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Rachelle Favis IGE 224 3/13/08

It is a familiar thing for most people, who are not natural born citizens of America, to experience a strange adjustment to the culture established here in the United States. However, as mentioned by Katrina Romero in a Filipino Newspaper, there forms a different experience and struggle for people who are American born citizens but come from an ethnically diverse background (Romero). Being a Filipino American, I have found that merging the culture from my parent’s homeland with the nature of my surroundings here in America has become something that has often times left me confused and desiring a more steadily defined ethnicity. Although Filipino Americans have been well-established in America for more than one hundred years, the concept of being Filipino American is still fairly new for many, especially with the growing numbers of Filipinos immigrating to the United States within the past decade (Catapusan 13). The desire for Americans to force these Filipinos into assimilation has created a drift between the more traditional Filipinos and Filipino Americans. Thus, a new type of cultural border is formed amongst indigenous Filipinos, Filipinos who have emigrated from the Philippines to America, and Filipino Americans. In order to break down this border, the reasons as to why the rift formed in the first place must be identified, making it possible for connections amongst the divided groups to be created. While discovering why this separation formed, I have come to realize borders within my own cultural experience, causing me to re-evaluate what my ethnicity means to me and the importance of incorporating my Filipino heritage with my American upbringing.


I, myself, am a first generation American born Filipino. My parents came to America, like many other immigrants, to seek better employment and to escape the political struggles of their native country. During the time when my grandparents, the first of our family from my father’s side to come to the United States, immigrated to America, martial law was implemented in the Philippines. On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 which enacted martial law, giving power to the military to take over the government as a result of increased civil strife occurring throughout the country (Reyes and Perez). Although martial law was thought to be an aid in regaining control over political and civil turmoil, the law eventually did the opposite, turning the Philippines into a dictatorship government, ever increasing the violence and anarchy that martial law initially was suppose to end (Reyes Perez). Thus, my family began their emigration from the adversaries of the Philippines to America. Having been oblivious to the many struggles that my parents faced in the Philippines, it was not until I reached high school that I learned of the journey they faced in order to make a better living for our family here in the United States. Looking back at my naivety, I began to realize why many Filipino Americans of my generation are unappreciative of the privileges they have. Being born here on United States soil is something that many young Filipino Americans take for granted. It is only natural to assume that the lack of knowledge about past struggles is what makes my generation ignorant of what true suffering embodies. My generation can continue to point fingers at our parents and grandparents for the lack of knowledge regarding the origins of our American upbringing, but we, too, are to blame due to our unwillingness to seek the history of our people.


This lack of interest for learning about their heritage has thus caused a rift between Filipino immigrants and American born Filipinos. One of the reasons that I had for not having a deep interest in learning about both my parent’s history dealt a lot with a constant negativity that surrounded my mother’s past. She was very introverted when it came to talking about herself and her own experiences. Maybe it was that she was ashamed or maybe she felt that I needed to be sheltered from her hardships. My mother grew up in a family of low financial standings. As a child growing up on a farm in the northern most tip of the Philippines, my mother would wake up every morning at five to the sound of the rooster. Her chores before school consisted of her feeding the chickens and the pigs, cooking breakfast, and sweeping the floors. Her parents would already have left by the time she woke up in order to get to the rice fields before the hot sun beat down on them, causing them to slow down in their work. After school, my mother would return home to cook dinner, help tidy up the house, and clean out the chicken and pig houses. Good food was rare and meals usually consisted of rice with vegetables, called “gulay” in Tagalog, and if they could afford it, they would have meat or fish. She had no time for friends or going out, nor could she afford to do so. I was constantly reminded by my mother that I did not understand what the real world is truly like and that I could never repay her for all that she has done. Much of what she said is true; however, had I been told about the positive moments in her life, I would have been more inclined to learn about her past and my heritage. This is not how I view things now because I have matured and learned that not everything in life is joyous and exciting. But looking back at my stubborn childish ways, I could have made more of an effort to understand my mother’s past rather than merely dismissing it.


My father, on the other hand, would always be willing to share his experiences in the Philippines, allowing for me to become more familiar with the history of his side of my family. He would tell stories that I could relate to as I grew. I felt that he created a connection between life in the Philippines with life here in America. Many of my cousins did not have the same privilege of hearing stories from their fathers and mothers like the way that I did from my father, which may be one of the reasons as to why they lack an eagerness to learn about the past. His vivid storytelling made those experiences into memories that I felt could be that of my own. I remember this one time he had picked me up from my friend’s house after having spent the day playing and swimming in her pool. I was around eleven years old and had gotten used to having to be dropped off and picked up by my parents whenever I would go to my friend’s house or to take part of any other activities. I would have to call my parents when it was almost time for them to pick me up, and my dad would usually pick up the phone, asking “Sunduin ka na?” which meant, “Do I pick you up now?” While driving in the car, my dad told me about his life when he was my age. He spoke about the kids in his neighborhood and how he would never have to ask his parents to drop him off in a car because his friends lived nearby. If they did live a couple of blocks away, he and a group of his friends would either walk or take a jeepney, which is a former World War II army truck turned into a bus. He was number five in a family of nine children, so there was always another sibling to play with and if any of them were busy, his cousins who, too, were around the same age lived next door. One time there was a flood in the neighborhood (something that happened often but in this case was about knee-deep, a lot higher than usual) and my dad and the other neighborhood kids went outside to play in the flooded streets. They had planned to go fishing that day, but since the flood made it difficult to travel to the harbor, the kids brought out their fishing poles to the middle of the street and drew 4  

lines there, pretending as if they had actually gone to the pier. They even began to swim around, until their parents would yell from their windows telling them to stop getting themselves dirty. “There’s no need to drive to a swimming pool because when the streets get flooded, the street itself becomes a pool,” said my dad. If native Filipinos would be more adamant about giving hard-hitting, purely truthful accounts of their experiences or even light-hearted humorous stories, then I believe people would have a greater desire to learn about their history. When people make their stories personal, connections are made with other individuals. There are several reasons as to why Filipino Americans created a border between themselves and native Filipinos. As each new generation of Filipino Americans developed, Philippine culture and history became lost, making American culture the new way of living. This caused Filipino Americans to acquire a lack of interest towards their heritage, eventually causing the full assimilation of Filipinos into American culture, leaving behind the traditions and even the language of their origins. In the documentary entitled Filipino Americans: Discovering Their Past for the Future, historian Fred Cordova, a member of the Filipino American National Historical Society, discusses the reasons as to why Filipino Americans strayed away from their ethnic culture and assimilated into American culture. Much of the change in Filipino culture came about due to the racism and ridicule that the immigrants experienced in the United States (De Witt 8). In the 1700s, Spaniards began to travel to the Philippines, eventually colonizing the country. There, they would attain many of the crops that were indigenous to the Philippine region and export them into other countries for their trade. As one would expect, the Spaniards


also took many of the Filipino population and brought them back to Spain as slaves. Through the transportation of these slaves from their native land to Spain, many of the Filipinos would jump ship in ports along Mexico and flee to the United States (Filipino American National Historical Society). The first permanent Filipino settlers in the United States were thus established in the bayous of Louisiana. Other Filipino settlers took residence in Hawaii and California, where they would usually work in the fields harvesting crops (Okamura 17). It was not until the late 19th century that Filipinos began to move further north into Alaska where they would work under horrible conditions at canneries (Filipino American National Historical Society). Despite the tendency for many of the Filipino workers to toil without complaint, living and working conditions soon became inhumane, causing the formation of labor unions. As noted by Howard A. De Witt in Anti-Filipino Movements in California: A History, Bibliography and Study Guide, many locals began racial attacks towards Filipinos in order to suppress any uprisings caused by the unions. Anti-Filipino laws arose, including the anti-miscegenation law which not only targeted Filipinos, but all people of Asian Pacific decent (Kim and Mejia 42). This law prevented all Asians and Asian Pacific Islanders to marry outside of their own racial category. Other laws prevented Filipinos from owning their own land, attaining federal jobs, and many more rights that most people take light of nowadays. Thus, the full assimilation of Filipinos into American society was encouraged by many native Filipinos for the reason that they no longer wanted to be “othered.” The differences between Filipino culture and American culture prevented many Filipinos from being fully accepted into society (Le Espiritu 24). Though they were first looked upon by the locals with great curiosity, they soon were out-casted, largely due to the racial attacks that laborers created against Filipinos. Many parents of first-generation Filipino Americans encouraged their children 6  

to accept fully American culture and completely disregard their native language, culture, food, and fashion (Isaac 28). Many of the cultural ideals were still implemented into everyday life, such as a respect for elders and the closeness of an extended family. But the gap between the homeland of the Philippines and life in America became even more massive than the physical presence of the Pacific Ocean herself. As waves of first-generation Filipinos continued to become established in America, the connection to Filipino roots became more indistinct. I must mention, though, that this did not occur for all Filipinos. Despite the desire for some parents to have their children assimilate, there still remained many first-generation Filipinos who did retain their Filipino heritage. I believe that as a young child, I sustained a balance between my Filipino culture along with my American culture. I was taught at a very young age three different languages: English, Tagalog (the main language of the Philippines), and Ilocano (a dialect used at the northern tip of the main Philippine island). My parents, on a daily basis, cooked Filipino food and made rice, which was the main accompaniment to every meal. Our Catholic faith, the largest practiced religion in the Philippines, was instilled into my everyday actions (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor). At the age of four, I lived in the Philippines and attended school for a year. There, I was also taught several traditional dances and wore the Filipino garb of my ancestors during performances. I created friendships with many of the local children and shared with them my American culture. The entire experience in the Philippines made me a worldlier individual. When I returned to the United States, it could be said that I truly embodied the ideal Filipino American, knowledgeable of both indigenous Filipino culture while still keeping a part of my American culture.


However as I continued to grow, the Filipino languages that I once spoke so fluently began to be taken over by my American accent. My parents, having lived in the United States since 1985, were also beginning to assimilate into American culture, often cooking food that was not necessarily Filipino in origin and began speaking to me in English as opposed to Tagalog, which I used to hear every day in my household. My cousins grew up in almost the exact same fashion and now, they no longer speak in Tagalog but thankfully still understand the language very well. A lot of factors played a role as to why I stopped speaking Tagalog. In school, I was to speak in English, and after having been accustomed to speaking English for a great deal of the day, I continued speaking in that manner at home. In the reading by Amy Tan entitled “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan tells of her experience growing up around her mother’s “broken English.” When I had first came across that reading, I immediately thought of my mother and how often her English formed a new language and how I found myself at times using the same type of speech. Often she would tell me “Buksan mo ang ilaw” or in her English it would translate as “open the light” or she would get upset and raise her voice, saying “don’t piss me out,” and I would have to bite my tongue to prevent myself from laughing to not further upset her. It led to the point where I would go to school and catch myself using incorrect grammar in a way that my mother would. But my mother’s English, much like Amy Tan’s Mother’s English, was not at all a correct representation of her knowledge of the language. Her comprehension of English has been great and I often times find her reading periodicals or some sort of dense medical book. That is why I was often offended when my peers would assume that my mother did not understand much of what they would talk about when they would come over, thinking that a “fob (Fresh Off the Boat)” would not know anything of English. “It has always bothered me that I 8  

can think of no way to describe it other than "broken," as if it were damaged and needed to be fixed, as if it lacked a certain wholeness and soundness” (Tan). I suppose that was another contributing factor as to why I stopped speaking tagalong in order to avoid a faulty slip of the “broken tongue.” Filipino food was also often something that I would be ridiculed for. My classmates would taunt me when I would be the only one at the table eating rice and some sort of strange smelling meat with a fork and spoon while the others would all be holding their sandwiches. Another thing I would constantly, even until this day, be corrected for was the calling of extended family members “cousins” or “aunts and uncles.” I grew up being taught that although I was not blood related, I was to call family-friends by family titles, forming what many Filipinos call the “extended family.” I suppose it was all of the name calling and racial remarks that offset me and caused me to turn away from my Filipino upbringing. I remember begging my parents to stop packing me Filipino lunches and to allow me to purchase Lunchables. I refused to speak Tagalog because by then, the native tongue sounded strange as I pronounced words in an American accent, thus causing my relatives to make fun of me. I no longer felt that I belonged anywhere. I had a strong desire to be another ethnicity that did not have to join together two different halves, but rather, have a clear, singular identity. I remember when I began to read Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung during IGE 221 how closely I connected with several of the characters and how, they too, wished that they did not have to struggle with bringing together their Korean culture with their American upbringing. The same cultural confusion that the first generation Americans faced was something that I felt I could relate to, causing me to continue reading all the way from the beginning to the end within the first day of picking up the book. The story touched me in a way that made me realize that my 9  

struggles as an American Filipino was nothing new because someone else, decades ago, experienced the same bewilderment, in regards to identity. Much like the character Faye in Clay Walls, I, too, never really understood the struggles that my parents experienced. “Gosh, Momma, being one hundred percent Korean isn’t easy” said Faye as she finally realized her mother’s adversaries in living here in America (Ronyoung 301). But it was that discovery that gave Faye a newfound appreciation for her mother, something that I still have not fully experienced but will continue to pursue as I begin to learn more about my family and its rich history. It was through IGE readings such as these that I began to question where my opinions and views on my own culture stood. I remember once reading in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History about the struggles of how “The blacks had been torn from their land and culture, forced into a situation where the heritage of language, dress, custom, family relations, was bit by bit obliterated except for remnants that blacks could hold on to by sheer, extraordinary persistence” (Zinn). Although many Filipinos were never “torn from their land” except during the time of Spanish rule, I realized that in a way, Filipinos were being tossed around like ragdolls when they came to America, often being forced to live from one farm to another. They were, like the blacks, told how to dress, act, speak, and even regulated in terms of who they could and could not marry. When I was a child I asked my mother why none of the Filipinos I knew wore traditional Filipino clothing. This arose because earlier that day I had my Filipino folk dancing lesson and tried on my outfit for the cultural show. The brightly printed plaid and apron-like dress impressed me and made me eager to wear it for our next dress rehearsal. My mother explained that clothing such as that was only a costume and that “regular clothes” (as in American clothing) was what was acceptable. My clothing never consisted of any cultural 10  

resemblance to the native clothing worn in the Philippines. In fact, looking back, I feel as though my parents aided in my assimilation to American culture. But like many others, parents of nonAryan backgrounds encouraged their children to blend in with society in order to prevent them from being ridiculed or “othered.” In a way, I appreciate what my parents did for me. Not to say that I wanted to do away with my culture or that I was or am ashamed, but I now realize that it was easier to keep my traditions and cultural habits within my own family. Slowly, in time, I was able to share bits and pieces of my culture with other people, not to say that I did not encounter racial slurs or ethnic jokes because I certainly did. Much like the African Americans mentioned in Zinn’s book, what kept many traditions and cultural knowledge alive was family. The concept of family being the center of my ethnic heritage was something that I had not realized until I entered college, which in turn created a change in my cultural pride. I began to realize that family was important to me and that in order to fully accept my family, I had to also fully accept my native culture. It was during the summer before my first year at college that I decided to explore my family roots and bring together my cousins to share in this plethora of knowledge. Being an only child, I had a strong urge to reach out to my extended family as well. This concept of networking made me feel as though I belonged somewhere. And whenever I would be ridiculed for my ethnicity or cultural tendencies, I would try to defend myself. Just this quarter we were given an assignment which required us to create a self-portrait and present it to the class. I painted my self-portrait on canvas and it consists of a yellow and black acrylic paint. The background is that of the Philippine flag with my profile of me smiling in the foreground. When I had explained my project, I spoke briefly about how I used to be ashamed of my heritage and how ever since college, I began to become more willing to learn about Filipino culture. After our presentations, I had one of my classmates approach me. She 11  

complimented me on my portrait and then asked why I had said that I was ashamed of my heritage. I explained that growing up, I felt that a lot of my peers took advantage of their parents and that they did not uphold the values that many Filipino families try to instill in their children. As we, Filipino Americans, grow older, we begin to discover a new appreciation for our heritage and begin to journey back to our roots. She found it interesting how I also mentioned that I would often times try to pass myself off as being Mexican because I was so ashamed of being Filipino. I said that it was something that I really coped with growing up since I grew up in a predominately Hispanic environment. I felt out-casted for not being Mexican, so I tried to revert back to my first group of friends who were all Filipino and they also “othered” me for being too influenced by my Mexican friends. I went through a phase where I could not relate to any group, and therefore, I went along with what I was at first glance related to. And then, towards the beginning of my third year in college, I decided to join the Filipino American organization on campus to help with my struggle with discovering my identity. I turned to the club to seek some sort of connection to my roots because many of my other friends spoke so much about their own personal discover. Thus, I attended an event called the JFAV (Justice for Filipino American Veterans) March and to my surprise, my “grandpa” or “Lolo” (who really is my mother’s uncle), was the head of the organization. The movement was created a few years ago when my Lolo felt that the Filipino American Veterans were being deprived of equity due to a lack of recognition by the government that Filipinos helped fight in World War II. This, in turn, prevented them from receiving any benefits for their contribution to the war effort. I attended meetings, rallies, marches, etc. in support of not only my Lolo, but also for all the Filipino American veterans. That was the true turning point in my journey of self-discovery. I began to spread awareness of 12  

not only this movement, but of other charity works that would help aid the homeland and its people. My activeness in the club began to dwindle when I realized that it was not what I was looking for. However, I did continue learning more about my culture and began to become more involved with cultural affairs. I also began to incorporate traces of my culture into my fashion by wearing colors indigenous of the Philippines as well as graphic designs that implemented statements of my heritage, something that I had longed for as a child as mentioned earlier. I also began to practice cooking Filipino dishes and hope to one day pass on family recipes to my children. All these changes that I made in my life came about due to a lot of factors, mostly due to the impacts of several IGE readings and the discussions about culture during class, my family and the rich heritage they uphold, and my peers who, like me, began a journey of discovering their roots. When I began to compose this paper, I had not even considered discussing my heritage and my culture. Looking back on a lot of my reading responses and also my papers, I realized that I did talk about my ethnicity quite often. Certain readings or videos would spark memories or instances in which I could relate the current material. It was right after we had done the selfportrait that we began to write our ideas for our papers. In a way, I wanted to avoid writing about myself and my journey in dealing with being a Filipino American woman. I felt that it was something too expected of me. In retrospect, I feel that any other topic would have seemed unfitting for me. My culture is something that has been embedded into my everyday life. It seems only natural to write about this struggle especially since when it comes down to it, this is what IGE is all about: the learning about ourselves and how we relate to others. Writing this paper began as a purely research paper, filled with facts and an analysis of why a separation exists between native born Filipinos and Filipino Americans. But when I was 13  

advised to make it a more personal account, I came to realize that I was to be the example for why there was this separation between the two groups. However, without having done an extensive amount of research, I feel that I would not have learned as much as I could have about earlier generations of Filipino Americans and our origins here in the United States. I think that my journey in discovering who I am and what I embodied was something that took a lot of persistence, especially on my part. Had I not acquired a strong desire to fill a void in my life and define who I am, I would not have fully realized my role as a Filipino American. I still am not certain about many things and do constantly disagree with many qualities of my culture, but I find that this experience of self-discovery is something that will continue throughout my life. If first-generation and continuing Filipino Americans were to be more adamant about learning about their native culture and incorporating it into their daily and family lives, I believe that we could be proud of a culturally rich tradition and hopefully continue to pass it on to other Filipino Americans in the future.


Bibliography Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Philippines: international religious Freedom Report. 7 Oct 2002. <> Catapusan, B.T. “The Filipino Social Adjustment in the United States.” Diss. University of Southern California, 1940. De Witt, Howard A. Anti-Filipino Movements in California: A History, Bibliography and Study Guide. San Francisco, California: R and E Research Associates, 1976. Filipino Americans: Discovering Their Past for the Future. Filipino American National Historical Society. Videocassette. Wehman Video Distribution, 1994. Isaac, Allan Punzalan. American Tropics: Articulating Filipino America. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Kim, Hyung-chan, and Cynthia C. Mejia. The Filipinos in America 1898-1974: A Chronology & Fact Book. New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1976. Le Espiritu, Yen. Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2003. Okamura, Jonathan Y. Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities, and Communities. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998 Reyes, Joel M. and Rodolfo Sosonto Perez III. “The Philippines Under Ferdinand Marcos.” An Online Guide About the Philippine History. 3 Oct.1999 <>


Romero, Katrina. “Learning to Heed the Voice Within.” Balita News Service 17 Dec. 2007. <> Ronyoung, Kim. Clay Walls: A Novel. Sag Harbor, NY: Permanent Press, 1986. Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Threepenny Review. 1990. <> Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York, NY: New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1997. <>  


Living In a Hyphenated Culture  

My thesis project for my Interdisciplinary General Education series at Cal Poly Pomona discussing the hybridity of being a Filipino American...

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