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By Daniel B. Eisen, PhD Pacific University and Leighton Vila

When asked what is positive about being Filipino many Filipino youth’s first response is “the food.” Food has the potential to build community and connect individuals to their Filipino heritage. Conversations about events (e.g. Weddings, Graduations, etc.) center on food, as the home cooked or catered meals served in those familiar aluminum trays are what draw many individuals to “Filipino parties.”  For those living away from home, especially on the continental United States, many phone calls home begin with a request for a recipe thatharkens us back to the comfort of home and the “Filipino parties” we remember from childhood.    Although Filipino food can conjure feelings of acceptance, comfort, and belonging, societal conception of Filipino food as “weird” can create a sense of unease in being Filipino.  A review of essays written by students who identify as Filipino demonstrated that their attempts to fit in with friends, classmates, and acquaintances led many to develop a distaste for Filipino food.  One student wrote that she “never mention[ed] my grandma’s  kankanen and lumpia when everyone else was eating sushi, ramen, and mochi.”  Being asked “why do Filipinos eat rotten fish?” or to remove ones “stinky fish sauce” from the community refrigerator can lead some to feel like an outcast.  “The fear of not belonging and being placed with the minority… [leads many] to stray away from Filipino dishes,”  especially with youth that begin to “ignore their own culture” or ask their parents why they do not “eat normal food.”   Besides Filipino homes, the plethora of Filipino restaurants in Hawaii provides many safe havens for enjoying Filipino food. In these spaces, one can feel accepted and connected to their Filipino heritage, as they consume pancit, pinapaitan,  diniguan, adobo, guisantes, and other foods that draw one closer to Filipino culture.  Although some would argue that certain foods differentiate “true Filipinos” from “Americanized Filipinos,” it is arguable that any food that begins ones adventure into Filipino culture is noteworthy.  Creating more safe havens to consume Filipino cuisine throughout our society can help alter the perception of Filipino food, transforming it from weird to delectable. Immigration Scholar Marcus Lee Hansen wrote, “what the first generation wishes to forget, the third generation wishes to remember.”  Communities should

strive to break this cycle of forgetting and rediscovering, as it often results in losing cultural knowledge. Cultural lessons in food may be one of the most tangible lessons (as they involve taste, smell, sight, and texture) available. And at a time when Filipino

food is being praised on internet sites and individuals who identify as Filipino are on television shows like Top Chef, this is an opportune time to engage the youth in these lessons, as consuming Filipino food is characterized as “cool.” Therefore, engage the youth in learning to “cook Filipino.” 

While they may bemoan cleaning beans now, the knowledge of their cultural heritage and the memories of the smells of garlic, patis, and ginger filling the kitchen will serve them well for years to come.

Dr. Daniel Eisengrew up in Ewa Beach and graduated from Campbell High School before attending Pacific University, Oregon to earn his BA in Sociology. After living in Oregon for four years, he returned to Hawaii to earn his PhD in Sociology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his doctoral work examined young adults’ development of a Filipino ethnic identity in Hawaii. Daniel Eisen is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

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