So apparently October is National Filipino-American History Month. Another reason for a guy to love October I guess. Filipino-American History Month was established by the Filipino-American National Historical Society back in 1988 but was only recognized nationally starting in 2009. The FANHS decided on October as the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the US was on October 18, 1587 when ‘Luzones Indios’ (natives of Luzon) were brought on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza to the shores of Morro Bay, California.
It’s pretty cool and all. And I am damn proud to be Filipino-American and that they have set aside this month for us and everything but I’ll be honest with you…I can’t say much to Filipino identity or notable people or culture, really. When I say I’m Filipino, I really mean that my parents are from the Philippines. I never, and I emphasize never had any desire or interest in joining any Filipino culture clubs or anything in high school or college. It actually just *shudder* made me cringe just to think of it. UAASO, United Asian-American Student Organization, was the largest Asian club on campus in college and it was completely run by Filipinos. You’d think I would’ve run there with arms wide open, burst through the doors and yell ‘My people! I have come to you!’ Instead I went the complete opposite direction and became President…of the Chinese Student Association.
I think it might be a Filipino-American thing though, honestly. When I visit the Philippines it’s not like I think ‘oh god I can’t stand being around all these Filipinos’. I find the native Filipino spirit and personality very friendly and agreeable and a lot of fun. But Filipino-Americans around here…eeh…yeah not so much.
My family and I are perfectly content and happy to be proud Filipinos…on our own. We really don’t feel the need to broadcast this to everyone or to be with others just to tell ourselves how happy we are to be us. We still behave and act and think and do things in very Philippine ways. Yes we have a painting of the last supper hanging in our dining room (and another in the kitchen). Yes we point with our lips and pick things up with our feet. But we never thought we would ever want to make that our ‘thing’ or identify with all of this. We just wanted to do it because it made sense, whether culturally, historically, logically, or emotionally.
Don’t ask me about famous Filipino figures. Don’t ask me about Filipino art or music or literature or film. I feel like sometimes I purposely go out of my way to avoid Fil-Ams in pop culture because it would just feel like lazy adoration. Like, I’m not going to like or listen to the Black Eyed Peas just because apl. de. ap. is Fil-Am. I’m not going to listen to Bruno Mars for the same reason and I don’t want to give people the chance to assume that of me. Having Dante Basco be the voice of Prince Zuko was pretty bad-ass though. And yes, I admit I did have a crush on Vanessa Hudgens. But an awesome TV show and a pretty face precede any sort of national or cultural affiliation!
I think one of the reasons why I have such a disconnect with Filipino culture here in the US versus actually in the Philippines is because of how fluid it seems to be. One of the greatest strengths (and conversely greatest weaknesses) of the Filipino is adaptability. We are the second largest Asian ethnicity in the United States and why we are so numerous (and why you probably didn’t even realize that) is because of how well we can assimilate into our environment. We really don’t want a lot of attention drawn to us. We would much prefer to be known for how easily and quickly our neighbors felt safe next to us. Hahah. But because of that I’ve always struggled with the concept of ‘authenticity’. I don’t know what it means to be ‘Fil-Am’ when we have no real strong sense of community or identity. A first generation Filipino-American growing up on the East Coast is going to turn out a whole hell of a lot different from a West Coaster and I really don’t feel comfortable or at home with either. I grew up around other ethnicities. My best friends were and still are Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, and white. My entire sense of Filipino identity was derived only from my parents who also quite notably did not really interact with other Filipino families. (I understand their reasons now but…hardly seems apropos considering we’re supposed to be celebrating Filipinos right now. Hahah.)
Even our food, which is usually used as a mark of cultural identity, differs from place to place. We cannot even unite on what should be on our plates. This is more than just a regional anomaly. This isn’t like categorizing Chinese food as either Szechuan, Hunan, Cantonese, or Mandarin. A dish can change from family to family and interpretations abound. You will often times find more ‘Filipino Fusion’ restaurants than you will ‘authentic Filipino’ simply because almost all Filipino food is fusion. No one wants to unify or define Filipino dishes for fear of singling out certain areas or ethnicities or offending the myriad Filipino families who can cook the same dish a thousand different ways. Who would get to define what Filipino food ‘is’ and how would we even establish their credibility or criteria for such a task.
Still, when it comes to cultural identity, you can talk to me about food. I know food. Filipino dishes still share many of the same characteristics despite the variances. I love the hearty and flavor-packed ‘sabaw‘, or sauce that comes with each dish. A lot of Filipino food is stew-based and the rich sauce that is the result of that long stewing process is so good over steaming white rice. Unlike many East Asian dishes that focus on exemplifying and stressing one or at most two different flavors at a time, Filipino food is about packing as many flavors and textures into one dish as possible. For this reason many of my friends have had to become ‘accustomed’ to Filipino food because of how strong the flavors are. Now they love it and when they crave hearty and rich, they know where to go.
Filipino food is also all about being daring. We never let any part of the animal go to waste and we’ll be damn clever about it too. I love dinuguan, a pork stew of belly, ear, and offal braised in pig’s blood (regional varieties include my preferred one which lessens the amount of vinegar and adds hot green pepper for punch). There is of course the infamous (though utterly delicious) balut. Easy shock-TV material for the uninitiated but really, it’s just a fertilized duck egg.
Okay I get it, that might be a bit…tough to swallow. (HAH. Get it. Swallow like to eat and swallow like the bird which comes from an egg.) You don’t have to jump off the deep end just yet. To be perfectly honest my mother and father were born and raised in the Philippines and refuse to eat balut. Personally I think it’s a great breakfast alternative. Regardless, if anything at all, I would highly recommend that this October in honor of Filipino-American History Month, please, find your friendly neighborhood pinoy and ask them to take you a restaurant. Try some Filipino food if you haven’t yet had a chance. I guarantee you that there isn’t one too far from where you are. We’re everywhere. We’re just very good at blending in. But everyone is going to need a nurse or a nanny!
Man: 72 Loneliness: 19