“What’s your last name? Are you really Filipino?” This is a question I get asked often when people first meet me. They look at my last name and then my skin color in disbelief that I am Filipino. I often get the response of “but wait why is your last name Spanish then?”. But then I realized, that yes from an outside perspective not understanding the Filipino history my last name is misleading. My last name is Reyes, but recently my mom told me it is supposed to be De Los Reyes. I then realized there’s more to the definition of what it means to be Filipino. There’s the rich history behind each person’s last name and the family heritage we all carry with us. I wanted to be able to express to others I am Filipino and here is how I learned a little bit more about myself.
Growing up I wasn’t educated on how to be Filipino or what it meant to be Filipino. All I knew was that my mom was Filipino so that meant I was too.
I grew up in the Upper East Side of New York City. My neighborhood was primarily Caucasian and most of my friends were too. I didn’t have that many Filipino friends and family gatherings were not too crazy. I could name a ton of famous American artists on TV and movies but during my childhood I could barely name any known Filipinos in the media. My mom never saw the need to educate me on the language until one day when I became curious of the conversations she would have with family in the Philippines. I began to listen to the conversations my mom had with friends and family and started to put the words together and figuring out the meanings. I regret not learning how to speak Tagalog or Ilocano but I am grateful at least to be able to understand the language.
I referred to the title of “Yesterday’s Filipinos” representing the generation of my mom and titas, the generation before us. I call us the generation of today, that has the chance to educate ourselves and the youth below us to learn more about the Filipino culture. My mom was always disappointed that I didn't follow the values she was taught as a child in the Philippines. She believed that I was too “Americanized” and that I couldn't be taught to say nay, tay, tito, tita or learn how to “mano po”. But I told her it wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn it was because I felt awkward doing it because I didn't see other kids doing that around me.
So back to the question, what makes me a Filipino? The answer to this question began when I was 10 years old and I took my first trip to the Philippines.
“Sino ka?” “Where is your family from?” “Wait, you have my last name! Are we related?”
When I was 10 years old my mom took me to the Philippines to meet our family and to show me the place she was raised. Since I was only 10 years old I was overwhelmed being welcomed by a huge group of Filipinos at the airport. My mom began to introduce me to all the family members and I attempted to mano all the relatives. During my stay at the Philippines I was able to understand the conversations around me but then had to answer back in English. I reflected on how today’s generation views the Philippines and how yesterday’s generation viewed it. During my stay I was excited for the food and the places to visit, but my mom was looking forward to seeing her relatives and visiting her childhood home again. I then realized that what makes us Filipino isn’t one definition but an ongoing process through the experiences we live through. After this trip I began to watch TFC (Filipino TV), read magazines in Tagalong, and connecting more to my relatives in the Philippines. I was at first ashamed that I didn't appreciate our culture more and that the only things I knew about the Philippines was the food, the beaches and big names in the media such as Manny Pacquiao. The trip to the Philippines was just the beginning of my journey to recognizing my identity as Filipino.
Yesterday and today’s Filipino’s have more in common than I thought. Some values and morals may have changed throughout the generations but it doesn’t make either less of a Filipino. Both generations put family first and are proud of where they’re from in the Philippines. Being Filipino is learning to appreciate and respect our culture and traditions. I learned that it's the little gestures such as calling mom, nay, then aunts, tita, that makes the culture special. I love the way Filipinos are welcoming and supportive of their family members. The best part is if you have just one drop of Filipino blood you are automatically family. In terms of being able to speak the language, I think it is important to educate kids at a young age about the language but not to force it upon them. I regret not learning at a young age since I would’ve appreciated the culture more.
So, the answer to the question what makes me Filipino is that I don’t have a final answer because everyday I am learning more about myself and the culture. Looking forward when someone asks are you really Filipino, I’ll answer them saying yeah of course I am and you are? But the one answer I can give you is that I AM FILIPINO AMERICAN.