I wanted to talk about my heritage today. I’m a proud Filipino American. I actually don’t look very Filipino, but I’m proud regardless. I grew up speaking English with a good mix of Tagalog words and phrases thrown in for good measure. I learned a couple of Spanish words from my mother as well (also from friends, and in school, so I spoke better Spanish than Tagalog).
I grew up in Southern California, but also lived in North Carolina. It worked out pretty good, because my mom had a sister in Los Angeles, a sister in San Diego, a brother in Los Angeles, and her mom in Los Angeles as well. So I spent a lot of time around both sides of my family. At least the ones that were in the States. I’m happy to say that I met my Lola (grandmother), but sadly I never met my Lolo (grandfather).
Now this in no way takes away from my patriotism for the USA! I’m very proud of my country, and to be an American. I even volunteered to defend her, and joined the US Marine Corps. I fought in Iraq for my country. I just wanted to show that I can be the product of two people from different countries, and still be proud of every aspect about myself!
I got to visit the Philippines for the first time when I was 25. I know, that’s a quarter of a century. But when I did? I fell in love with the place. I got to visit the grave sites of my loved ones. I met tons of family members who I grew up hearing about, or seeing in pictures with no context. Up until that point? They were random strangers I had semi awkward or forced conversations with on the phone. Not really knowing what to say, or what to ask. As part of my first visit, I got to visit where my mother grew up, and the places where my grandparents came from.
Going there was great. Things finally made sense. It was different growing up, and being half something else. One of your parents looks different from all other parents that you know, and speaks another language than everyone else. You’re taught to be proud, but you’re not sure what to be proud of. The Philippines is a distant country, and it’s just an abstract idea. Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea what it’s like. You’re just used to having the different parent, and having the stinky kitchen when your mom was frying up squid.
I got to the Philippines, and I didn’t want to leave. I actually stayed a few months longer than I originally planned. I got a job abroad, and was able to come back to the Philippines for 30 days every six months. I still can’t get enough of it. Manila at night when there were temporary bars set up on Roxas Blvd. Ermita, Malate, Fort Bonifacio. Taguig. Tagaytay. Baguio. Subic Bay. Angeles. Bicol, Cavite. MOA, SM Val, Robinsons Place Manila (mall). Manila Ocean Park. And my 2nd home, Valenzuela City!
I finally had a clear picture of the place. No more wondering what a Luneta was. I found out that Intramuros was a place, and not a play park that I imagined it to be. Now I know what EDSA is, because I’ve driven down it many times. I found out what a jeepney was, and how it was like to ride in one. I found out what Manila Bay at sunset looked like. I got to see the Black Nazarene in Quiapo that my mom always talked about. I heard of Divisoria, Dangwa, and Greenhills, but wow! Seeing those packed stalls was something else. Fresh food from the Palangke! The foods that stunk up our kitchen growing up, now smelled great. I fell in love with street food in Manila. Being the Philippines was a revelation for me.
I’m still a proud American, but fully love my hugely varied heritage (English, German, Irish, Filipino, and Spanish). I’ve been to Europe, and I’ve been to Asia. I’ve been to both sides of my ancestral home lands. They are so different, but both so beautiful in their own ways. I grew up with more Western European influences, so it’s no surprise that I now am fully embracing my lesser known side now that I’ve traveled the world.
I’m glad to say that the Philippines is real to me. I have a firm grasp on my complete identity now. There’s no more questioning, wondering, or doubting. I feel complete now that I’ve been to where my mother was born, and grew up. Everything that I experienced growing up that seemed confusing now seems clear as day to me. When asked about my background, I can say that I’m the best of both worlds! What better way to think about a Filipino American than being a product of when East meets West! The most refreshing part is I don’t have to rush through a conversation, because I didn’t know what to say about the Philippines other than where it was at in the world.
A parting note, Filipino Americans are in every segment of American society. Musicians, singers, on TV, in movies, working in hospitals, teaching, etc. You can find them everywhere. You would be surprised to know that there are people with Filipino Ancestry like Enrique Iglesias, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Rob Schneider. To name a few. You may even have had something called Lumpia before, and not know where it came from. It’s from the Philippines, and I know so many people who’ve had it without knowing it was a Filipino dish. If you haven’t had it, try to see if they sell it locally with a google search. You will not regret it!
So that’s it. I’m Filipino American, and we’re as American as apple pie.