Date: 1 October 2019
This is my first time having to explain what it means to be Filipino-American. For me and my friends back in Hawai’i, it wasn’t much of an idea to really talk about.
Back home in Hawai’i, because everyone was just a little different, whether by ethnicity, background, country of origin, or something else, everyone’s color and culture varied drastically from person to person. Growing up in that kind of environment, it’s hard to really picture what a homogenous society would look like.
Say, for example, you’re this grey colored pencil living inside of the pencil box. With red, green, blue, and yellow in the box, you assume that everyone is just different and except it for what they are. They’re simply different, but all the same. Pencils galore.
But taking you, as the grey pencil, and sticking you inside one of the classic goldenrod pencil boxes, you’re one in the same. A little different, but nonetheless, grey as graphite can be. Your entire world of color has shifted to the monotony of a homogenous society. And while everyone is still a pencil, you just can’t help but feel different.
It’s kind of like that feeling, while we’re all human beings living in the world, the way we see and think about the world changes drastically from box to box, or in this case, country to country.
What does being Filipino mean to you?
Do you mean as a Filipino-American?
Do you mean as a First-Generation American-Filipino?
Do you mean as a light-skinned Filipino, or a dark-skinned Filipino?
It’s hard to say exactly what it means to be Filipino, because it’s difficult to frame it in the first place.
Trying to explain my identity in Africa has been one of the most challenging things to describe, because even if I try to explain myself in great detail and with genuine feeling, I can’t help but feel like I’m making my own pity party and sound like I’m trying to complain and justify who I am and how I shitty I feel sometimes.
Growing up, I didn’t feel so American. I never liked to identify with being American and never saw the appeal of who I actually was. I was simply Filipino. I grew up eating rice with every meal, eating with my hands, and growing up with the many Filipino stereotypes as you can imagine. The hard Pilipino accent, the nagging from my parents about how I don’t understand them in their mother tongue but never really grew up learning it directly, my love for pancit and lumpia, and so on.
Now that I’m in Africa, representing the U.S.A., this is the most patriotic and American I’ve ever felt.
Being Filipino means being proud of the color of my skin. The heritage and culture that I’ve grown up with has so drastically influenced my perspective and world view that I can’t help but frame things with my minority mindset. But it goes without saying that things have changed. I’m not so anti-American as I was before.
There aren’t too many Asian people in Peace Corps
At some point in my life, I had wished I wasn’t Filipino.
I wasn’t proud of my culture because I didn’t know much about it. Instead, I learned so much more about other people’s cultures, that I would rather identify with something else. My lack of personal knowledge of the richness in n food, language, and ancestral history was the only reason why I hated being who I was.
My excuse was always: nobody told me about who the Filipinos were. And to an extent, it was true.
A lack of history meant a lack of pride. So it wasn’t until I started learning about the Philippines and its people, did I finally gain an appreciation. And I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling either.
Many of my friends whom are Filipino, at one point, also shared the same sort of sentiment towards our cultural identity.
- Being Filipino meant eating with our hands, that’s disgusting!
- Being Filipino meant having colored skin, without any of the respect that came with being colored.
- Being Filipino meant being boxed in with all the stereotypes of being Asian, yet we looked all so different.
- Being Filipino meant we had to adhere to the certain image of being the hard-working and loyal pinoy boy.
Really, it wasn’t until I moved to Africa that I started to really hold such a strong, proud image of my identity until today.
I’m happy to be who I am because despite any stereotype, despite any sort of micro-aggression that I get from being called something that I’m not, I know that I can make my family, my friends, and any other person who know me back home, proud of what I’m doing. Not simply for the work I’m doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but the imagery of showing others that being a Filipino-American is not something you should frown upon.
How many Filipinos do you see in the media?
Except for Manny Pacquaio, of course.
As a White-American, you have so many actors, models, philanthropists, artists and scientists to look up to. Even as an Africa-American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, and so on. You have so many people that you can look up to as idolize in a way that makes you proud of who you are.
That didn’t really happen for me.
The only media image of what a Filipino person should look like was a boxer with a goatee. If you didn’t grow up with Filipino culture around you, what were you supposed to imagine other than that?