Filipinos who were born and raised in the Philippines often don’t view American-bred Filipinos as Filipino.
In a sense, they are right. We have had very different experiences as Filipino-Americans. We grew up in a different culture. We have been influenced by American norms. We have been subjected to discrimination that the typical Filipino will not have experienced in the Philippines.
And all of this changes us. All of this makes us different from Filipinos living in the home country. But it doesn’t somehow change our identity. While not every Filipino-American is connected to their culture, many of us are raised with Filipino values.
I have had Filipinos try to explain Filipino dishes to me, assuming that as a Fil-Am my palate must only be accustomed to hamburgers and hot dogs. I have had Filipinos translate Tagalog words for me, only to be shocked at my mastery of the language. They express surprise when I reveal that I am connected to the Filipino community, as if it is such an unusual thing for me to retain these ties to my heritage.
Many people in the Philippines assume that their friends and relatives who move to the States become American and abandon their culture, but this isn’t the case. They view us as foreigners who may look like them, but who share few other characteristics and commonalities.
Even those of us who have been disconnected from Filipino culture may not have been distanced by choice. Many Filipinos are adopted into American families. Others have parents who encourage their children to assimilate. Still more grew up in areas with very few, if any, Filipinos. Being treated as outsiders by those who view us as less Filipino can make us feel even more alienated from a community we wish to be a part of.
When Filipino-Americans try to speak Tagalog, we shouldn’t mock their accents. Their stumbling words are an attempt to reconnect to their heritage. We likewise shouldn’t mock them when they don’t recognize foods, or don’t know other aspects of Filipino culture. This is too often what happens when Filipino-Americans try to reclaim their heritage, and it has the effect of pushing them further away.
Instead, we should recognize that Filipino-Americans may not have been as immersed in Filipino culture as Filipinos who grew up in the Philippines. We should recognize this, but not hold it against them, and instead help them learn more about their culture and heritage.