Last night, I watched the 10th Annual Ms. PI pageant held by Rutgers Newark, a celebration of modern Filipino-American culture featuring representatives from colleges in District III of FIND, Inc., an organization designed to spread Fil-Am culture throughout higher education institutions across America. My god-sister and longtime family friend was the representative for my own college, and as I watched all of the Ms. PI contestants perform and speak on their heritage, a familiar sinking kind of feeling took place inside my stomach. It was shame.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel “Filipino enough” to be like any of the girls on the stage – I was too American-ized, too distant from my own roots. While my parents and relatives speak Tagalog around the house, and have spoken the language throughout the duration of my childhood, I only possess the ability to understand the language, too afraid of messing up to even try to speak it. While I love eating Filipino food, I have never made a Filipino dish. While I am so proud of my heritage, I only have a basic understanding of the history and current events of the Philippines. I felt like I had embraced a 100% American lifestyle, from my passion for American history right down to the way that I dress, act, and speak, and I truly felt ashamed of my self-realized “rejection” of Filipino culture.
However, after talking to my parents last night on the car ride home about my feelings, they brought up a point that I found to be incredibly important, for anybody who was born in one place but possesses a heritage from another country: there is no such thing as being “Filipino enough“.
My family and I the last time we went to the Philippines
All of the things I mentioned earlier about Tagalog and the food and the history are all important to Filipino culture, but possessing those things doesn’t make one person more Filipino than another; representing your culture goes much deeper beyond the surface. It is being hardworking and humble, respecting your elders, and keeping a close-knit bond with your family and God. It is exhibiting compassion, kindness, and friendliness to everyone you meet, and being able to find hope (and laughter!) even in dark times. All of these things are what make up a Filipino, and these are the values that my parents raised me under.
After talking to my parents, I’ve realized that the lifestyle I lead is a blend of American and Filipino traditions. While I do hope to learn how to cook Sinigang and read more about Filipino history, I know now that I have no reason to be ashamed of who I am or feel inadequate. I am proud to be a Filipina-American: I exhibit my Filipino-ness in the values I keep, and I aim to keep those values close to my heart, no matter where I am headed.
Have you ever felt distant from your culture? How did you cope?