractual makeup artist.

For both of them, the Philippines is home, and a place they want to return to.

“I do feel at home in the Philippines and I want our kids to also appreciate the culture we have here,” said Dan.

For couples in similar situations, Yra advises to always be intentional in their actions.

“Remember that your choice to love your person was never wrong, and the day will come where you both will be able to close the distance. I promise you, that day where, ‘See you next visit,” becomes “See you at home,” it will be worth every heartache you’ll face,” she said. – Rappler.com

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1 comment

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  1. ET

    It is so good to know: “For both of them, the Philippines is home and a place they want to return to.” I hope our economic hardships and political corruption here will not change their decision in the coming years.

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.