Queens, New York. Not only is this borough my home, but it is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the entire world. Tell me, then, why are 90% of my friends Pilipino? Fast forward to college: New York University. Despite 22,000+ undergraduates, I find myself deeply involved in a Pilipino-based community. As a testament to the ubiquitous Pilipino-ness of my friend groups, I just scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and went through posts by 25 people before encountering someone not Pilipino. I have always loved rooting myself in the Pilipino community, but as someone who prides herself on a doctrine of diversity, I just realized my own hypocrisy. It seems like I only hang out with Pilipino people, I am only active with Pilipino organizations, and I focus all my energy on the Fil-Am community. Is this something to be concerned about? It is not as if I look at people with a need to fulfill a quota: White friend, check. Black friend, check. Hispanic friend, check. I do not subscribe to tokenism. I do, however, want to hold a mirror to myself and understand why I gravitate toward Pilipinos. Am I losing out on something else by surrounding myself in a homogenous community?
An epiphany occurred to me at the Journey of a Brown Girl launch, when I was introduced to the idea of "kapwa." I've heard this word echoed around the community but never understood it. It is an essential concept of collective identity in intrinsic Pilipino psychology, theorized by the likes of Virgilio Enriquez and Katrin de Guia. Sarita Echavez See defines it in "Gambling with Debt" from American Quarterly:
"Kapwa, often translated as a 'shared inner self,' can be understood as a worldview based on profoundly collective forms of mutual recognition. According to sikolohiyang Pilipino scholars like Virgilio Enriquez who forward the study of 'indigenous Pilipino psychology,' in the colonial context kapwa can be interpreted as a kind of friendliness, hospitality..."
My first thought: So there's a word for it? I never guessed the deep bond I have felt with Pilipinos – through exchanged glances with strangers on the subway, the way I root for Pilipinos in any competition, or how my ears perk up at the utterance of any Tagalog – could be summarized so succinctly. There is a smile when you know someone is Pilipino without saying so, and a smile that says I've known you my whole life. It takes a matter of minutes to connect over shared histories, and I have always felt this, but I had never known kapwa. It encapsulates the phenomenon so perfectly.
Perhaps this is the underlying reason why I have found my closest friends in fellow Pilipinos. I have deeper levels of understanding and relation to someone who identifies with my love for Pilipino culture, origins and conflicts with Pilipino traditions, or shares my taste for cultural references, food, and words.
The reason I take issue with recognizing my almost exclusively Pilipino cohort of friends is that a comfort zone bubble forms. Growth and learning come from exploring the unfamiliar and exchanging with diverse groups, but I rarely get pushed to step outside of my Pilipino-centric interests. I wonder if I am subscribing to preference or circumstance. I wonder if I should consciously make an effort to step outside of the Pilipino community. I wonder if this whole line of thinking is flawed.
I do not have answers – only a desire to spark dialogue. Thanks to kapwa you will find a familial bond with other Pilipinos no matter where you go, but who is to say you would not discover that within others?