Growing up, I was embarrassed of being Filipino.
In fact, I frequently recount my shame in many of my childhood memories.
As a child, I grew up in the countryside located in the northern tip of the Philippine islands. I grew up in nature, playing traditional Filipino street games and eating adobo, a famous Filipino delicacy.
However, upon immigrating to New York at age seven, I was reluctant to speak about who and what I was. Attending a school where a majority of the students were of white descent, I felt the need to hide my true identity to fit in.
I packed ham sandwiches for lunch, when I was used to eating rice, and read books every day to be fluent in the English language. In fact, during a school play, my parents spoke to me in Ilocano, one of the many provincial dialects of the Philippines. Although, I had always been familiarized to my parent speaking it at home, it sounded so preposterous to me, as I observed my non-Filipino friends tune in to my native language.
My embarrassment of my roots heightened as I grew conscious of my appearance. As a Filipino, I naturally have dark skin, or what the Philippines calls being “kayumangi.” I often found myself comparing the color of my skin to my fair-skinned friends. Although I was profusely sweating from the smoldering summer heat, I endured wearing jackets to cover myself from the sun, all in the hopes of preventing myself from getting anymore darker.
These reminiscences are only snippets of old tendencies I tried to waver the shame I had felt about being a Filipina in America. There were numerous times when I thinned my thick black hair, avoided eating Filipino food, and speaking my native language to diminish my origins to feel truly American.
However, having lived in New York for many years, I later came to a sudden realization that the reality of accepting one’s cultural origins and the struggle to present an American image was common amongst other immigrant children. I can’t confidently say when my demeanor towards my Filipino background changed, but ultimate they did. As a result, the strain I had regularly felt as a Filipino has alleviated. Perhaps it was when I spent two months in the Philippines on the summer of my sophomore year.
For many years, I had avoided going back home, fearing that the identity that I had been trying to conceal would resurface. However, upon seeing the topography of my country on the windows of the plane, I felt homesick, thinking about how much I used to enjoy my mom’s adobo and turon. When I reached my province, I only heard Ilocano. At that time, I felt regretful for not accepting who I truly was to please others. I wasn’t disturbed about my family’s native language anymore. In fact, it sounded like home.
The United States has always been regarded as a melting pot, embracing a diverse culture of people and producing a myriad of delicacies and international traditions. Although I didn’t sincerely believe it as a kid, I have come to accept the genuineness of this reality. Concerning my origins, I have found that being a first-generation Filipino American and being engaged in a different culture is more than simply an enrichment. For me, it has become this invisible connection that ties me to my family. I have come to appreciate the sweetness of Filipino food, the loudness of parties, and most especially my “kayumangi” color. My Filipino background has helped to reassure who I am and what I’ll become in the future.