Personal Column: Embracing my Heritage

Pizza and lumpia, rice and barbeque ribs. The contrast of my vibrant Filipino heritage and not-so-bright American one crossed over in every aspect of my life to create a childhood full of diversity in a predominantly white town. 

However, I’ve never felt that I fully fit into the Filipino side of me. My mother spoke in fluent Tagalog to her friends as my sister and I attempted to process their foreign banter. I never picked up a single word of it. I haven’t stepped foot in the Philippines, nor have I met any of my family from my mother’s home country.

     As for my American side, there isn’t much that I resemble. I have a slim, European nose and the knowledge that American colonizers killed over 200,000 Filipinos. It seems odd and almost ironic that I come from two different sides, and it makes me resent my American history even more. I hated knowing that I came from colonizers that hurt the other side of my family. I knew my light skin grandparents, aunts, and uncles extremely well compared to my Filipino side. Others were shocked by the contrast of my family photos with my dark skin and brown hair. Their blue eyes and blonde hair surrounded me.

     When someone asked me what ethnicity I was, there was always an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. What was I? I could say Filipino-American obviously, but I never felt a connection to either background. There was never a desire to educate myself about my roots. As the years passed, I realized that running away from my culture didn’t help me find my identity.    

     I began to research my Filipino history, which has never been shown in a good light to me. The discovery of the rich culture and geography, from the Mayon Volcano to realizing the importance of family heritage and religion made me realize that those American colonizers had a larger impact on my Filipino culture than I thought. And not all in a bad way. 

     Embracing both sides of my culture, both good and bad, has helped me realize that I don’t need to fit into a single box in order to feel complete. I can proudly say that I am Filipino American.