Mixed Martial Arts

When Jollibee tasted like home

For Filipinos living abroad: what tastes like home?

DALLAS, USA – My cousin Karen cast a sidelong glance at me and remarked that I was practically shivering with excitement. It was my last night in San Francisco, and we had just driven past the bridge and bumper-to-bumper traffic that were separating me from one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing during my spring break trip. I informed her, melodramatically, that I would cry once we arrived at our destination.

“This is so sad,” she said as she shook her head, a bemused smile playing on her lips. 

Minutes later, the stop that was causing me to tremble like a chihuahua appeared on the side of the road and I could practically hear a chorus of angels singing Handel’s Messiah as Karen made a quick right turn into its parking lot. It wasn’t a pretty Golden Gate vista point, the top of Lombard Street nor was it one of the many ports overlooking the vast bay. At the far end of the lot was the brightly lit red and white edifice of a fast food establishment I hadn’t seen in over four years. Its iconic bee mascot smiled down at me and the delicious smell of food that would go straight to my thighs filled my nostrils.

You can easily tell how big a state’s Filipino population is by the number of Jollibees present in its surrounding areas. The bay area alone is home to 7 of the nearly 20 branches in California, whereas only one bee sign has been lit up in the entire state of Texas. Jollibee is the Filipino equivalent of McDonald’s; its fried chicken, gravy and steamed rice combo is as popular as Big Macs paired with large fries. Aside from its food, the unique sense of nostalgia the franchise offers is its key selling point among homesick Filipinos all over the world, myself included.

When I pushed open the restaurant’s glass doors, I was instantly met with a wave of comforting familiarity as I took in the sight of Filipinos having dinner with their families and as I registered the sound of spoken Tagalog. Everything, from the posters on the walls to the tables and their attached chairs to the Filipino employees behind the registers, was so similar to the Jollibees in my home country that I almost forgot I was just in California.

Immigrants tend to hold on to and cherish the familiar – whether it’s photos of home or phone calls from relatives or meals in Styrofoam boxes. People face different struggles when they come to America, but one thing is present throughout every immigrant’s journey: a sense of fear.

When my family boarded that 16-hour flight more than 7 years ago, that feeling was palpable. As the years went by and we began to go along with the motions of our new, fast-paced life, that sense of fear lingered and evolved into feelings of anxiety. I no longer thought about how long I’ve lived in this new country. Instead, I started counting the days, the months and the years I’ve been away from the country I left behind. I look at my life and realize that two places on different sides of the globe hold it together and the closest things that can be considered halfway points are Asian markets and TV sets playing TFC shows and fast food places that offer a temporary solace.

Karen probably thought I was just after the food. She was partly right; I practically inhaled the contents of my box. But I made a big deal about that stop because as majestic as the Golden Gate Bridge is and as lively as the streets of downtown San Francisco are, Jollibee was familiar. Deep down, what I truly longed for was a taste of home, and I got it – by eating my chicken and spaghetti combo and being surrounded by people who looked and talked like me. For about an hour, I didn’t feel like a torn immigrant. I was in two places at once. I was in Union City, California, but I was also basking in the organized chaos of the Philippine streets. – Rappler.com

Patricia Villacin was fourteen-years-old when she and her family moved to Texas. She is now a senior studying journalism and education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She can be reached at pvillacin@smu.edu.

#BalikBayan is a project that aims to harness and engage Filipinos all over the world to collectively rediscover and redefine Filipino identity.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.