To be asked to give a general definition of Filipin@ American identity seems to be unfair but to not answer the question seems to be a cop out. It is easy to essentialize the meaning of Filipin@ American Culture/Identity because we tend to narrow it down to food, religion, physical appearance etc. which becomes problematic when we breakdown the history of these things just to realize that they are all influenced by Spanish Colonization and American Imperialism. The Filipin@ American culture is so much more than similar physical traits, food, and practices. It is a fluid identity that can be defined differently by each person who identifies with it. I think one of the underlying commonalities with those who identify with the Filipin@ and Filipin@ American culture is the history of struggle against the Spaniards, Japanese and Americans by the indigenous people who lived in the archipelago. Filipin@ American Culture/Identity has more to do with the identification with the resistance and continued resistance to become free from the hegemonic ideas and practices enforced by the trauma of colonization and imperialism. Various traditions were born out of this resistance that started to build a sense of community between the peoples of the islands now called the Philippines. Linda M. Pierce, in her essay Not Just My closet: Exposing Familial, Cultural, and Imperial Skeletons, provides a definition of being Pinay that resonates how I come to think of Filipin@ American identity and culture. She explains:
Being Pinay thus means having a relationship with decolonization whether active or passive, engaged, conflicted, opposed, or in denial, the relationship is automatic (and sometimes uninvited) by virtue of living in America. It means a constant awareness of ‘Philippines-ness’ in America, awareness of systems of colonial imperialism, awareness of which generation you or your family members were American born, awareness of the obstacles that your family has had and continues to face, awareness of your relationship to others.
Because the indigenous peoples of the Philippines did not begin to become united until the Spanish Colonization, we cannot divorce our definition of Filipin@/Filipin@ American culture from the different occupations of the archipelago and colonizations of our minds.
If this video were the first thing I have ever seen of the Philippines this is what I would think:
The Philippines does not care for it’s people. They let them live in hazardous shanty-towns some of which are in cemeteries. The Filipin@s living below poverty line seem to just accept their situations and try to make the best of it. They live such chaotic lives that doesn’t seem to make any room for upward mobility.
–> Intentional or not, this BBC documentary creates a perceptions of the Philippines that puts the blame solely on the poor, working class people of the Philippines and a little blame on the Philippines government. It does not shine light on the history of how the Philippines got to this dire, impoverish state which is deeply rooted in Spanish Colonization and American Imperialism that exploited and continues to exploit the resources and labor force of the Philippines for “First World” countries’ gains but NOT the Philippines’.
I felt the pressure to assimilate to American culture even before I moved to the Bay Area. The content of the curriculum in the private Catholic school I attended in the Philippines was not different from the content of the curriculum in the public school system in the United States. As a young child, I was told by my family that we had the chance to go to America. We were just playing the waiting game that most petitioned Filipin@ families go through therefore my family encouraged me to do well in English class as preparation. I took pride in excelling in reading, writing, spelling and speaking the English language. I thought for a fact English was the key to a successful life in America.
Although my ability to read, write, spell and speak English alleviated some of the alienation I began to feel as a filipina immigrant in an American public school, it did not change the fact that my success was limited to whatever a low-income Filipin@ immigrant family could ‘afford.’ This sense of limitation has caused me to hesitate identifying as “American.” In Locating Filipino Americans, Rick Bonus writes about the desire of Filipin@ communities to feel a sense of belonging that I was also craving for. He says, “…Filipino(a) Americans who want to be included also want a different kind of inclusion, on terms other than full assimilation. They want to be assimilated and integrated, but in ways that will not erase their identities as Filipino(a)s…in ways in which their representation will also amount to a recognition of them as citizens entitled to equal share of power” (p. 28). This kind of integration would open up real, equitable possibilities for Filipin@s to become full, accepted citizens instead of feeling unwanted.