I’ve been in the US for more than a month now. I’m still adjusting to my new environment and so far I’m doing okay. Florida weather is similar to the Philippines’ so I didn’t have a hard time acclimating. I don’t really miss the Philippines, but I do miss my loved ones and pets back home.

It’s now summer here but it has been really humid outside. I learned that during the summer, Tampa Bay often gets thunderstorms almost every afternoon, earning it the title “lightning capital of the US.” This city is well-known for thunderstorms that it even named its hockey team the Tampa Bay Lightning (a.k.a. Bolts).

As part of my introduction to American culture, Chad and his parents have been taking me to several places and events. To be quite honest, I prefer eating at dives instead of fancy restaurants, because for me, that’s real Americana. We see them often in films and read them in books, and as an outsider that represents the US in my mind. Although I have to say, I am not a big fan of American food. The serving is extremely large for a small Asian woman like me–and most times the food is fried. If you’re on a diet, it can be quite challenging to maintain your weight, especially if you have a wedding coming up.

For Fourth of July, Chad and I decided to go to Ybor City, a historic neighborhood in Tampa which used to be populated by thousands of immigrants, mostly from Cuba. If you’re looking for authentic Cuban cigars and coffee, it is the place to be. Back in the day, the factory workers in Ybor used to roll millions of cigars yearly. Today, the number has significantly dwindled as many factories have closed down. Now, only small businesses make hand-rolled cigars. Some of the old factories and buildings were demolished by the government, while the remaining ones have been restored and transformed into hotels, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

When I first set foot in Ybor, my first thought was “where are the people?” I felt like I was in a zombie movie. It’s Fourth of July, so you’d think people are out in the streets to celebrate their independence. I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing hardly any soul in our neighborhood, but not in a popular place like Ybor, and on a national holiday at that. But as Chad and I were nearing Centro Ybor, I began to see people popping up from different directions. I breathed a sigh of relief. Chad told me that I shouldn’t expect a huge crowd since many prefer celebrating in Downtown Tampa. By 6pm, a long line of people were gathered on the sidewalks, eagerly waiting for the Shrine Parade.

People were cheering and waving their tiny star-spangled banners as Shriners from different states marched the road and showcased their floats. There were even representatives from the Philippines! I didn’t even know we have Shriners in the PH.

Seeing Americans express their patriotism is just one of the many fascinating things I witnessed that day. But I realized, I have to study more about the people, history, and culture–and I honestly can’t wait to learn everything there is to learn about America. After all, this is my home now. Might as well make the most of it.

Hat from Cracker Barrel Souvenir Shop | Wood Watch from JORD | Earrings, Dress, and Sunnies – Thrifted 

Thank you to Chad, the love of my life aka Instagram husband, for being awesome and patient during our photo session! Haha!