Fondue and the Future of Fil-Ams

By Sherina Ong, guest contributor A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a Korean restaurant with my boyfriend’s family. As I eagerly waited for the bulgogi beef to finish searing on the grill in front of us, I glanced around at the six of us and suddenly noticed the rainbow of ethnic representation sitting there at our table. First, there was my boyfriend’s father, a Pilipino immigrant, seated next to his part French-Algerian and Nicaraguan wife. That interesting genetic combination produced my boyfriend and his brother; the two are no stranger to frequently selecting “Other” on box-checking race surveys. Then, there were the added on members of the already eclectic clan: his brother’s half white and half Korean girlfriend and my Pilipino-Chinese hybrid self.


Even though I was struck by how exceptionally diverse our little family unit was, I don’t believe that having such an ethnic medley within one family will be atypical for very long.  Looking around that dinner table was like looking at the picture of the new America - a country filled with Wasians, Blasians, Blaxicans, and all sorts of mash ups that defy current racial and ethnic categories.  In the melting pot that is the United States, the color profile will no longer be black and white, but probably orange or something of the sort.

But if so many different cultures are slowly diluting into one big American fondue, what does that mean for the future of Fil-Ams? Even though I grew up with the abundant smells of adobo in my home kitchen and the sounds of TFC in my living room, I was born and raised in suburban Virginia. When I envision the daily life of my future family there is no Tagalog spoken in the house because I was never taught the language. My children might not call each other Kuya or Ate because I rarely used those names as an only child. Yes, I will try and learn to cook the occasional sinigang, but there will also be many Korean barbecue and taco nights.

Identity is anchored down by our everyday habits, the food we eat, the words we speak, and the choices we make based on the values we hold.  What will happen to my family’s identity if the customs my parents brought over from the Philippines trickle away generation after generation?

The reality is that the Pilipino traditions of my parents won’t stick around unchanged, especially in America. The nature of culture is dynamic. I do believe, however, that Fil-Ams are the agents of their own distinctive culture. We listen to the rhythms of both the Philippines and the United States and put our own idiosyncratic spin on them. It’s the culture that has both turkey and lumpia at Thanksgiving, and likes to mash hip-hop with Tinikling at college culture night performances. It’s the culture that endeavors to find its own voice by uniting passionate and conscientious members of the community through organizations like UniPro.

Twenty or fifty years from now, I can’t say in what different shapes the Fil-Am identity will take form, but I do know that we have the power to sculpt that identity here and now. I intend to educate myself more about the Philippines and weave the cherished traditions of my parents into my life in the United States.  That way, I can proudly pass on to the next generation a cultural palette in which both the flavors of America and the Philippines pop.

Photo credit: Joanne Tanap



Sherina Ong is a 23-year-old trying to figure out how she is supposed to appropriately define herself in the limbo between college and hopefully attending graduate school. She has a BA in Anthropology from the College of William and Mary and is currently working as a substitute teacher in Charlottesville, VA. Her interests include education, Asian Pacific American issues, playing guitar, and singing very loudly.

Behind Closed Doors: A Hidden Gem on a College Campus - Mental Health

In the Fil-Am community, there is a cultural mistrust against seeking mental health help. Among teens and young adults, who may fear shame from their community and peers for seeking help, this problem is also quite prevalent. Unfortunately, college students are at a high risk of facing high levels of stress and mental health illness. However, students also have the most resources available to them during their undergraduate (and graduate) years. One of these resources, which is considerably underutilized on campuses across the nation, is the school’s counseling center. The stigma that 'seeking help from a counselor means that you’re admitting defeat or weakness' often deters students from seeking help. Students dread being embarrassed and shamed. Some students even fear risking their academic career, and may choose to carry on silently with their struggle. However, choosing to get help and talk to a mental health professional can be a very positive and life-saving experience.

Why are college students depressed?

depressed maleDepression is increasingly more common among college students. For many students who go off to college, it can be an extremely trying transition period. Students have to get accustomed to new surroundings, influences and peers - all without close supervision or parental guidance.

This is a critical time of growth for college students, as they are learning responsibilities that they may not have had experience with before in the past. Students are becoming more independent, having to manage their time, and steering toward their future careers. Often, they don’t know the importance of taking care of their mental health, or don't know the steps to do so in a college setting. It's crucial that college students remember that they are not alone in whatever they are facing.

According to an Associated Press-mtvU poll, about four in ten college students are experiencing depression. Students who need mental health attention should not be afraid to get help. There’s nothing shameful about it, and it doesn’t make that person weak or incapable of dealing with their issues. Rather, making the decision to ask for help shows great strength and self-awareness.

What are the advantages to going to a counseling center during college?

  1. Services are free. While some students do inquire about mental health services at their counseling center, others don’t always know where to get help. Also, beyond college, it becomes more difficult to get help, especially when dealing with mental health coverage and insurance plans. Simply put, it is expensive to receive mental health help after college.
  2. Those who reach out and take advantage of  counseling services experience a considerable decrease in their stress levels and worries.
  3. Students can still turn their life around and steer toward a healthier life, even if they feel like they have done too much damage to their academic (and professional) record and relationships with others. Anything that has fallen by the wayside can still be salvaged and improved.
  4. Students will be able to access more resources, especially if they need more intensive help. This includes getting outside counseling, receiving medical attention, or meeting with other mental health professionals.

What are some signs that someone should seek help?

  • feeling down or hopeless
  • violence and hostility
  • suicidal thoughts
  • self-harming actions
  • changes in eating habits
  • not sleeping enough
  • not attending class
  • not enjoying things that you used to
  • substance abuse 
  • social anxiety
  • academic stress
  • conflict at home

Are there alternatives to the counseling center?

  • Call the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Talk to someone you trust: parent, family member, teacher, primary care physician, spiritual leader
  • Seek additional support here.
  • Read more information here.
  • If you want to get involved with mental health on your campus or in the community, contact your local Active Minds chapter or NAMI chapter.


Photo credits: The Guardian and and Sujen Man