My experience as a Filipino American is a very atypical one. You see I am half Filipino. My dad is Filipino and my mom is Italian and Indigenous American. I lived in Manila for 5 years of my life and go back to Manila maybe every 2-3 years. Growing up I would eat Filipino food, speak a little Tagalog, (mostly Taglish) and of course cheer for Ateneo with my dad. So growing up I felt very Filipino. However, as I got older I realized that in the eyes of my non-Asian friends I was seen as just “an Asian”. When I got to college I realized in the eyes of my Asian and specifically Filipino friends I was seen as “basically white” or “not Filipino enough”. This feeling of being in between is not exclusive to just me, many multicultural people deal with it. I am just now starting to learn how to navigate in this space.
When I lived in Manila I learned basic Philippine history such as Spanish colonization and the Marcos regime and the People Power movement. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college where I took an Asian American studies class I learned about Filipino American history. That class really changed my life and it ignited my passion to get involved with Philippine organizations. This is what led me to NaFFAA and the EPYC program.
Being an EPYC Ambassador has been one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Growing up I would always be the only Filipino kid in school and it stayed that way until I got to college where I was now 1 of maybe 8 Filipino kids in school. So to be in a program where I got to interact and discuss issues facing the Filipino community is very fulfilling. When I got word there would be a retreat in Seattle I was even more excited. I was really looking forward to meeting my fellow ambassadors in person. However, after a while, this feeling of self-doubt crept in. I wondered if I actually belonged in this program, these are real Filipinos I am not like them. I am an in-betweener.
I remember the last time I felt like this it was at Cornell Philippine Culture Night. They had booths set up where one could learn about Philippine culture. I remember walking up to the booth about Filipino food, not expecting to learn really, but to have a conversation about Filipino food. I wanted to talk about the Spanish, Chinese and American influence on our food. However, when I get to the booth someone asked me, “Hi, have you ever eaten Filipino food? We like to use onions and garlic!” I kind of just stared at her feeling depleted, but it’s not her fault, as I don’t look like what Filipinos look like. That whole night I almost felt like I was undercover, all the Filipino kids have no idea I have a lot in common with them and it just crushed me.
Back to the retreat, I remember feeling like maybe I was a fake like I really did not belong. I remember freaking out thinking “Oh my god what if I am a weeaboo but for the Philippines?!” However, as the day went on and I got to know the other ambassador that feeling started to fade and I remembered why I wanted to get involved with NaFFAA and EPYC. It’s because growing up I was the only Filipino kid and I wanted to be around other Filipino kids and talk about issues facing our community. I wanted to get involved because I was passionate about Filipino American history and be around like-minded individuals.
I realized through talks and discussions that Filipino Americans have different backgrounds, stories, and life experiences. We all come from different genders, sexualities, bodies, and it’s ok if I’m not like everyone else and my life upbringing wasn’t like everyone else’s. The fact that I am even involved with an organization like NaFFAA and EPYC tells me that I care about Filipino Americans and that I am doing something positive!