Fil-Ams: It is about adobo, and rice, and respect
By Marivir R. Montebon
Everybody knows it is not easy raising children, most especially children who are born to at least two cultures under one roof and in a strange land like America as a parent’s second home.
How do moms do it? How do they harmonize clashing cultures? What do they teach their children so that they realize they have Filipino roots?
Let’s hear it from four moms, as they talk about food, manners, responsibility, and respect. Whew, they all say, it wasn’t easy at all. But with their children all grown and doing well, they said, it was worth all the struggle.
Janette Bongon Banawis is a physical therapist who manages a PT center in New York City. She’s been in the US since 1995 with husband Gilray and only daughter, Gail, who is a singer and fashion model while still in High School. Gail was born in Fort Myers, Florida a year after the Banawis couple flew in from Cebu.
“Since she was a child, I always tell her that even though she was born here, her roots are Filipino. We spoke to her in Tagalog and Bisaya in the house. She learned Tagalog fast because her babysitter spoke Tagalog and she used to call her Nanay. I remember one time I called Gail to check on her. She was two years old at that time. I asked her how she’s doing. And she answered, “Salamat sa Dios Mommy at ako’y nakatulog.” (Thank God, Mommy, I was able to sleep) I was cracking up.”
On Food: “We cooked Filipino food in the house. Her favorites are sinigang and bistek.”
On Faith: I always tell her in everything that she do always put God first. If I see her slacking, I remind her to read the Bible.”
With regards to manners and discipline, Janette says:
“I always tell her to be respectful especially to the elders. I think it works because one time we were in the train, she gave her seat to an old woman. I teach her good values and always discipline her if I have too even now. Communication is the key to our relationship.
She helps doing the laundry, washing the dishes. With the grocery shopping, she’s always the one who carries the heavy stuff like the rice.”
Zurita Hernando Ibrahim, currently residing in West Virginia, is a physical therapist and the president of her own established Physical Therapy clinic with her husband Oscar. The couple, college sweethearts way back in Cebu, have three grown up children who are now an international chef (eldest Aisha), a real estate broker (AK), and a soldier (Uzi). It was a long arduous struggle managing both business and the kids. But the Ibrahims did it. Let’s hear from the mom, Zurita.
“Aisha was six, AK five and Uzi three when they joined me in the US. I came here first so, I didn’t see them for almost two years. Yes, they grew up very proud Pinoy maski di kabalo mag binisaya. (They grew up very proud Filipinos although they cannot speak Bisaya).”
Loving and Embracing Filipino Culture: “They love the Filipino culture especially the close family ties and values. They also love the fact that we value good education and our willingness to sacrifice for their future.
They speak very little Cebuano and Tagalog although they can understand more. They were confused because our family are multilingual. Bong’s side of the family are Tagalog, Ilocano, and Maranaw. Mine is Cebuano and Surigaonon. They were truly confused.
Growing up, they refer everybody older than them as ate, kuya, manong and manang. And of course all the Titos and Titas too.”
On faith and religion: “I was born and raised Catholic and Bong was raised more as a Muslim than a Catholic. So, at an early age, the kids attended Catholic Church but also learned about Islam. In fact, the boys used to observe Ramadan with Bong. We took them to the mosque also for classes and prayers. Growing up, they were allowed to go to any church with their friends and we never pushed one religion to them. We told them not to judge people, to respect their beliefs and be tolerant and accepting to others and that no religion is better or superior than others.”
On Food: They ate anything, except pork, from bulad (dried fish), to Filipino vegetables like ampalaya (bitter melon), kangkong (water spinach), batong (beans). We cook Filipino good 90 percent of the time. They enjoy going home to the Philippines and look forward to eating Filipino food.
On responsibility and discipline/chores: “They had assigned tasks from collecting trash, taking it out, feeding the dog, mowing, washing dishes and doing laundry in our clinic and filing charts. They were not paid to do chores and for getting good grades. They were expected to help us and they were expected to get good grades too. We also told them that nothing is handed to them and that they have to work a lot harder to achieve their dreams.
We always reminded them not to do anything that would embarrass them, their family and their community.”
Giselle Doherty Bitz raised three boys while dabbling as marketing and sales expert in California. Born to an American-Irish father and Filipina mom, she definitely benefitted from the best of eastern and western influences. She migrated to the US after she finished high school in Cebu.
“The kids were all born here. Adrian was born the year after I arrived in 1985 and Alex, my middle boy in 1988. Zachary was born 2005. When my two older boys were growing up, we lived in Union City, California which is a Filipino community – so they have exposure to Fil-Am children growing up in the same neighborhood and going to the same schools. But I should say they grew up American. Speaking English and enjoying the freedom of expression as well as freedom to be whatever and whoever they’ve wanted to be in life.”
On food: “At home, they love Filipino food and they still do. As for the little one Zachary. He loves noodles.”
On faith: “They have religion. They believe in God but don’t worship like we do. We celebrate the American traditions such as Christmas and Easter.”
More American: “My kids are pretty much Americans with a smattering of Filipino. Zachary now knows his mom is Filipino and used to live in an island. But for the most part, since he inherited his father’s very white skin (Larry’s heritage is 99.8% German/Irish/ Scottish and English) and I’m a quarter Irish, Zachary considers himself “white”. He’s nine years old so probably doesn’t understand much of race but I’m sure when he’s older, he’ll want to explore his exotic Filipino background and it will be fun for him because Filipinos rock!”
Private nurse Gilda Legaspi Stiefel is a mom of two boys, Michael Anthony and Alexander Thomas, whom she raised in Connecticut with her husband Mike. She admitted that the growing years were so much a “battle royale” on how to discipline the boys, especially the eldest, because of the differences in cultural influence. But feisty and sweet Gilda, from Iligan, had her way. Mommy rules the household, as Daddy would always tell the boys to “ask mommy” for her decision.
On discipline and manners: “It was not easy raising kids with two cultures. I had a lot of disciplining to do. I didn’t allow my children to sleep over if I didn’t know the parents. I would rather have them sleep in my house, that way I can monitor what they are doing. I am protective and strict.
I made sure they were respectful to elders and they can’t talk back to us. I encouraged them to reason out, voice their opinion without being disrespectful, because I might be wrong.
I punished the boys too if they did not follow the rules at home. No sleepover, no internet games. I give them warnings to not do things and they know when I am angry because I call them with their full names.
When they were small, I didn’t work because I chose to spend time with them and not hire babysitters. Now we are like
barkada, very close friends, including my husband.”
On food: “They love pork and chicken adobo, fried chicken, rice. Their close friends who come to the house love these too.”
On language: “One of my regrets is that I did not teach them the Filipino language. Well, I was alone in the house and no one to talk to. So all they heard was me talking in English to their father. Now my sons are curious and want to learn our language. When my mother joined us here in Connecticut, they began to take interest, because they would hear us speak in our dialect all the time.
On faith: “I was raised a Catholic but now I am a Born again Christian. My kids have strong faith foundation and I am thankful for that. We give back to the community. The boys do sunday service or reach out activities to the community.
On youthful leadership: “Since I became active in the Filipino community through NEFAI (New England Filipino American Association Inc.), being its president for four years and now an additional two years, it has also become a training ground for leadership for my sons.
They are aware of my activities and they assist me. I delegate tasks to other members and it is showing them that members and leaders should have shared responsibility in an organization.”
Michael and Alex have grown up proud to be Filipino, said Gilda. Michael, now 21, volunteered at the Passport Department of the Philippine Consulate and the younger son Alex, 15, is a leader in the field of arts and music in his school.
She shares these amusing anecdotes: “We toured in Macau and Hongkong just to show the boys what Asia looked like. And Alex was quick to say, I still want the Philippines, Mom.
At the Philippine Consulate, Michael, whose features he got from his father, would be teased to be not Filipino and would say, believe me I am Filipino by heart. Now, he can speak Tagalog and Bisaya. One time he told me in a mix of Cebuano and Tagalog, “Mom, maganda kaayo ka.” (Mom, you are so beautiful).