Blog #1: Feeling Filipino

What does it mean to be Filipino? That is a question I’ve grappled with my whole life. Growing up chartered between the metropolis of Hong Kong and the comforts of Manila, I’ve always had a fascinating relationship with my mother country. I speak the language, eat the food and know the customs – maybe the closest to born-and-bred an international kid could be.

This is also the central question that grassroot organizations like Anakbayan and Migrante deal with daily. The former tackles the complex relationship between where you grew up and where you are “from”. For the Filipino-American youth they work with, the Philippines is a mere symbol, of family history and roots. For most of their lives, being Filipino was signified only through the blood running through their veins. Americanized by their surroundings and upbringing, it was fascinating to discover much of this de-Filipinization came at the very hands of their own parents. It is remarkable, admirable and all at once confounding what a parent would do to make sure their child lives the most comfortable and opportunity-filled life they can.

Migrante on the other hand tackles the question in an entirely different context. What does it mean to be Filipino when leaving the country is the only path for success, or in many cases, survival? Does one’s love for country supersede its lack of economic prospects? For the migrant workers who work in mostly blue-collar and domestic industries, a job in America is the dream – so to speak. However, it is not a ‘dream’ in the way you or I would conceive – it certainly does not contain beach vacations or fabulous sun tans – but rather as a sort of privilege, to be able to come to the US to work and hopefully feed and support the families they left behind.

It is a tricky word, privilege. It is most probably a much-misunderstood word. The terms ‘check your privilege’ are among those that have gained ubiquity in today’s politically correct society. Nevertheless, privilege and its self-recognition is paramount to an exploration like mine. As I weaved the bustling streets of Woodside, Queens, these past few days, I recognized my privilege. Simply stepping out of the subway I was startled by the rattling clangs from the overhead 7 rails, which themselves casted a dark shadow over Roosevelt Avenue. The sounds were overwhelming, with frantic taxis, braking buses and the occasional airplane all adding in their own unique scream. Just from a sonic standpoint, far was I from the idyllic manicure of the West Village.

I will say, almost shamefully, that I felt somewhat unsafe that first day. I was in a new neighbourhood with a camera out in the open, surrounded by architecture that I was not accustomed to. Isn’t it funny how simply the worn façade of a building can evoke so much emotion, as if the shiny glass towers of the financial district don’t harbour their own dark secrets? Interestingly enough, Woodside reminded me of Manila. However, it was a Manila that I only knew from the window of locked car, vibrant tightly-packed communities that I gazed upon with my peering eyes. The small restaurants or karenderyas reminded me of the street-side mom and pops, where black smoke would billow out from charcoal grills – obviously this wouldn’t be allowed in Queens but I think you get the picture! I met three organizers from the two groups at one of these karenderyas. What has always fascinated me is how out of place I can feel among my own people. As I watched them furiously eat food that I grew up loving and listening closely to their own individual stories, I was reminded of the breadth of the Filipino experience. Each of the four of us had gotten to that moment, at Krystal’s Café, so differently. One was a 2nd generation Fil-Am, another an immigrant at 9 and now a citizen, another an architecture student who had to leave her studies in the Philippines to support her mother here.

As they shared the intricacies of their lives, and by all means we only skimmed the surface, I was hit with alternating pangs of guilt and relief – that I was not like these three in front of me. I have been fortunate to come from a comfortable background, have the access to an education at NYU and the freedom to travel and be mobile. This is not the first time I have come to recognize the privileges of my situation, but it dawned on me that it was of utmost important for me to be cognizant of that during this entire process. In order to truly empathize, one must fully understand oneself. We were all Filipinos, but that does not mean the descriptor should be applied the same way to all of us. Being Filipino is determined at the individual level, not by some cultural marker or racial stereotype – and that is an exciting, daunting and hopefully rewarding challenge I look forward to exploring during the entirety of this project.

– Mickey Santana

~ by Mickey Santana on February 16, 2019.

8 Responses to “Blog #1: Feeling Filipino”

  1. Most informative – I had never thought about that despite people are from the same place, they can have such different experiences and hearing your own process of this feeling allowed me to understand this at play

    • most informative – in the paragraph on privilege as a separator of Filipino experience, by contrasting your own personal experience with those of the people you were with, I could clearly understand your idea that despite being Filipino, you all had very different lives.

  2. Best Overall – You were very descriptive in showing what the neighborhood looked like, allowing me to visualize the setting. Because of also providing your connections and backstory and recognizing the difference and similarities between yourself and community, I feel very encouraged by your writing.

  3. 1) Most Informative
    It is not how much information you give, it’s how you give it. I do feel I get a full story, your story, about being a Filipino, which inspires you to look into the community. I particularly like how you define “privilege” through fitting it into your narrative and how you gave your honest thoughts, including “shamefully” feeling “unsafe”, to inform us your story in a way that feels true to the heart.

  4. Most affective– “I will say, almost shamefully, that I felt somewhat unsafe that first day.” This sentence really touched me because I feel genuine, complex feelings from you and feel the internal struggle inside of you, of your identity, of your privilege, and your effort in trying to connect to the ecology and its people. You connected well of your identity and the specific geographical location.

  5. Most informative
    You presented this topic in two significant ways. First, you included your perspective on the issue with your personal experiences. Second, you introduced the organizations and gave the reader more information about the issue from that perspective.

  6. Best Overall.

    As a person of mixed heritage, I completely understand what it feels like to grapple with your own self identity in attempts to fit in with peers, family, and the rest of society. Mickey’s openness with readers impressed me. It made me feel comfortable adding my own sense of voice in my own writing.

    “I will say, almost shamefully, that I felt somewhat unsafe that first day. I was in a new neighbourhood with a camera out in the open, surrounded by architecture that I was not accustomed to.”

    He transmits a sense of fear of the unknown that we have all experienced. In a way I was inspired by this; after reading his post I immediately worked on my own.

    Mickeys post merits the award of “Best Overall.”

  7. Best Overall. The first paragraph is very emphatic and me why this ecology is important for you. I can sense a feeling of guilt and unfamiliarity you feel with the collective identity (Para4). You also give a very good description of your actual ecology in the second to last paragraph.

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