There are many difficulties growing up as part of the Filipino diaspora, but perhaps the greatest is the development of a sense of identity. We are often isolated, being one of few minorities in our communities. We are forced to adapt the best we can and try to fit in, even though everyone sees us as “different”.
We learn to develop a self-deprecating sense of humor, making jokes about ourselves before someone else can. We tell ourselves that it is better to control the situation, to laugh with others instead of having them laugh at us. We mimic our parents’ accents with cruel accuracy for comedic effect. We share pictures of family pets and head off jokes of “Do Asians really eat dogs?” with an anecdote about the time the cat jumped onto the stove. “Don’t worry, we didn’t cook him…This time.”
At the same time, we avoid embodying stereotypes. When friends come over, we order a pizza instead of cooking rice. When we use Filipino words in conversation, we pronounce them with thick American accents, sharing recipes for “pan-sit” and “arrows-call-dough”.
We acknowledge our differences by dismissing them. “We are one of you,” we tell white America. “Our skin is darker, but we are American.”
Often, our parents are complicit in this. Though some teach us Tagalog, most encourage English at home. We are raised in an age saturated with media, but pop culture rarely shows us anyone who looks like us. We begin to wish ourselves into whiteness, imagine how much easier life would be with blonde hair and blue eyes.
The importance of not standing out is drilled into us from a young age and reinforced every time we see a minority arrested or shot or beaten up. We see how often other minorities are oppressed or taken advantage of. We vow that this will never be us.
Many of us become “self-hating Filipinos”, rejecting our heritage in favor of America. We scorn new immigrants as “fresh off the boat”, mock foreigners for clinging to their old-country ways. We refuse to acknowledge our ancestry and tell our parents to speak to us only in English.
We feel ashamed to be associated with the Philippines. We do not want to be seen as anything but American. It becomes too hard to walk the middle ground between being Filipino and being American, and, trapped in a society where we are outnumbered, we choose the latter.
In doing this, we lose more than our culture. The Philippines is more than just a country of origin. It is an identity. If we reject it, we are not just rejecting our heritage; we are rejecting ourselves.