How do you identify yourself? When did you start identifying yourself as Asian- American, if at all?
I am Filipino-American, or “Asian-American”, because I was born here in the States. But I feel more comfortable just identifying myself plainly as Filipino. When I was much younger, I’d be quick to only call myself American, but as I grew up I found myself embracing the culture of my parents a bit more.
Do you identify with being Asian-American? Or would you say you’re more closely connected to your ethnic heritage, another identity, or some other community altogether?
Not really. It’s kind of a huge gray area, being Filipino-American. The country is literally located in Asia, and we definitely have a lot of things in common, but I never truly felt connected with the whole Asian American label. I guess you could say I’m more tied to my Filipino-ness. A lot of the time, people don’t even see me as Asian. They assume I’m from Mexico or the Dominican Republic or something. It’s weird. My face and skin tone doesn’t really match the stereotypical “Asian” look, I guess.
How have past experiences that you have had uniquely as a member of the AAPI community changed who you have become today?
I’ve certainly learned how important it is to retain my Filipino culture, and not be ashamed about my origins. I’m fluent in Tagalog, and my parents taught the language to me when I was very young, and there was a point where I just stopped speaking it for the sake of being more “American.” I’d have my mom make me peanut butter sandwiches for my school lunch instead of chicken adobo with rice. I finally realized the value of my culture after a while… I love speaking my mother tongue and sharing my country’s food now. It’s what makes me unique.
In light of our world’s recent events, do you think the concept of “being American” has changed?
I don’t think so. Everyone kind of pins America down as this melting pot, which is great, but I feel like everyone’s idea of actually “being American” falls under this ethnic definition. When someone thinks “American,” they always assume white. I certainly thought so growing up, even living in New York City, one of the most diverse parts of the country. The pervading ideal of whiteness kind of stains the idea of being American. I’m “American”, but then someone asks me “where I’m really from,” and saying “America” or “New York” isn’t a sufficient answer. I can never be just “American.” I’ll have to be Asian-American, or Filipino-American.