One day on a family trip to an apple orchard in Pennsylvania, my mom saw an Asian lady, who she assumed was a Pilipina. After exchanging a few words in English, my mom switched to Tagalog. She immediately flushed with embarrassment when she realized that the woman she thought she had a connection with was Cambodian instead. The conversation dwindled down with some awkward small talk before my mom caught up with the rest of the family, who was giggling at her understandable fumble. I am my mother’s daughter, and I repeat the same mistakes. My college, like my hometown, has very small minority population, so when I see someone who resembles a Pilipino, I go through all the emotions—shock, happiness, anxiety, etc. My Pilipino radar is usually spot-on, making the likelihood of the birth of a new friendship even higher. Even if we come from different spectrums of life, we still have our Pilipino background as common ground.
Just being under the impression that there’s a Pilipino nearby -- even for just a few seconds and even if the person doesn’t turn out to be Pilipino -- makes me feel at home. The Pilipino community is unlike any other. The knowing look that one gives to a stranger who is possibly Pilipino is one that we take with pride. Even if the assumption is wrong, in those moments prior to complete embarrassment on my mom’s part, she felt connected to a complete stranger.
It is not limited to just Pilipinos. At my university, most of my friends are Asian American. There’s nary an Asian that I do not know, but it’s not because I am exclusive. I feel like it’s easier to bond with them because there’s already a commonality among our cultures. Being a minority is something that makes you stand out, and seeing that little spot of color in a minority-less community makes you feel a little more grounded.
I am currently studying abroad in Taiwan, and when I see a foreigner, Pilipino or not, I automatically try to maintain eye contact with them in the hopes that they will see me and understand. One day, at Raohe Night Market, I saw a fried Oreos booth. As I passed by, I said something in English to one of my friends, and as I looked up, I locked eyes with the American running the booth. He looked at me, and I swear in that second, we were connected. All that was exchanged between us was a "hey." But we had this unspoken understanding that actually said, “I know what you’re going through.”
In that apple orchard in Pennsylvania, I think my mom craved some familiarity in those moments before she found out the woman she struck up conversation with was actually Cambodian. It is exhilarating when you find someone who you can relate with, even the smallest connection. It feels like home. Like my mom and the American gentleman running the fried Oreos booth, I’m craving a piece of home.
Photo Credit: Taiwanease