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Harold Khan

The Heart of Manila is Maria

Regular price ₱62,000.00 PHP
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Acrylic & Oil on Canvas

24 x 32 inches


This piece is a homage to third culture kids trying to find their identity amid diaspora.

In the heart of Manila, Maria Schneider was born to a bustling, vibrant family. Her mother, Liza, was a local teacher, and her father, Thomas, a diplomat from Austria.

The streets of Manila buzzed with life, the air filled with the scent of street food and the sound of laughter and music. Maria’s early years were a blend of the colorful chaos of the Philippines and the structured serenity her father spoke of in Vienna. When Maria was five, Thomas’s diplomatic assignment took the family to Vienna.

The transition was both thrilling and daunting. Vienna’s elegant architecture and orderly streets were a stark contrast to the lively and sometimes chaotic life in Manila.

Maria’s new world was filled with snow-capped winters, classical music, and afternoons at cozy cafes, where her father taught her to appreciate Sachertorte and Wiener Melange.

In school, Maria was a curiosity. Her classmates were intrigued by her dark hair and expressive eyes, a striking difference from their own fair features. At first, the language barrier was daunting. German was foreign and harsh compared to the lilting Tagalog and English she was used to. But children are quick to adapt, and soon, Maria was chattering away in German, her sentences peppered with Tagalog phrases. Her mother made sure to keep their Filipino heritage alive. Weekends were for cooking traditional dishes like adobo and sinigang. The Reyes family home in Vienna was a little pocket of the Philippines, filled with the warmth of hospitality and the smell of home-cooked meals.

Liza taught Maria Filipino folk dances, and they would watch Filipino films together, laughing and crying as if they were back in Manila. As Maria grew older, she learned to navigate the duality of her identity. In Vienna, she was the exotic Filipina who played the violin and excelled in mathematics. During summer visits to Manila, she was the Viennese girl with her love for classical music and impeccable German.

This blend of cultures made her unique, but it also made her feel like she belonged nowhere entirely. In her teenage years, Maria found solace in writing. She penned stories about her experiences, weaving the rich tapestry of Manila with the refined elegance of Vienna. Her tales spoke of a girl who could dance the tinikling and waltz with equal grace, who felt the sting of homesickness no matter where she was.

One day, a school project led her to explore her dual heritage more deeply. With her father’s old camera, she filmed her life in Vienna, capturing the city’s grandeur and her own small community of Filipinos. She interviewed her parents about their love story, bridging two cultures, and filmed their family gatherings filled with laughter, stories, and Filipino songs. That summer, when they visited Manila, Maria continued her project.

She filmed her relatives, the vibrant street markets, and the festivals she had always loved. She asked her cousins about their lives and dreams, finding both differences and surprising similarities. When the documentary was complete, Maria presented it at her school’s cultural festival. She watched nervously as her classmates and teachers reacted.

The film was a hit, praised for its heartfelt portrayal of a life intertwined with two rich cultures. For the first time, Maria felt understood and appreciated for who she was. The success of the documentary led Maria to pursue a career in filmmaking. She attended film school in Vienna, and her unique perspective became her strength.

Her films, which often explored themes of identity and belonging, won awards and were celebrated at international film festivals. Through her art, Maria found her place in the world. She realized she didn’t have to choose between Manila and Vienna; she could embrace both.

Her heart belonged to two places, and that made her who she was— a bridge between cultures, a storyteller of dual heritage, a Filipina Viennese. In the end, Maria’s mixed-culture upbringing wasn’t a burden but a gift, giving her a rich palette from which to create, to connect, and to inspire.