Happy Filipino American History Month

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A Catholic Church in Intramuros, the walled city, within the City of Manila, Philippines.

October is Filipino American History Month and a reminder for me to explore my Filipino American identity.  Last October I read a book by Anthony Ocampo called, “The Latinos of Asia. “ In the book the author talks about how your color depends largely on your social context. When checking the ethnicity box on applications or tests, sometimes there’s an option to put Asian American, sometimes Pacific Islander, and sometimes there’s a completely separate box for Filipinos.  Race largely depends on your social context. I grew up in a Filipino community in Los Angeles County, where Latinos and Asians are the collective majority.   I knew lots of other Filipino Americans and I grew up with dozens and dozens of cousins, aunts (titas) and titos (uncles) and people who weren’t really relatives but we called family.  I didn’t have to think much about being Filipina because there were so many other Filipinos around me.

In the book, “Latinos of Asia” the author says that Filipinos break the social constructs of race because we may phenotypically look Latino or Asian and our culture is so similar to Latino culture.  From our last names, to our religion, to our food and language. Learning now about the history of colonialism I am beginning to learn more about the Filipino culture. It’s all becoming more clear why there is so much overlap between Latinos and Filipinos. The authors states that his objective isn’t to push for categorizing Filipinos as Asians or Latinos but rather to provide a clearer sense of “how to address the social problems that continue to hinder the full inclusion of the Filipino American community within the imaginary of the American society.”

On my last trip to the Philippines I began to rethink my own identity.  While there my whole family took a walking tour in Manila led by Carlos Celdran, a political activist and performer.  We learned about the role of the Philippines in World War II while standing in an actual bomb shelter in the Walled City, called Intramuros which is Spanish for “within the walls.” It is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. There I learned about the resilience of the Filipinos and the torture and heartaches the Filipinos went through.  I’ve always known that to be Filipino, was to be Catholic but the history behind this all is making me better connect the two identities.

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On a tricycle ride through Intramuros.

I’m pretty embarrassed that I am barely learning about the history of the Philippines but I am learning that Filipinos are the forgotten Asian Americans in America’s history. According to Dr. Kevin Nadal, Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York, “though Filipino Americans were the first Asian Americans to arrive in the U.S. in 1587 (33 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620), little was written about the history of the Philippines or of Filipino Americans in the U.S. So although the U.S. had a long history with the Philippines (including the Philippine-American War, American colonization from 1899-1946, and much of World War II being fought in the Philippines), American history books have typically glared over any mention of the Philippines.”  I have always identified as a first-generation Filipino American.  But I think I am just starting to learn what that means. I knew very little about the 333 years the Spanish colonized the Philippines or little about the 50 years of the United States Imperialism. I’ve been to the Philippines nearly a dozen times but it was only on my last trip that I began to learn much more about Filipino history and began to appreciate and understand what it means to be Filipino American.  

I’m so glad that I have been able to travel to the Philippines and have been able to take my daughter twice now.  My children are biracial (1/2 Filipina and ½ white) and I often think about how my daughter and son will identify as they grow older.  Our home is filled with different books for our kids to read. I think it helps to show my daughter different faces and skin colors in hopes of slowly starting to talk about race and to allow her to appreciate the similarities and differences among her own friends and family.

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My daughter eating a halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert  (translated as mix-mix) which is also a great symbol of the mixture of cultures that make up the Filipino culture.

My interfaith, interracial marriage has forced me to think of ways that I raise my children. It has made me consider my own skin As a Filipino American mom, living and working in a context where I’m not in a large Filipino American community. I am thinking about the things I have to consider as I raise my daughter and son to help them form their own cultural and religious identity. For now we’ll start with recognizing Filipino American History Month.

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Some of our books and flash cards so that my daughter (and eventually my son) can learn about Filipino culture and Tagalog words.

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