There's No Place Like Home by Karlene Kay Chi

“Stop calling it home!” my ate yelled at me during one car ride with my parents.“Why can’t I call it home?” I inquired. “Because we live in America, not in the Philippines… So stop calling it ‘home’!”

She is right, on a technicality. She has far more claim to calling the Philippines “home” than I do. Out of my family of four, I am the only one with birthright citizenship, a true blood “American”. My sister and my parents are all naturalized citizens; all born in the Philippines. They can all speak Tagalog fluently, meanwhile I still sound awful with my diction, pronouncing every syllable with an obvious American twang. I am far removed from this country called the Philippines, so why insist on calling the Philippines “home”?Where is “home” for me? At first, I picked up the euphemism from my parents; I figured it was just easier to say that we were going “back home” rather than going through the process of explaining to people that I was going to the Philippines, then having to explain all the different places I would have to visit. It was the one phrase that conveyed the message efficiently. This “euphemism” became more problematic the more I started to discover who I am as a person.



Even though I am American, and I was born in America, there has always been a weird gap between the American “me” and the Filipino “me”. Growing up in the American school system had made this gap apparent; I was simultaneously American but foreign. I was not white or black or Hispanic; I was clearly this “other”. This status of being “other”, or being just thrown under the category of “Asian” led to many days where people would make fun of me, and even assume I was some other Asian ethnicity. This has led to more “me love you long time jokes” and Chinese takeout jokes than I could possibly recount. This ridicule only deepened this gap within me. What is this being? Who am I? And how can I claim a country that I’ve never lived in longer than a family vacation, a language I barely understand outside of the basic “what time is it” and “where’s the bathroom”, and a culture that vastly differs from the “American” way of life? I enjoy the relative independence and freedom of a normal American 20-something, but my actions and my principles are heavily influenced from my God-fearing, Roman Catholic parents. I may not totally agree with their stances on issues such as abortion or politics, but they taught me how to stand up for myself, to be proud of who I am, and to be a person whose words could be trusted by others. Still, this musing does not address the question of why I refer to the Philippines as “home”.

I was clearly this "other"

This euphemism of “going home” stopped being a euphemism for me during my last visit to the Philippines. Unaccompanied by adults for the first time, and in the company of my closely aged cousins, we embarked on adventures in Makati, Manila, and beyond. It was during those late night drives, the sleepovers, and the conversations about life for them amongst bottles of Corona Light and gentle guitars that the meaning of “home” became apparent to me. What I was looking for, all those years when I felt a separation of self, between my citizenship and my skin, was something deeper than my American passport. I was looking for a heritage to call my own, something that transcended the physicality of my nationality and hid within my veins and my soul. I was looking for a culture I could be proud of, and a culture that I could pass down to my children. Something that my cousins have a direct connection to and an understanding of that I could only fathom in dreams.

The history of America, I have decided, is not the story I want to pass down to my children. I know they will have to learn American history in school, but they will get an alternate history at home. I will teach my children about the genocides and the suffering of the Native Americans and the Lumad, the destruction of precious resources, the occupation of lands far, far away, and the militarization of our own soil; things they will never hear at school. I rather retell the stories of struggle against political tyranny, the unification amidst political upheaval, and the hopes for a better country. I want to tell them the stories about their grandfather, who was at the Plaza Miranda at the beginning of martial law and marched on EDSA Boulevard as he faced down a tank with his sister right beside him as the people ended martial law. I want to tell them the stories of the sacrifices that both of their grandmothers had to go through in order to support their families in the Philippines. I want to tell them about how their aunt escaped a military uprising by being smuggled out of Manila by a brave uncle. I want to show them the dances and the songs that not even 333 years of Spanish colonization and subsequent occupations by the Japanese and the Americans could destroy. I want them to try balut (but they do not have to like it), drink soda from a plastic bag, and enjoy the culinary treats that only the Philippines can offer. I will tell them how their father and I were both activists, each in our own right, fighting for an independent, free Philippines.


When I refer to the Philippines, it will be referred to as “home”. My physical home may be in the United States, but “home” for me will always be the birthplace of my heritage, my birthright as a Filipina-American, and the place where my narrative begins: the Philippines.

#AmIFilAm "Hello, halo-halo: mixed-race, multi-ethnic, but always Filipina" by Stephanie Chrispin

The below submission is one of future stories to be told under the #AmIFilAm blog series.  

Inspired by our past blog series #FKEDUP, UniPro wants to delve deeper into identity struggles that all Filipinos face in the community. We want to challenge what it means to be Filipino and to encourage readers to contribute their unique qualities to shape the idea of Filipino identity. The series is intended to discover how you value yourself as an individual and how you value yourself within the Filipino community.


When I was growing up, I never saw it as a big deal that my parents were from different countries; it was just a fact of life. The privilege of growing up in New York City meant that more often than not, my friends’ parents were immigrants like mine. Everyone had weird food, so it wasn’t like my butter and sugar sandwiches were that much out of place, and all of my friends’ parents sent their kids to Catholic school, so we all wore the same ugly plaid jumpers.

What did stick out was that my parents didn’t “match”—as an interracial couple in the 80s and 90s, my Filipina mother and Haitian father made a striking picture walking down the street. They didn’t think of themselves as vanguards though; it was more important to them that their children grew up to be American, and to be fiercely proud of themselves.  We grew up eating lambi and kaldereta at the same dinner table, just another day in the life of the Chrispin family.

I only became acutely aware of my unique upbringing when I went to college. Not like I went far—oh no, this native-born New Yorker was much too cosmopolitan to abandon her hometown for somewhere as exotic as the Midwest. But my first few months at Fordham University brought with it a varied onslaught of microaggressions that I’d never encountered before:


“Where are you from? No, really from?”

“Wow, I thought you were [insert random country of choice]. You’re so exotic.”

[After touching me without my permission] “Your hair is softer than I thought it’d be.”

“That’s a crazy mix! How did your parents even meet, aren’t Haiti and the Philippines on other sides of the globe?”

“Did you pick a side? Like are you more Haitian or more Filipino?”

Of course, I met these queries and comments with the appropriate levels of side-eye, snark, and long suffering sighs. You can only politely demure so many times, murmuring,

“Oh thank you, yes my heritage is pretty unusual. My parents met at work, haha—my mom is a nurse and dad’s a doctor, so it was meant to be!”

It got to a point where my ethnic background became my default answer for ice breakers, since being mixed automatically solicited oohs and ahhs from the room.

These sorts of encounters weren’t isolated to my white classmates, either. Fordham’s black students were few and far between, with fellow Caribbean-Americans rarer still. When I did hang out with them, I felt like an imposter, since my experience of growing up a multi-cultural mixed girl in New York City didn’t match up with their experience raised as Black Americans; it felt like they were speaking in code.

Funny enough, I felt most at home when I found Fordham’s Philippine American Club (FUPAC). Being mixed was less of an issue, especially since I wasn’t the only hapa[1] there. I also never felt the cultural dissonance that arose when I was in Black-identified spaces—the shared experience of being a second generation Filipino American were strong enough to bond me with my other Fil-Am classmates despite only having one Filipino parent. The cultural club let me explore my identity as a Filipina-American without discounting my mixed heritage by providing safe spaces for learning and community building.

The Bayanihan spirit is distinctly Filipino in its all-encompassing welcome—

for me, it was never an issue of “how Filipino are you;”

if you identify with Filipinos, you are Filipino.

As a diasporic people, Filipinos manage to maintain their bayanihan[2] even when living in foreign lands or marrying outside their culture. Only a heritage that is flexible and resilient could survive waves of colonization and coerced assimilation to retain its collective spirit across the globe! My experiences with FUPAC would be the catalyst for my work with the Fil-Am community—I always feel welcome in Pinoy spaces, and I seek to extend this communal spirit to other mixed Filipino Americans.



I’m proud to be a Haitian-Filipina-American, and hope to pay it forward to my kababayans[3] through UniPro and other means of serving my Filipino-American community.



[1] Being of mixed race

[2] Tagalog for community

[3] Tagalog for fellow Filipinos

#AmIFilAm “How I Was Inspired To Forge My Own Path” by Kristina London

The below submission is one of future stories to be told under the #AmIFilAm blog series.  

Inspired by our past blog series #FKEDUP, UniPro wants to delve deeper into identity struggles that all Filipinos face in the community. We want to challenge what it means to be Filipino and to encourage readers to contribute their unique qualities to shape the idea of Filipino identity. The series is intended to discover how you value yourself as an individual and how you value yourself within the Filipino community.

My dad had three topics he relied on for storytelling:

1) Religious miracles he’d overheard or sworn had happened to him

2) Occurrences in the child psychiatric unit he worked in at the hospital

3) His childhood


Story types 1 and 2 tended to blur together in my mind.  He would talk about praying over an anxiety-riddled child and simultaneously inspiring the child to start eating again.   I usually found these stories hard to believe so I paid little attention to their message.  But the stories of his childhood stood out in stark contrast among the rest.  He grew up as one of thirteen children.  He lived in a house with a makeshift metal roof.  He sometimes hid his ulam[1] underneath his rice just to trick his parents into giving him more to eat.  He didn’t have any toys. He played with the neighbors out in the street and a stray dog he named Batman.

I was one of two children. I grew up in a house with a mortgage that was paid by the time I was in sixth grade.   I was a picky eater and often left half of my plate uneaten.  I had two shelves filled with beanie babies that were gathering fine layers of dust.

From his stories, I was able to piece together a common message: if you want a good life for your children, you need to have the means to provide for them.  These ‘means’ were universally interpreted as having a high paying job.  My dad wanted to become a doctor, but lacked the money to pay for the many years of schooling required.   He settled for becoming a nurse, moved to the states, met my mom (who was also a nurse), had two girls, and now happily works in Manhasset where he’s supplied with material for story types 1 and 2 daily.

There was a formula he applied to his life, that my mother also applied to hers and later my sister to hers.   The formula was to pick a career that was respectable, always hiring, and paid well.  My parents were thrilled about their eldest daughter completing her degree in nursing.  She found work immediately and makes enough to rent her own apartment in a prime location of Brooklyn.

But what about their strange, little bunso[2]?

I became severely stressed about finding a career path that would make me money.  Every career my parents suggested I go into, from physical therapy to nursing, was based on a potential paycheck.  I grew numb from trying to find an alternative degree that I’d be happy with, and enrolled in a college heavily focused on pumping out professionals in the medical field.  The guilt I carried from being a first generation Filipino with all these privileges bestowed upon me definitely influenced my choices.  How could I grumble about an education being paid for out of pocket when my dad grew up not able to even afford school lunch some days?

The first two years of my academic college career were unremarkable and lacked passion.   I remember crying to my mother over lacking the passion for the future that all my peers seemed to have.  My peers were excited to become doctors.  They knew that the studying involved was tough, but they were driven by their end goal.  They had a passion I couldn’t replicate, as hard as I tried.  My end goal was wealth while theirs was to save lives.

Feeling disconnected from my peers, I attended a meeting of a Filipino based organization at my school.  Here, I thought, maybe I could relate to others who are being pressured by their parents with similar circumstances.  It was at this meeting I was introduced to UniPro and the young professionals associated with the organization.  I attended my first Summit conference on a whim, and in a random turn of events, my ‘end goal’ transformed.

Being exposed to Filipinos who were in fields other than medicine really blew my mind.  These people were chefs, news anchors, and artists.  One even worked at the White House.  From their stories, I was shaken from my belief that there is a set formula to follow growing up.  Instead, it was more than okay to try or fail at pursuing your passions.  Being able to look up to successful, young professional Filipinos really changed the game for me.


They were living, breathing examples of end goals

not based on money, but passion.

Here’s the thing about my dad’s stories: I think I was interpreting them wrong all this time.   He did not tell them with the intention of making me feel guilty of all my privileges.  He told his stories to remind me that I had opportunities present he never had, and would be a fool not to take advantage of them. His stories have shaped my upbringing for as long as I can remember, but now it is time for me to set my own narrative.

[1] ulam: main dish

[2] bunso: youngest in the family


James Villar – Filipino American serving his countrymen both here in the US and the Philippines


Originally Posted on

James Villar moved to the United States, with his family when he was only three years old. He recalls, “I didn’t really have a choice in why we immigrated here. This was in 1971, and my parents came here looking for a better life for us all. My family included my mother and father, myself, my two older brothers, and one younger sister.”

James lives in Chicago, IL, and is currently employed as a government contractor, with a focus on Information Technology and Healthcare.  He is also a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, and a co-founder of a Veteran’s healthcare services organization.

When asked about his biggest accomplishment while living in America, he says “I suppose I could count surviving a house full of girls as my biggest accomplishment here.  Watching them grow from babies to adults. Sure, it was great, but those teenage years can really age someone.”

All throughout his life as a Filipino American in the US, James has accounted a number of professional successes, and an almost equal amount of failures. “One thing that I am proud of is being a US Marine.  My time with the Marines actually helped me later on in life, especially when times were tough.  I was able to persevere and rely on the discipline that I learned with them,” James explains.

James and his family have been involved in a lot of community-building efforts. His parents have a long track record of supporting projects that benefit the local Filipino American community in Chicago, and communities in the Philippines. James recalls, “I look at how far our community has come, from the early days to present, and I would say that I’m proud to be a part of it.  So many of our community members found success and through that success, they have contributed so much to making this country great.”



James received the Philippine Military Civic Action Award for Services during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.  The Award was given by the Philippine Consul General Office in Chicago. James was a young US Marine at that time stationed in Subic Bay.  He got the award 23 years later.


villar (3)

James interviewed and featured by ABC7 News during the awarding ceremony at the Philippine Consul General Office in Chicago.


fam picVillar06012015

James with his family, (L-R): Angelique, Renee, Bonnie (wife), Scarlett (granddaughter), Jaimie, Danielle

About the Author


Ryan Tejero is a Chicago-based journalist, where he is writes a monthly column on “Club President,” for a Filipino American newsmagazine, Via Times. He is also currently the Editor-in-Chief of the national newsletter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. Overseas, Ryan co-founded, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the online newsletter, Pinoy Sa Romania, which is the first newsletter of the Filipino community in Romania. He also maintains a column on “Spotted Filipino on the Map,” for a Filipino newsmagazine, Pasa Pinoy in Melbourne, Australia. Ryan graduated from the University of the Philippines with Philosophy and Political Science majors.

About Asia Americana

Asia Americana is about Asian Americans, or US Asians, numbering about 18.7 million (5.8% of the US population) and the fastest growing racial group in the country. By the year 2050, Asian Americans will be more than 40.6 million and will represent 9.2% of the total US population. Asia Americana features the most compelling stories of Asian Americans: our joys, our sorrows, our successes, and our struggles in blending and mixing with mainstream America, with the hope that America will embrace us as partners in this journey to form a stronger and more equitable union. Asia Americana also aims to put Asian American issues at the forefront, topics that are near and dear to us and use our news magazine as a forum to further our causes. A dynamic online news magazine, Asia Americana hopefully will incite critical thinking and discussion, promote ideas, inspire change, and awe the imagination.

Asia Americana is everything fresh and relevant to Asians and Asian Americans. Welcome to Asia Americana.

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship - Mike Alvarez


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is the premier graduate school Fellowship for immigrants and the children of immigrants. Every year, the organization awards thirty Fellowships to new Americans who are pursuing graduate education in the United States. Each award is worth up to $90,000 (up to $25,000/year stipend; up to $20,000/year tuition support). Awards support up to two years of full-time graduate study in any field, including the visual and performing arts, and at any graduate degree-granting institution in the United States, with the exception of online programs. In addition to funding, Fellows join a community of over 500 New Americans with family origins in over 75 different countries. The Fellowship program looks for applicants who have demonstrated and sustained accomplishments that show creativity, originality and initiative. In addition, the Fellowship looks for evidence that an applicant’s proposed graduate training is likely to enhance future creativity and accomplishment, that accomplishment is likely to persist and grow, and that the individual has a commitment to responsible citizenship in this country.

We reached out to Mike Alvarez, a recipient of the fellowship award from the Philippines, as he shared how he faced challenges in his life and his journey to get where he is today.

2014AlvarezMike Mike Alvarez Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Award to support a PhD in Communications

The social stigma of mental illness is Mike's subject of investigation. Having spent time in the mental health system himself, he would like to help increase public understanding of psychiatric disorders.

Mike was ten when his family left their comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines to move to a rough neighborhood in Jersey City. The transition proved bumpy, to say the least. After several months, Mike's father went home, leaving his mother as the family's sole support.

Instilled with a love for learning, Mike excelled at school--but a rift was opening up in his mental world. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he suffered from debilitating anxiety that turned into horrifying delusions and a suicide attempt. A stay in hospital was a turning point, steering him toward the study of mental health. Mike's senior thesis on the relationship between creativity and suicide won the Charles Flaherty Award and was subsequently expanded into his Master’s thesis at Goddard College.

Mike is currently enrolled in the Communications PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is studying the phenomenon of cybersuicide. Recognizing the power of personal narratives, he has also completed a memoir about his own journey through mental illness.

1. Where and what do you see yourself doing in the next 5 years?

I have a lot of things lined up for the next 5 years, actually. Aside from completing my dissertation (on cybersuicide) and PhD in Communication at UMass-Amherst, I will also be writing/revising two books. The first book project, titled The Paradox Of Suicide & Creativity, has recently been picked up by Rowman & Littlefield's Lexington imprint. The second is a memoir recounting my past struggle with mental illness. I would eventually like to be a professor at a research-intensive university, and at the same time, be a public intellectual who links research with practice and activism.

2. What has been your greatest struggle/challenge and how did you overcome it?

One of the greatest struggles in my life had been contending with mental illness. Throughout college, I suffered from debilitating anxiety, depression, and paranoia, which culminated in a suicide attempt and admission to a mental hospital. It was a life-altering experience, one that assaulted my self-image as a competent person, because in a mental hospital you are infantilized. I overcame my symptoms through intensive psychotherapy, by being more open about my experiences with loved ones, and by refusing to see myself as a defective human being. When I use the words "mental illness," I mean it in an experiential rather than biological sense.

3. What has been your greatest motivation throughout your life?

When my family immigrated to the U.S., we traded our comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines for a financially and emotionally difficult one. I do not want my family to have any regrets coming here. I have worked very hard to seek opportunities for myself, so that I will one day be in a position to create opportunities for others in need. I want my family's immigration story to be a successful one in spite of all the hardships.

4. Who were your mentors?

I'm fortunate to have so many mentors, people who have been unwavering in their support and have gone beyond the role of advisor to nurture my abilities. One of them is George Atwood, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. He has been a friend and mentor for ten years now, ever since he supervised my senior thesis on suicide and creativity. Whenever I experience setbacks, he would always say to me: "Keep on keeping on." I'm also fortunate to have Professors Jarice Hanson and Martin Norden here at UMass-Amherst, who inspire me to take my work in new and surprising directions.

5. How did you hear about the fellowship?

Dr. Craig Harwood, Director of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Program, visited UMass-Amherst in Fall 2013 to lead an info session. I attended the session, and realizing that I was eligible, decided that I'd give applying a shot.

6. What made you decide to apply for the fellowship?

Several reasons. On the pragmatic end, the Fellowship would absolve me of departmental teaching obligations, which means more time for research, writing, and networking. The Fellowship stipend would also enable me to attend professional conferences and share my research more widely. On the symbolic end, the Soros Fellowship is a mark of distinction, a validation that the work I am doing is poised to make lasting contributions to society.

7. What was the biggest challenge when it came to deciding to pursue the field you're in?

I think the challenge is that my work is inherently interdisciplinary. Initially, I thought I was going to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology, which makes sense since my work revolves around suicide, trauma, and mental illness. I got a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers, and did graduate coursework in psychology also. But then I realized that looking at these issues through the lens of one discipline wasn't going to satisfy me in the long run. I got an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and now, I'm doing a PhD in Communication at UMass-Amherst, with a dual focus on Technology & Society and Film Studies. These fields have opened up new avenues of inquiry for me--from studying representations of suicide in film and in popular culture, to examining how new media have shaped suicidal behavior.

8. As you gained more experience, how did your priorities change in life?

Having been mentally ill, I have learned to value time and moments of clarity, to make good use of every waking moment. I also try to make more room in my life for creative endeavors. One cannot live a purely intellectual life (or at least I can't). Even scholarly pursuits can benefit from small doses of creativity.

9. What’s been your favorite part about your journey in your personal life and in your career?

With regards to my career, my favorite part is seeing the hard work I've put in bear fruit, and being invited to speak at causes that are meaningful to me. For example, in March, UMass-Amherst had its first Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention, where I spoke about my research on cybersuicide and my past struggle with suicidality. It can be so refreshing (and nerve-wracking!) to connect life inside the ivory tower with life outside--to link research with activism, and the professional with the personal.

With regards to my personal life, I am just thankful to be alive, that my life hadn't ended in college when it could have. If it had, I would have denied myself these amazing opportunities, as well as the chance to relish every joyful moment with friends, family and loved ones.

10. Would you recommend the fellowship to anyone else? Why/why not?

I would absolutely recommend that people apply for a Soros Fellowship. They have nothing to lose in applying. And if fortune smiles upon them, they become part of a supportive network filled with truly inspiring people that motivate you to do better and better work.

To find out more about the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, visit their website at