du jour, Kainoa, Nostalgia, Transitions

“Are You Filipina?”

October is Filipino Heritage Month and the one month of the year when I reflect upon being part-Filipino. It’s not as if that’s lost on me during the rest of the year; I am reminded every time I look in the mirror, but since I have identified as Native Hawaiian for the better part of my life, the month of cultural introspection certainly allows for much-needed perspective.

When recently emigrated people ask if Iʻm Filipino, the conversation usually plays out like this:

Stranger: “Are you Filipina?”

Me: “Yes.”

Stranger: “Ahh! Where is your family from in the Phillippines?”

Me: “Ilocos.”

Stranger: “I know Ilocos!” then speaking in Tagalog or Ilocano

Me:  “I’m sorry. I was born here, but my family is from Ilocos.”

Stranger: “So you aren’t from the Phillippines?”

Me: “No.”

Stranger: “And you don’t speak Filipino?”

Me: “No.”

Stranger: “Oh.”

They are disappointed. For me, I use the term “Filipina” to confirm my ethnic composition, while they often use it to forge a connection with someone who shares a national identity.

My grandpa was the last link to the Phillippines and when he passed, my connection to his homeland faded. Today, I barely feel a connection to it at all. He had moved to Hawai’i at a young age and probably continued to send money to family back home his entire life. He and his brothers maintained contact with the relatives we never met. These days, no one flies “back” to the Phillippines anymore, to take money and care packages of food and clothes. When that generation passed on, so too did those familial bonds and monetary obligations. If it was his intention to absolve family ties and responsibilities with his passing, we’ll never know.

The earthquake that devastated central Phillippines earlier this week, ravaging Bohol and Cebu and killing so many people, jolted me. Maybe it’s because it’s October, when my awareness of being Filipino is heightened, but as soon as I heard, I grieved for the victims and wept for the country and people I should know, but don’t. Two generations removed, the Phillippines is a part of me, and in not knowing it, I really don’t know myself.

I missed my grandpa. He was the link to a part of our family history we will never know. I began to wonder if family members are in Bohol or Cebu and if they were spared from the disaster. I didn’t know, but it’s not like I didn’t know because lines of communication were down. We had never been in contact to begin with, connected by blood, yet separated by currents and centuries.

I am on a severed branch of the family tree that was replanted, took root and is now thriving. I often wonder if there is a distant relative who looks like me back in the Phillippines. Select features passed on to me from my grandfather and perhaps relatives before him, looking back at me.

Weekly Writing Challenge prompt: Living History. |  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/writing-challenge-history/

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148 Comments

  1. geemedina says

    I’m a filipina and though I was far away from Bohol and Cebu we felt the quake in our area. It’s really touching to read about the recent disaster from someone who’s far away. You’re still a Filipina deep down if you sympathize for a nation you never or hardly visited. =)

  2. I hope you have a chance to visit the Philippines! I live in a country that is made up predominantly of expats, and manymanymany of the blue collar works here are Filipino/a. Although they receive some of the lowest salaries (in fact, the country here recently banned any more Filipinos from getting work visas here due to new salary requirements saying they should be paid at least $400/month – most are paid much less), they are some of the happiest and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing!

    • The Filipino Diaspora continues. I think about how brave the waves of Filipinos are to leave their homeland and move to foreign countries with drastically different cultures to work as laborers and professionals. Truly awe-inspiring. Take care and thanks for dropping by!

  3. cjc3113 says

    This is pretty eye opening for me. I’m also a filipino-american, born here with family in Cebu. I see my family constantly sending Balikbayan boxes to the the homeland for the rest of my families there. I’ve been there and met most of them, and honestly I don’t feel any different. I didn’t feel like I made a in-depth connection, I think really the only difference was the fact that I now know they exist and what they look like. But as soon as I got back the the U.S. I just got back into the life I was familiar with. I definitely see those connections drift away as my generation takes over. But I did have empathy for them, how they lived and how the kids grow up in an area that makes the U.S. poorest neighborhoods look like a freaking luxury. I have yet to feel the impact of those bonds deteriorating, but now after reading this, I wonder if it’ll matter to me at all.

    • The effects of American nationality on ethnic identity are quite interesting, particularly for the U.S.-born. I think the older I get, the more I feel the need to reconnect and make sense of who I am and what comprises all of me, not just the “present” me, but me in the broader sense of time and genealogy. Take care and thank you for stopping by.

  4. This is an eye opener to most Filipino-American or other nationalities with Filipino descent and I couldn’t disagree about it. It seems that you’re in constant search of your Filipino identity so maybe it’s time for you to go back and retrace your roots. =)

    • It seems the older I get, the more I need to find my connections. Perhaps with age comes wanting to reconnect. It may be time to “go back”. Thank you for your comment.

  5. Although we lived far away from our loved ones, the heart of being a Filipino lives on forever 🙂

  6. The story brought me back to how I felt when we moved from the province and stayed in Manila for 12 years. Me and my siblings were not used to talking to our relatives so closely only our mom. Until one day, I wandered something was missing. I couldn’t explain it clearly but it’s like there was a missing piece in our family. But then, thank God, something really good happens when ties were reconnected and bridges rebuild.

    ~Love connects beyond we could imagine.

    • It’s interesting how family ties are maintained through the generations. Thank you for your comment.

    • Me too. Although I know it will take quite a lot of work to get back on the trail to finding family.

  7. Hi there. This is such a nice post. I’m glad to know you are also a filipina same as I am. Hope one day you could get to know & connect to your family here in the Philippines.

    • Thank you for stopping in and leaving these words of encouragement. I hope I’ll one day return to the land of my grandfather’s birth. It will be different from what he left, but it’s still his home.

  8. We are from the Philippines and I understand your sentiments. We have relatives and friends who are now living in the States and Europe. And yeah their kids can’t understand the language, let alone our culture. But I believe that being a Filipina or a Filipino is not dependent on the location you are currently in. It is in your heart and mind. Ingat lagi ( take care always).

    • Thank you so much for this thought. It’s oftentimes very difficult to talk about being a Filipina when I have no connection to the place other than possessing physical features that might distinguish me as such, but I suppose that’s the loveliness of the situation. When I’m ready to learn more, I can.

  9. I was born on a Military Base n the Philippines. I feels as if its my second culture! When I was a young child I spoke a little Tagalog that I learned from my pinay babysitter. =)

  10. I love Filipino Even am GHoing to Cebu City after 2 Months to have my Bible College Studies Amen.. I will meet This Family if God Allows me . Thank you for posting in a excellent blog. Kalyankar VIkas

  11. To comment on your conversation with the stranger.. I know exactly how you feel, however I am 100% Filipina, born in the Philippines but moved to the US when I was a baby. My father worked in the USAF, so spoke English a lot and my mother’s first language was English. They didn’t teach me Tagalog (although they tried) but as the youngest of 4 they just got tired of it. Now that I work with many many many Filipinos, I have this conversation ALL THE TIME and some are like, disgusted with me when I tell them I don’t speak Tagalog. It’s seriously irritating because I would like to learn but I don’t have the attention span, and I certainly don’t need the lecture from people who barely know me. But just know you aren’t alone out there!

    • Oh my goodness! I’ve never encountered someone who expressed irritation that I don’t speak Tagalog. If anything, they just looked sad. I’m not sure if it’s because on a personal level, they can’t communicate comfortably with me or if it’s on a nationality level where the children of the emigrated are becoming increasingly disconnected from the Philippines. I hope one of these days you’ll be able to learn Tagalog. Take care and thanks for stopping by!

  12. This is such a beautiful post and I can relate on so many levels. I wrote about this same feeling recently, too.

    Although I was born in the Philippines and lived there for six years, I still feel disconnected. I felt different even when my family lived there. I honestly did not know the state of the Philippines until we moved to the United States. I’m not sure if it’s because my family was considered “affluent” or if it was because many people from my family had already left the Philippines. I also went to an international school where English became my second language and I started to become “westernized” in the Philippines. I know that’s an odd statement, but it’s true. I became exposed to a lot of American, Australian, and even British customs through the multicultural student body. There is something about the Filipino race, something that has been cultivated from generations of other cultures blending with our ancestors that has made the Filipino identity really difficult to pinpoint. You aren’t the only one with this struggle, trust me! 🙂

    • Thanks for your reply and for sharing your own story. This post had been something I’ve struggled with for most of my life and it was a surprise that it resonated with so many people, Filipino and non-Filipino alike. Maintaining cultural identity to the homeland after being so far removed generationally is difficult. For me, there has been a dilution of cultural understanding which came at the price of the previous generations assimilating to the host culture of Hawai‘i/the U.S., but also leaving some of the cultural traditions behind. Reclaiming some of those traditions may be possible, but it will likely be learned from someone outside of the family. Anyway, thanks again and take care!

  13. As long as you know and you are proud where your roots came from, a speaker of the language or not, it will not make you less of a person or a Filipina. Keep on smiling! Ü

    *PS. Filipina here Ü

  14. The fact that you made this post with the attention-getting title “Are You Filipina?” sets you apart from many others with Filipino blood (100% or less) who chose to remain anonymous and blend in with the majority. Your blog itself is an honest and spontaneous attempt to connect and trace back your Filipino roots. Maligayang paglalakabay! (Wishing you a happy journey!)

    • When I was younger, I was happy to blend in with the crowd and not draw attention to my Filipino ancestry, but it seems the older I get, the more I feel the need to connect. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Take care!

  15. All I know is Filipinas are good-hearted, beautiful inside and out. And yes, you look like a pure Filipina..

    • Thank you for stopping by and for your observation. My family doesn’t think I look entirely Filipina. Interesting. 🙂

    • Thank you for the kind words! I hope so too and that it will be in the very near future.

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