When I was growing up, I struggled with my identity as a Filipino American. Some of my Filipino classmates would criticize me for not know how to speak or understand Tagalog, and I would often be accused of being a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I felt really insecure. Three things happened in the mid 1980s that gave me more confidence in my Filipino American identity.
The first thing was having a Filipina as my first girlfriend. She and her family were very accepting of me, and they never criticized me for not knowing Tagalog. They were proud and accepting of me as an American and they envied my knowledge of American history. Though we eventually broke up, I’m still very grateful for her kindness to me.
The second thing that happened in the mid 1980s that gave me great pride in my Filipino heritage was the People Power Revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos. Because of the large Filipino American population in the South Bay, the San Jose Mercury News had a lot of coverage of the events unfolding in the Philippines at that time: the assassination of Benigno Aquino; the snap elections; the campaign of Cory Aquino; the mass protests against Marcos’ attempts to steal the elections. I was very proud of the Philippines people who were fighting for their freedom. I later found out a few of my relatives participated in the protests, and I felt a lot of pride in them.
The last thing that gave me a positive view of my Filipino American identity was the book “America in in the Heart” by Carlos Bulosan. I was assigned to read it in an Asian American class that I took in college. I was in a class with a lot of Asian Americans who were just like me: we didn’t know the language or culture of our parents’ home country, but we were still proud of that heritage. And we were proud of being American as well. Carlos Bulosan’s book gave me a view of the struggles that Filipino Americans went through in the 1930s as they worked in the agricultural fields and fisheries all along the West Coast. In spite of the discrimination and economic hardship that they faced, Bulosan and his fellow Filipino Americans still loved the American ideal. And in his work as a labor organizer and a writer, Bulosan worked hard to try to get America to live up to its highest ideals for the Filipino Americans and other marginalized groups.
Because of these three experiences, I am both proud of my Filipino heritage and proud to be an American.
Carlos Bulosan wrote:
“America is not a land of one race or one class of men. We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the fist Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino peapickers. America is not bound by geographic lattitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world. America is a prophecy of a new society of men: of a system that knows no sorrow of strife or suffering. America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of free men.
America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling from a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated of illiterate- We are America!”