Young Filipino in New York longs for home

“In the Philippines, we play basketball in flip flops,” says Jasper Davis as he watches a player dunk a ball into the hoop at Columbus Park in Chinatown, Manhattan.

Davis, 21, who came to America when he was 17, looks for just about anything that can remind him of his home in the Philippines. Growing up in the Philippines and having spent the majority of his life there, Davis wants to go home.

“Although I am in America, my only home is the Philippines,” he says.

Davis sports a short, black mohawk and stands 5’ 9”. When he is not working, he goes to Woodside, Queens, also known as “Little Manila,” to immerse himself in the Filipino community there. He frequents Krystal Café, a local Filipino restaurant in Woodside, and orders his favorite dishes such as Lumpia Shanghai (spring rolls), Bicol Express (pork stew) and Halo-halo (Filipino dessert with shaved ice, beans and fruits).

Although the Filipino community and food in Woodside do remind him of home, Davis says, “Nothing compares to my late grandmother’s cooking and the tropical weather and landscapes of the Philippines.”

Born in Samar, Philippines in 1990, Davis was six months old when his mother left him with his grandparents. His mother, a single, teenage mom at the time, left Davis with her parents in order to work in Manila, the capital of the Philippines and far more urban than the small village where Davis lived, in the rural province of the island Cebu. Growing up, Davis did not know the whereabouts of his biological mother, and called his grandfather “Pa” and his grandmother “Ma.”

“I always thought they were my parents,” he says.

When Davis turned 9, however, his mother appeared in his life again.

“She showed up, but I didn’t know who she was,” he says. “I was confused. My grandparents never told me that I had a mom or that they weren’t my biological parents. Although I didn’t know who she was, I was excited to know that I had a mom and that she was back.”

Davis’s mother brought him to Manila, but Davis would travel back and forth between provinces. His mother left him with her friends when Davis turned 14. Davis’s mother had obtained US citizenship and decided to establish a home in New York before bringing Davis to live with her. Davis would stay with one of his mother’s friends and then be passed to another one of his mother’s friends. He would spend one school year in Manila, another year in Cebu and spend a few months in Laguna. This continuous cycle of moving from one place to another would happen until Davis was granted citizenship.

In March 2007, Davis arrived in New York. His mother picked him up and introduced him to his new stepfather and new home on East 21st Street in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“I was excited. I thought I finally had a home since I’ve been moving all my life,” he says.

Davis went to the International High School at Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and was a part of Project Reach, a non-profit organization that supports youth empowerment and social change in Manhattan. Davis finally thought his life was taking a turn and could see a hopeful future.

“I thought this was it. I’m living the American dream,” he says.

In March 2008, however, Davis was placed in foster care. His mother had continuously and violently abused him at home. One day, Project Reach’s director, Don Kao, noticed a big, apparent scar on Davis’s leg when Davis arrived for an after school program. “I told him what happened, and that I didn’t want to live with my mom anymore,” he says. Kao contacted ACS and brought Davis to his house until Davis was placed into a foster home in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“I was scared. I didn’t know a lot of people back then,” he says. “My mother was the person I was closest to in America, but she disappointed me.”

Other disappointments soon followed. After he was placed into foster care, Davis dropped out of high school. “Everything was a huge mess. I had no motivation whatsoever. I dropped out of school. I had no job. I just didn’t have any direction in life,” he says.

While trying his best to get into a technical school, Davis now works at a shipping warehouse, putting in 10-hour shifts from Mondays to Saturdays. By the end of the day, he is exhausted. His muscles ache and his feet hurt, yet he is still thinking about his home in the Philippines.

Davis has a grandfather and younger cousin in the Philippines, who both depend on Davis’s support. He tries his best to save up every dollar he earns to send back home and has a goal to buy a plane ticket to return to the Philippines. “Philippines is my home,” he says. “Home is where you feel a sense of belonging and love. People who care and love you are there. I don’t feel it in America, only in the Philippines.”

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