College of William & Mary

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.

Growing Up A Pilipina Military Brat

I grew up a military brat. My father, a naval officer, was stationed in different areas of the country throughout my childhood. I moved around a lot, meaning new schools, new friends and, in my case, an ever-changing understanding of my Fil-Am identity. Growing up in San Diego, I was surrounded by a majority Fil-Am community. According to a study, there were 144,234 Pilipinos in San Diego County in 2009. That is over 44% of the entire Asian population in San Diego, CA. Needless to say, my experience in SD wasn’t any different. I went to church with Pilipinos. I went to an arts academy with Pilipinos. I joined a traditional dance troupe with Pilipinos. Looking back, I didn't realize that I was part of both the minority in the larger US population, as well as the military brat subculture.

My father was later stationed in Pensacola, FL; thus began the big move to the Gulf Coast. This was a complete culture shock for me; there were only a handful of Fil-Ams with whom I went to school in Pensacola. I did well in school, and suddenly was referred to as an Asian nerd. I was hurt by this label; where I came from in San Diego, I had always been on par with the "norm." I also felt alienated from by childhood friends back in California. I began to distance myself from friends in San Diego when an old pal called me “whitewashed,” having learned that I made friends with my Caucasian and African American classmates. That’s when I realized that racism within the Fil-Am community was just as present as the hostility we receive from beyond our own ethnic group.

I started high school in Virginia Beach, as my dad received orders to work in Norfolk, VA. Here, there were many Fil-Ams at the school, but I found it even more difficult to join the community. Many of my peers had grown up together; they had lifestyles and inside jokes I did not know how to be a part of it all. So, I sought out other circles of friends. I found a safe haven with the field hockey team, golf team, literary art magazine and friends I made in my classes. I shied away from Fil-Ams simply because I felt out of place. It wasn’t until college that I joined a Fil-Am student group, rejoining a social circle of other Fil-Ams. I was more mature and interested in learning about the culture. I wanted to be engaged in the global community of the Philippine diaspora.

Running the Filipino American Student Association booth at Day for Admitted Students at my university.

I was fortunate enough to attend one elementary school, one middle school and one high school before going off to college. My brothers and sister were not so lucky; they’ve attended several different schools just because of my dad’s orders to other ships and naval bases. But, don’t get me wrong: I am extremely grateful that my father joined the US Navy in order to ensure a better life for me and my family. He met my mother in the States, and has since become quite a successful officer in the military. My parents have made many sacrifices to give my siblings opportunities in the US. For that, I am truly blessed.

We military brats may seem to have the best of both worlds. Starting fresh and making new friends can be exhilarating. We learn to be worldly individuals. However, this process can also be quite challenging when you’re a kid. We have a hard time keeping friends after moving away, and can find ourselves in a pool of jealousy when we encounter people who have lived in the same house for most of their lives.

Being a Pilipina military brat has taught me to be adaptive. The brat subculture has taught me to be flexible and open to change. It can be challenging, but it is also a blessing. To all other military brats, I wish you stability and love within a welcoming community. You are certainly not alone.

Photo Credit: Stephen Salpukas