Source: Wikipedia Commons
In 2003, my father got a job working in Boston. My mother, sister, and I left our first home in the Philippines to see what the American dream was all about. Fourteen years later, we live in a distinctly American home. There is no white picket fence, but there is a flat screen TV and a yard big enough for Fourth of July barbecue parties. This supposedly is the American dream, but what was sacrificed to obtain it?
I was brought up in the American school system. I remember being taught not to use my native language in school. I learned how to speak English fluently, well enough that people assumed I was born here due to my grasp on the language. My parents had a tougher time. My mother failed her English-speaking exam for her job three times. I can’t remember when, but I stopped speaking Filipino at home. My parents never questioned it since I was doing so well with English, and that is the language I would need to know to thrive here anyways. I would end up knowing so little Filipino that I could not hold a conversation in the language if my life depended on it.
During the first grade, we learned about the pilgrims. The first settlers in America came from far away. The teacher asked us who was born here and who moved from a different country. I was very insecure about that. In fact, I lied sometimes, saying I was born here to avoid attention. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a pilgrim, not when most of my friends weren’t. At some point, I started actively pushing away the things that were not “American” about me. I wore Red Sox t-shirts to school despite having no interest in baseball. I avoided eating Filipino food in front of my friends because I was afraid they would think it was weird. I was scared to be seen as “other.”
A turning point happened when my parents became American citizens. At the ceremony in Faneuil Hall, we truly became Americans. That was when I realized I had always been an American. Growing up in these schools, in these neighborhoods, watching American TV shows, and pledging my allegiance to a flag every morning could only mold an American. I will admit I felt some relief. That I was who I said I was. But then, a harrowing thought came to mind. What happened to the girl that landed in Logan Airport all those years ago. Is she still there? And, more importantly, is she still Filipino?
For years, I felt no pride in being Filipino. There were not any strong Filipino role models in my community, so I had little to relate with. In my need to appear all American, I neglected who I was until I was no longer attached to my own culture. I could not name one Filipino President, but I can tell you about American history from the first settlers to the Civil War. I know that the skin and bones I’m made of doesn’t change, but being ignorant and separated from the culture I was born with leaves an empty hole in my psyche. Being a child of two worlds involves some mental wrestling. I have often found myself asking if I am Filipino enough; the next day I ask if I am American enough. Then I wonder If I deserve to call myself a Filipino after purposefully disconnecting from my own culture. It’s a struggle of identity, one that I am still pondering.
As a Filipino-American, I have learned that a cultural identity has nothing to do with appearing to fit in the molds of said identity. There may be a pull to fit in, but in the end, that is irrelevant to who you are. This is a problem that I know lots of immigrant kids struggled with growing up. It often feels like a balancing act to be a part of two cultures, but I find comfort in knowing that both of my identities are valid and can coexist. Accepting myself that way became much easier once I started believing in that idea myself.