June 10, 2014

MABUHAY! Let's Get Personal.

Alexa and I are hosting this event to celebrate Filipino culture, both as it ties into
 our lives and into literature. Make sure to check out the posts on both our blogs this week!

Today, we're getting personal! We want to tell you a little (ok, maybe than a little!) about where we were born and raised and what it's like to grow up in a Filipino home.

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I was born in Queens, NY. Both of my parents are from the Philippines and moved to the United States in their 30s. They met, married and had me in their early 40s (theirs was a whirlwind romance!) and I was raised in a pretty typical Filipino home. Whether we were living in Queens or in New Jersey (where we moved when I was 7), I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t surrounded by my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s always been a full house and seriously, half the time they were actually living with us. I grew up on Filipino food (white rice every night, adobo, pancit, lumpia, turon - ok now I’m getting hungry!). I consider Tagalog my other first language because my entire family spoke to me in both English and Tagalog right from the start (and still do!). Unfortunately I can’t really speak it anymore because I stopped once I started going to school but I still understand. Like really, really well. Which always surprises people! Because …

Hardly anyone thinks I’m actually Filipino most of the time (I’m also part Chinese, English and Spanish) and I’ve never been to the Philippines. I know, I know! I really need to go. But my mom hasn’t even been back since the 70s and everyone tells me that if I go, I have to go for at least 3 weeks which is hard to do. But even though I’ve never been and I find myself rebelling against certain stereotypes, my culture.. or specifically, the values of my culture are super important to me and are very much a part of who I am as a person. I love coming from a big, opinionated, loving, close-knit family. I love that a deep sense of religion and faith was instilled in me. I love little things like the words Ate and Kuya which you call older sisters/brothers (or in my case, cousins). I love the respect we have for our elders and we’re all about taking care of each other. I love our seriously unhealthy food (everything that’s bad for you, we cook!).

There were definitely some things that were a little hard growing up though. Like having parents who were a bit stricter than most. But luckily I had a diverse group of friends who were pretty understanding even as I raged about it (my middle school journals were not kind to my mom!).  Then with all my relatives around, especially my grandmother, they all felt like they had a say in what I could or couldn’t do (they still like to share their opinions). There were lots of conversations that ended with me saying — “but that’s normal here!”. Needless to say, I butted heads a lot with the adults in my family during my teenage and even early adult years.

I like to believe I’m a good combination of both my Filipino and American upbringing. It feels like I am! I love that I grew up and live here but I’m still very much influenced by my culture and heritage. And I think that’s a good thing.

***

I was born in Washington DC to two fully Filipino parents, who had migrated about two years before I arrived. Memories of my childhood are extremely hazy, except for three things: "family" parties, food and a local dialect. These things, to me, were a central part of how my parents made sure that our culture was a part of my life. 

We had parties with family (which, if you're Filipino, includes your friends or people you've known for a very long time) very often. Filipino food (especially adobo + rice, sinigang + rice, tapa + rice... pretty much anything with rice) was a staple part of my diet, especially because my Nana (our sitter and housekeeper) was an excellent cook. And since my parents and Nana and many of our family were from the same Philippine province, the dialect was often spoken in our house (to the point where I could understand important and oft-used words from it).

And then came one of the biggest and (at the time) traumatizing events in my young life -- our move back to the Philippines. 

Not going to lie, I really didn't want to go and leave what was familiar to me. It was a struggle that dogged me, particularly when I realized there was a language barrier that separated me from my peers. There was also a cultural gap between us initially, since I had been raised a little differently in the US. Things like kissing my elders on the cheek or lifting their hand to my forehead in a "mano po" greeting didn't come easily to me, and were among the habits that I had to get used to as we settled into our new home.

And yet, in the end, the move turned out to be a good thing. Filipinos are generally very close with all of their family, extended family included. Being in the same city as the majority of mine helped foster closer relationships with all of them. We value everyone, elderly and young and in between, and it's wonderful. There's also the strong sense of faith and loyalty that becomes weaved into our lives. Plus, there's also the strength of will that allows Filipinos to be a resilient people with a sense of humor -- a lesson I took to heart and have carried with me until this day. There are many things about Filipino culture I carry with me, things I couldn't have learned the same way if I hadn't lived in the Philippines. 

Plus, you know, I got to eat all the delicious food. And go on trips to the beach a lot. So there's that!

When I moved back to the US in 2010, I took the Filipino culture I'd learned and absorbed with me. You know what the best thing about it was? Finding familiarity with every single Filipino I encountered, whether it was in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia or New York. It's a cultural tie that binds us together -- and it's exactly what became the basis of my first conversation with Rachel ever!

I'd like to think that, since my husband and I are both Filipinos, we're going to be able to pass the torch of our Filipino culture along to our children one day! In fact, it would be a pleasure to. There is so much that they can learn, so many qualities that could be really important in the lives that they'd choose to live in the future. Choosing to embrace our history and culture (colored with oppression and hardship and confusion as it is sometimes) is a choice I've made, that we've made, and I'll stand by it. I'm proud to be Filipino-American, and always will be.

***


Make sure to check out Alexa's blog tomorrow
for the next post in our series!

5 comments:

  1. Love! Thanks so much for sharing, ladies!

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  2. Whee! It was so fun to share about our upbringing as Filipino-Americans. I think it's cool that our stories are very similar, but ended up being very different as we grew older :)

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  3. Love this post and love learning more about both of you. Rachel, I totally raged against my own strict (Chinese) parents when I was younger - sometimes their rules just seemed to arbitrary (no reading Sweet Valley books? WHAT? =P).

    Alexa, I had a similar culture shock when my family moved back to Hong Kong after I was born and lived in Canada for 12 years. It was hard, but I do feel like it was a good thing to expand my worldview and learn more about my own culture and heritage. I went to an international school for high school, so that helped a lot. I love the fact that you and Mackie settled in New York and want to share your culture with your kids eventually - my husband is Jewish, but I like to think that we'll be teaching our future kids a lot about both cultures.

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  4. I love this post! I am also a Filipino, but my life is kind of opposite to Alexa's. I was actually born in Quezon City, Philippines but when I was 8 years old, my mom and I moved to California (my dad moved to CA first b/c it's hard to find a job in PH and we followed eventually). I agree about how Filipino parents are a bit stricter compared to like some parents here in the U.S. but I'm so glad that's the situation because it just means our parents cares a lot about us, and I would've probably done stupid things (I'm now 18 and I feel like I'll do more stupid things lol) but my parents will be here to the rescue ;D. You have to visit the PH soon omg! The people are always cheery there and very welcoming. Tbh I choose the PH over U.S. no offense Americans... idk I just feel more at home there because of the atmosphere and probably because I was born there despite the fact that I lived longer in the U.S. I surprisingly still know how to speak Tagalog and I'm glad because it really helped when I took Spanish classes during high school because it's very similar. Great post. :D

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  5. Y'all make me want to try Filipino cuisine... I have NO CLUE where to find it where I live (Mississippi). It sounds amazing though.

    I love that family is such a big part of your culture. I can see where it would make the teenage years a bit difficult though. I remember how hard I thought it was having to answer to my mom and dad. YIKES. I'm sure for the most part though, it's amazing having such a tight-knit family?

    I have really enjoyed this feature and learning about Filipino culture (and your own experiences as Filipino-Americans). I can't wait to read one of your book recommendations, Rachel, to learn more: I've ordered There Will Come a Time!

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