I grew up in Marin County mostly around white people. At my schools: Hamilton Elementary, San Jose Middle, and Novato High, I definitely had other people of color around me. I feel that there was an unspoken sense of community or likeness among us, even if they weren’t my closest friends or if we didn’t spend time together at lunch everyday. I was always very aware of my teachers, though. In my Marin public schooling experience, I have never had a Filipino or Asian teacher, I’ve never really had a teacher that was not white. That really reflected the content I learned about Asian American history which was always a short paragraph and a marginal note or two —ever extensive and always limited and vague.
In my Marin public schooling experience I have never had a Filipino—or Asian--teacher... that really reflected the content I learned about—Asian American history which was always a short paragraph and a marginal note or two.
In college my experience has been very different. I attend University of San Francisco, a school that prides itself on social justice advocacy/work and legacies. The school has ways to go in terms of diversity (socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds) and general access to various services for students. It is one of a handful of US schools that offers a minor in Philippine Studies. I had a variety of professors: Asian, Black, Latino, and so on. In courses such as Filipina Literature, Asian American History, Filipino (a language course), People of Mixed Descent, Filipino American Arts, and Anti-Racism and Allyship, I was able to learn and understand much more about Filipino American history and culture as opposed to what I was taught in public school. Having engaged with Asian American history was very inspiring and my Filipino American heritage has become less mysterious and will not be forgotten.
Now that we have been in a state of unrest amidst social justice movements concerning Black lives and Asian lives, I feel much more moved to engage with and learn about the roots of Filipino Americans. This climate has caused nervous excitement and unrest and has been emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing to many people. As a young Filipina and Black American, I feel a responsibility to inform myself and others about the past that has brought us to where we stand in the present. I would love to see that reflected in public schools, especially in Marin County where anti-racism work is much talked about but much less acted on or administered. While it is understandable to promote national identity through education, space should also be made for the distinct ethnic groups and identities that have been directly involved in the nation’s history.
A reflection on the writings of José Rizal: “Know history, know self. No history, no self.” (my interpretation of his quote: “Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan”).
I am a proud member of the Filipino American community specifically in the North Bay. Living in Marin County, a predominantly white area with few Filipinos, has led me to focus even more on my culture and how important it is. My parents immigrated to the U.S. ten years before I was born and made it a point to raise my brother and I to be knowledgeable about Filipino customs that they hold dear. One of these was the tradition of Simbang Gabi: a week-long Christmas celebration. For the last ten years, I have been helping my family put on a Simbang Gabi celebration at our local church. It is a chance for other Filipino Americans in the area to come and celebrate a holiday tradition that reminds them of home.
Being a part of this Filipino American community has brought to light many issues with the treatment of certain minority groups specifically here in Marin and has forced me to take off the rose colored glasses I had been wearing for so long to view my home.
When I was younger, I didn't understand why I had to go to an evening mass five nights in a row in December. However, as I grew up, I understood how important it was, especially because it was a way to find and build a community for people who had come to this country without one. Also, understanding more about how much it meant to my parents to continue this tradition only made me more appreciative of this custom. Being a part of this Filipino American community has brought to light many issues with the treatment of certain minority groups specifically here in Marin and this has forced me to take off the rose colored glasses I had been wearing for so long to view my home. I am very proud to be a Filipino American and I want to devote my life to protecting other people’s rights to celebrate their own cultures and find a permanent home here in the States.
One of the greatest gifts of being Fil-Am is the combined feeling of uniqueness and community it has offered me. I know it seems like it contradicts itself, but it really compliments itself greatly. I am not just one thing, just as my culture isn’t. I’m a mix, and so is my experience with being Fil-Am.
A huge part of my life has been recognizing and appreciating the community I’m a part of because of who I am— and not just community in one sense of the word. Being Fil-Am has not only connected me to groups like FANCO, but it’s allowed me to be closer to family and strangers alike. Learning about the Philippines, it’s traditions, and its culture from my mom and aunties is such a special and connecting experience. And as for strangers, I’ve made friends and bonded with people I didn’t know over our shared heritage, another example of an opportunity I have to get closer to those I otherwise wouldn’t. This sense of community, whether it’s an organization or just a conversation in passing is something I’m so glad I get to be a part of.
Being Fil-Am has not only connected me to groups like FANCO, but it’s allowed me to be closer to family and friends alike.
On the flip side, being Fil-Am has also made me feel unique, and a more empowered individual. As a kid, sometimes the lack of representation of Asian Americans in movies and shows I watched made me feel disconnected, but it mostly gave me a sense of pride. Getting to teach my friends about familial and cultural customs they’d never seen was huge to me growing up. I felt responsible for retelling stories and “keeping the culture alive”, and as funny as that sounds now, I think it was really beneficial. Being Fil-Am helped me feel confident, unique, and responsible for others’ perspectives, and it’s still something I can take pride in today.
I’ll admit though, I haven’t always felt that I could recognize and identify with this part of my identity. Growing up half white, getting more white passing as I got older, I experienced a sort of disconnect with the idea that I was POC (Person of Color). The fact that I’ve never learned the Filipino language and I have never been to visit the Philippines adds to the feeling. Especially in the last year, trying to advocate for social justice had come with an air of vagueness, where I’m not sure if I should simply identify as an ally instead of embracing all the parts of my intersectional identity. Though I’ve had my run-ins with this brand of imposter syndrome, I’m working to validate myself, my identity, and my experience. I’ve come to consciously appreciate my culture and my unique perspective of it more and more.
When all is said and done, I don’t think I could trade my experiences with being Filipino for anything in the world. We all observe and feel things so differently, and I am so grateful to have my own unique ways of being and appreciating my culture, as well as hearing others’. Growing up, being Fil-am has always been a constant, a distinct part of me that was always been there for me to embrace. I’m happy to say that now I'm more accepting of my Fil-Am identity, and I am passionate about it more than ever.