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.

The Words That Bind Us

I sometimes wonder about the words that come into people’s minds when they look in the mirror. As a former student of literature and journalism, words affect me deeply - words are never just words to me. They create boundaries and definitions. Words are capable of shattering and undoing, but also of rebuilding and morphing. And perhaps it’s this preoccupation with semantics that troubles me when it comes to selecting the words I use to define me. When I look into the mirror, I don’t see an Asian, and never have, despite the fact that this is might be the first thing most people first see about me. I feel uncomfortable marking in Asian for anything that asks for my race. To me, Asian is just as loaded a label as “Oriental.” “Asian Pride” is something I’ve never felt close to. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told things like “You’re Asian, right? So you must be good at math.” Or, “So you’re studying to be a nurse?” a question that has long irritated me with its double assumptions: Asian girls study nursing, Asian boys study engineering. All of these absurd presumptions that I couldn’t relate to have made me resistant to adopting the word “Asian” as part of my identity.

What baffles me the most is when these presumptions come from the Asian community. If I announce that I don’t identify as an Asian, it has sometimes been taken as derogatory or offensive. I understand the lens by which I view the term has been shaped by stereotypes imposed by society, and that doesn’t necessarily make it the correct definition of the word. But that raises the question of whether or not labels HAVE to be defined by stereotypes in order to relate to them.

I am more intrigued than I am disturbed that I don’t see an Asian in the mirror. I would rather be confused by the name, space and place that I take up in the world, than be bound to the limits of race and origin that others may impose on me. I write this with absolutely no answers, only questions. I’m not trying to say anyone who does identify with the term "Asian" is wrong or fitting of any stereotypes by virtue of simply using a word to define themselves. The problems of defining oneself are ongoing, fluid and changeable, and highly unique to an individual.

I am always curious to know what others identify with, or reject. I’m beginning to understand the value of questions, because that opens up a dialogue. So, I ask: will we ever be able to disassociate words with their stereotypes? Can the label "Asian" ever hold within it, the complex identities of all the individuals it qualifies?