Exploring My Pilipina Identity

I never thought that as a Pilipina-American, my Pilipina identity would feel foreign to me.

I grew up at a small American Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan and was encased in an American bubble. My mom did not speak a Pilipino dialect, so I grew up in an English-speaking household and did not understand when other Pilipinos would talk to me in Tagalog. I was more accustomed to eating chicken tenders, spaghetti, pb&j, and Japanese foods instead of traditional Pilipino dishes like pancit and adobo.

When my family moved back to the Bay Area in a predominantly Pilipinx community, I experienced a culture shock. For the first time in my life, I felt truly separate from my Pilipina identity.

I went to school and was clueless when my classmates talked about Pilipino games and dances. Most of my friends were “way more” Pilipino than I was. They would make fun of me for pronouncing Pilipino words with an American accent, which was embarrassing. It’s a feeling that has never quite shaken away, even as I’m starting college. I felt especially uncomfortable when my friends would ask me what my favorite foods were and I would answer with Japanese cuisine, then they would bombard me with questions wondering if I liked Pilipino foods I had never heard of.

While school life made me feel ashamed of not knowing what being a Pilipina meant, my new situation at home living with my grandparents made me feel differently. My grandparents regularly spoke Ilocano, so I couldn’t understand them, but it was exciting to be introduced to a new language inside my household. I had never heard of The Filipino Channel (TFC), which was a huge part of my grandparents’ day. My grandma would watch her teleseryes and translate for me, and I would sit with my great-grandma on Sundays and watch Pilipinx celebrities sing and dance on ASAP.

Through my grandparents, I finally had the chance to explore my Pilipina identity. Once I was introduced to it, I couldn’t wait to learn more about who I am and where my people come from.

I began to appreciate how family-oriented and community-oriented my people are. When I visited the Philippines a couple years ago, I met more of my family members who all lived in their own little complex, and they welcomed my sister and I with open arms. Having family gatherings where my elders tell stories about when they were young in the Philippines and we all eat yummy Pilipino food, enjoying each other’s company, makes me feel connected to my Pilipina culture in a way that I hadn’t felt growing up.

I cherish being a Pilipina because my culture is so rich and authentic. I went to the Pistahan Parade & Festival in San Francisco and watched Pilipinx’s from all around celebrate our culture through food, dance, and activities. The more I learned about the colonialism my ancestors faced and social issues such as skin brightening, the more I valued being informed on the struggles that my community faces and having the chance to discuss these problems with friends.

Being able to explore a part of my identity that I had previously ignored is one of the most enriching experiences because I have opened doors that will continuously let me learn more about myself and my Pilipinx community.

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