Tales of a Philippine Life: A Cultural Battle

[Read my previous column here.]

Last week, I discussed how I thought that my brother and I were incredibly different culturally due to him being raised in America and myself being raised in the Philippines. However, I felt like I failed to mention a very important point. In speaking to my mom after she read my piece, she said that the issue is not as black and white as I made it seem. My brother is not “just American” and I am not “just Filipino.” We are Filipino Americans, adding elements of each culture into our metaphorical identity stews — but finding that balance between the two was difficult at first.

This is me, circa 2005, on my first day of school in the United States.

There’s a statue in the middle of Union Square in San Francisco that depicts a woman balancing on a ball, holding a trident and a wreath. I’ve probably passed that statue a hundred times, but only recently did I read the fine print on the base; it’s called the Dewey Monument, which celebrates Admiral George Dewey’s victory in the Battle of Manila Bay. This win paved the way for American occupation in the Philippines just a few months later.

Essentially, the statue celebrates the takeover of the Philippines by the United States.

Growing up, it sometimes felt like I was betraying my own Filipino culture without even knowing. For lunch, sinigang and rice in a silver canteen soon became peanut butter sandwiches. My accent quickly faded away, replaced with a Californian twang. I bought pretty stationary and, in my large seven-year-old handwriting, scribbled letters to my cousin about eating ice cream with my friends at school and to my grandma, asking her to send things over to us. But as I became more invested in my life in the states, the stationary was pushed to the back of my desk drawer and I stopped responding.

I felt the American seeping into me — into the clothes I wore, into the way I carried myself. I didn’t want the acceptance of my new American identity to be a rejection of my Filipino one, but in order to “fit in,” that’s sometimes what I felt like I had to do. For a while, my identity battled with itself because I didn’t want to choose to define myself with a singular ethnicity. I could not be singularly Filipino or singularly American.

This inconsistency within myself led me to make some choices about who I wanted to be, and I wanted to be both Filipino and American. What I’ve learned over the years is to think of the cultures as complementary instead of contradictory. Just because I am independent doesn’t mean I don’t have strong family ties. Watching American television does not mean I’m betraying The Filipino Channel teleseryes. Bottles of soy sauce and bagoong live comfortably in the refrigerator alongside ketchup and mustard. Technology now makes it easy for me to communicate with family back in Manila — I FaceTime my cousin at least once a week and text my grandma asking for updates.

Receiving my first taste of fall—er, Norcal’s version of fall.

By allowing the cultures to work in harmony rather than opposition, I was able to find peace within myself and with my identity. To me, identifying as Filipino American means that I’m proud of where I come from, but I’m also proud of where I am.

That, perhaps, is the biggest victory of them all.

Inspired by my recent trip to the Philippines, Tales of a Philippine Life is a weekly column exploring culture, family, mindsets, home, and more. If you have a response to one of my pieces, feel free to send it along to [email protected]. If you’d like to read the other pieces in this column, please visit https://ucsdguardian.org/category/lifestyle-2/.

[Read my next column here.]


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