How I Discovered My Filipino Roots

I don’t have Filipino blood. Not one drop. My Ancestry DNA test said so. When it searched for a connection in the Asia East region — which includes the Philippines — the results came back with an ethnicity estimate of 0.0 percent.

But here’s the thing: I’m 100 percent Filipino at heart. I’ve been that way since 2004 when, at 19, I flew to the archipelago to serve a two-year church mission in an area of the Philippines called Region II, which covers the provinces of Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino.

As a young adult from landlocked Arizona, arriving there was a day I’ll never forget.

I took a Victory Liner bus from Cubao to Cauayan via the Maharlika Highway. For almost the entire ride I was glued to the window, completely entranced. There was so much to see: colorful sari-sari stores, makeshift basketball hoops, coconut tree-lined rice fields, walls with repetitive graffiti that spelled out “Bawal ang umihi dito” — which I later learned meant it wasn’t cool to pee on the walls.

The best part of getting to my destination — even though I totally lost my lunch during this stretch — may have been going up and down Dalton Pass, a zigzag road that connects the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya, and serves as the gateway to Region II in the thickly forested Caraballo Mountains.

It was screensaver-level beautiful. Just outside my window, cool rain drops fell from low-hanging clouds, pitter-pattering on the greenery and filling the air with an earthy scent.

The next 729 days were just as amazing and, in many ways, life-altering for me. I learned so many things from locals, like how to speak fluent Tagalog (and a bit of Ilocano), cook mouthwatering adobo, bargain at the palengke, plant mung beans, play hoops in flip-flops, and so much more.

Long story short: Those two years in Region II were life-changing. The people, the language, the culture — I fell in love with it all, and I couldn’t go back an unchanged man.

After my mission, I studied journalism at Brigham Young University and then landed my first reporting position at an NBC affiliate in Billings, Montana. It was a great experience, but there was a strong desire within me to work for a Filipino news outlet.

So in 2011, I applied at Balitang America, The Filipino Channel’s 30-minute nightly newscast. When I got the gig, I couldn’t help but beam, a smile as wide as carabao horns.

I’ve now covered news about Filipinos for Filipinos for seven years, and it’s been a dream job, keeping me connected to the people and culture I love. In that time, I’ve also been able to return to the Philippines, and I can’t wait to go back again.

Such an important chunk of my life happened in the Philippines that it will always be a part of who I am. Always be something I’m thinking about. Always be driving me to wander Barnes & Noble’s aisles for travel guides about its isles.

I’m not yet sure when my next trip there will be, but I do know this: I have Region II roots to rediscover and new routes to explore.

Jared Bray is the Utah correspondent for Balitang America, a nightly news program of The Filipino Channel. He loves hanging out with his wife, Cristina, and daughter, Isla, and teaching them about his second home: the Philippines.