Let Me Guess, Nursing?: Addressing the Pilipino Stereotype through the Eyes of an English Major


"Let me guess. Nursing?"

Whether from the lips of family friends or relatives, I have heard this question and every variation of it. I bear the question with no scorn. My face does not flare up in offense, my voice does not become needles ready to deflate their hopes. In fact, with playful amusement, I expect the question. But, I can’t say they exactly expect my answer.

“Actually, I’m an English major.”

A few listeners accept it, embracing the potential of this unfamiliar path. The vast majority, though, cannot understand. Some try to hide their confusion. Others are not so delicate. The wide eyes brimmed with concern, the smirks laced with disapproval and – my personal favorite – the blunt, slightly outraged “But, WHY?”s. There are moments when conversations like these make me upset, but on most occasions I know where they are coming from.

I am twenty years old. I’m in college, working towards a degree to secure myself a future. These descriptions can be applied to anyone. They don’t indicate a pressure to enter any specific profession, that is, until I add one detail: I'm Pilipino. And immediately, the hues of the words change and my destiny becomes predetermined. My mother is a nurse manager, my father a hospital lab technologist. Both have dedicated their careers to medicine. And most of my titas and titos? Many of my older cousins? A majority of my Pilipino friends? They have chosen the same path. I know what expectations my race affords me, the footsteps each of my family members longs for me to follow in. So when I reveal that I am not pursuing medicine, I cannot blame the on-lookers and eavesdroppers for their puzzled glances.

Pilipino Nurses in the United States

If my experience as a Pilipina English major is not proof enough that most Pilipinos become nurses, I pose to you a challenge. Walk into any hospital, emergency room or medical lab and tell me that a handful or two of the staff is not from the Philippines or of Pilipino descent. It will be a challenge, I can almost assure you. But why is this? Why do Pilipinos seem to dominate the world of medicine in America? This trend is nothing new, actually. It dates back to 1903, when the Pensionado Act sent Pilipino nurses to the U.S. as government-funded scholars to remedy the deficit of healthcare professionals in the States. Four decades later, the Exchange Visitors Program of 1948 welcomed another wave of nurses from the Philippines. And only 17 years later, the liberalization of U.S. immigration laws allowed nurses to travel from the motherland to the States on tourist visas and adjust their status upon arrival. For the Pilipino, then, nursing has been more than just a noteworthy profession but a chance to come to the United States, to start anew while providing for their families back home.

Filipino nurses being inducted as new certified health workers in Pasay City, south of Manila, Philippines, 14 March 2011.

The Road Less Traveled By

Because of this history, nursing, for many Pilipinos, is synonymous with the sweet aromas of opportunity, familial prosperity and a passion to help others. So, it is no wonder why lab coats hang from our laundry lines and stethoscopes hide in our parents’ closets. Nursing is a road that a century’s worth of Pilipino men and women have walked and whose descendants continue to walk today. So where does that leave me? Where does that leave others like me whose ragged edges do not fit into the precut spaces of this “become a nurse” plan?

It is a common misconception among older Pilipinos to think that success can only be achieved in the medical field, while most other pursuits lack security. They don’t realize that an English degree is the leading degree in communications, business and international affairs. They tend to ignore that most liberal arts degree-holders possess skills in critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and written and oral communication, abilities employers hunger for. Not to mention, those who have made strides in the Pilipino community using a pen and not a syringe - names such as Luis Francia, author of Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago, Jose Vargas, journalist, filmmaker and founder of Define America, and Sarah Gambito, a published poet and winner of the Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writer Award. The options are endless, yet many traditional Pilipinos forget this. Therefore, it is the mission of Pilipino non-nurses to rebut the sneers and smirks of this skeptical older generation. Not with snide remarks or rolling eyes, but with passion and triumph. And as the amount of Pilipinos pursuing other interests grow, our predecessors will learn that we do not have be in a hospital to know the meaning of success, that “the road less traveled by” is one worthy of exploration and respect.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two road diverged in a wood and I- I took the road less traveled by And that has made all the difference"

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

Photo Credit: Yahoo Philippines News

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

Behind Closed Doors: A Letter to Gabrielle Molina

Gabby Molina committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. On May 22nd, Gabrielle Molina, a 12-year-old Fil-Am from Queens, NY, took her life. She left behind an apologetic note to her family, which explained that she endured relentless bullying, both at school and on the internet.

Gabby's story is not an anomaly. Across the country, and the globe, bullying has become quite commonplace. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 43% of all teens in America are victims of bullying. This includes cyberbullying, which is done over the internet and through other digital means.

The accessibility and anonymity associated with the internet allows hurtful messages to be sent and seen instantaneously. Thus, the internet incubates open battlegrounds for bickering, name-calling, and downright nasty arguments. These attacks appear on social media sites, comment sections and forums.  Today, kids and teens have technology at their disposal, and can engage in unethical conduct, often without care or knowledge of the consequences. In the wrong hands, this technology becomes dangerous, and in Gabby's case, deadly.

Though we cannot blame Gabby's peers entirely for her passing, they did trigger her decision. As kids, we're taught the following phrase: "Sticks and stones may break my bones,  but words will never hurt me." But what if this isn't the case? Our words certainly have the ability to inflict greater pain than we intend.

In addition to cyberbullying, we must consider the state of Gabby's mental well-being. Kids and teens, like adults, may be living with a mental illness. Often overlooked or unidentified, these illnesses intensify, especially without attention or proper treatment.

As mental health becomes more visible in today's media, I'd like to send out a plea for help. Earlier this month, President Obama held the National Conference on Mental Health. The conference brought various mental health professionals and advocates together, in hopes of addressing the conversation at a national level. While there has been some criticism of the conference, I have faith that we're headed in the right direction. In addition to the conference, the Obama administration launched, a comprehensive site for those seeking mental health services and resources. Furthermore, there are many other organizations out there that have been supporting and advocating for those living with a mental illness. My hope is that this conversation continues, and is not forgotten by the media. I believe it is up to us to equip ourselves with the right attitude and knowledge in order to truly change our culture's perception of mental health. We have to realize that anyone around us could be suffering in silence. By understanding the stereotypes and stigmas against mental health, we can help our friends, family, and even ourselves, during difficult times.

In the meantime, here's a letter I wrote to Gabby. It's signed "The World." I hope you will all join me in being part of that world.

Dear Gabby,


We’ll never know how much you suffered nor will we know the truth. We’ll never know just how hard you tried to live freely in your youth. We know it must have been hard to fight the demons deep within. We know you couldn’t take the pain, nor the hell you were living in. But there are some things that you should know, even if it may be too late. Please know that we are sorry that you endured such cruelty and hate.


We apologize that we did not filter the toxins from our freedom of speech. The jagged grains tossed from our own hands went beyond our reach. For the poisonous words and bullying crept right into your very heart; You were physically and mentally tortured, your peace was ripped apart. We apologize that we’ve progressed to this: crimes can reach us in our homes. Perhaps unwelcomed claims and criticisms are worse than sticks and stones.


We apologize that our society has taught us how to turn a blind eye, For media and pop culture tells us to keep quiet when all else goes awry. We know cultural expectations left you amongst many doubts and fears, And that you were afraid ask for our help, lest a soul witness your tears. We are aware that we did not help you, we may have ignored the signs. We are sorry we did not think to look beyond the curtains nor the blinds.


We hope one day you’ll forgive us, and that you do not blame yourself. Because we’re all responsible for each other’s happiness and health. For now is the time to be courageous for those who have only an ounce of hope. It is us who must speak out, and broaden our conversation and our scope. We should help others out of the darkness, the shadows and the grief. We will stand up for all, friend or foe, who cannot find their own relief.


For each of us have been touched by mental pain, illness, or misdirection. So we have the responsibility to elevate and change our perception. We must encourage those around us to find the solace that they seek. We must be a beacon for those who’ve fought until their body’s left them weak. It is our hearts you have touched, though it’s been a tearful goodbye. We know we might not erase the stigma, but hey, it’s worth a try.


With Love, The World

Photo credit: Classic Soul Radio