Culture,  Identity

Becoming Filipino in America

I came to America feeling Taiwanese.

Not in an ethnic sense, but more so because Taiwan had become my home after spending twelve years of my upbringing there.

During college, I remember always introducing myself as an international student from the Philippines, while stressing that I grew up in Taiwan. Admittedly, I did not want people to label me as a Filipino who had grown up practicing traditional customs. In fact, when I first went into Jollibee in San Diego, I felt foreign being in a fast-food restaurant filled with Filipinos. I had never experienced that in Taiwan.

I was always the only Filipino student in the entire international school I attended. While I proudly told people that I was from the Philippines, I always tried my best to represent the country the best way I could. I did my best to excel in sports, speak eloquently, and get good grades. In hindsight, it was my way of improving the image of my country to my friends and the local people. I was tired of seeing countrymen and women always cleaning the homes of my friends and classmates. I wished so badly that we had a brighter image overseas.

At the time, I did not understand the immense sacrifices that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) made for their families. Despite many of them being educated, they still took jobs as maids and caretakers in East Asia to find greener pastures for their families. As of 2019, there 2.3 million OFWs in the world. Their remittances bring in 169.4 billion Pesos ($3.3 billion USD) to keep the Philippine economy afloat. All I knew as a high schooler was that being Filipino was not cool. We were looked at as nice, English-speaking people who left to pick up the scraps and work menial jobs. I didn’t know that they were the true heroes of the Philippines.

When I came to America though, being Filipino was different – at least in California.

By my sophomore year in college, I met successful Filipino-Americans who had influence in their communities. This included successful lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers. I was inspired to anchor myself in the community and learn from those who made it here. I learned that while being Filipino has its challenges in America, things have gotten much better in only a few generations.

While many Filipino-Americans feel that we lack representation in media, we are still among the top 3 sub-Asian immigrant groups in terms of median income, while also being one of the most educated. Our food is finally penetrating the mainstream media, and we are gaining more recognition for our talents with the age of the internet. To me, there are so many more reasons to be proud to be Filipino in America.

But it is not enough.

We still lack the unity required to build strength as a people. We still need to get rid of the crab mentality that was unduly pressed upon us as a people during our colonial years in the Philippines. We still need to do more. And that’s okay.

Throughout the past two years, I have learned more about what it means to be Filipino in America. Thanks to the community leaders who continue to push for us to be a more united people, young people like me have been given greater reason to be proud of our heritage.

Undoing years of negative stereotypes throughout Asian and the West is a tough challenge. There is still much work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.

But for now, I hope many more people like me find the beauty and pride in being Filipino.

Read up on our history and heritage, squeeze in a few Tagalog phrases when you speak to your elders, and speak up when people ask about your roots. It can be scary, but such simple things bring you closer to our heritage. You’ll start feeling proud of our people.

There is no feeling like it.


Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.