What it means to be Filipino American
By Carlo Ceballos
About the author: Carlo Ceballos is the 3rd placer in the 1st Filipino-American History Month Essay Writing Contest which was launched by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York in October 2018. He is community organizer who is on his 3rd year in Sociology at the New School in New York City.
I’m twenty-one-years-old, and I’ve spoken to too many other Filipino Americans my age who had no idea what ‘salamat’ means. I have always had trouble being a part of a family that has felt too exclusive because I do not speak the same language they grew up speaking. But of all these awkward interactions, there is a special type of pain that comes from speaking to Filipinos who bear no connection to their language nor have the urge to study it.
To be Filipino American is to be separated from Filipino culture. American culture and politics have interfered with the Filipino identity too much for us to not deny the dilution of our own heritage and history. Through war and occupation, everything that was different to the United States was targeted and pointed out, and the migrants that came to the United States were robbed directly of that identity.
To be Filipino American is to be beaten down. We have been despised and harassed because our culture and personal existence is too foreign for Western standards, but we’ve also been condescended to and invalidated by our own people for not retaining the same identity that has been emotionally and forcefully stripped from us. Without this identity, and without the acceptance from our new community, we end up with no home.
To be Filipino American is to be lost. With nowhere to turn, I’ve seen too many of my own peers disappear from the migrant neighborhood in which they grew up in and subject themselves to the so-called model minority myth. It is in this choice they end up hurting their community and so many other marginalized people that struggle to find a way back home. However, we don’t always take this route. Through our struggles, we strive to find a way to fight back at everything and everyone that has taken from us our identity and our history.
To be Filipino American is to struggle to find the way back. We have to start with looking at our history here in the United States. We have to look to the stories of the Delano manongs, Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, both of whom fought for migrant worker rights in the background of the civil rights movements of the 1960s. When we start here, we can begin to remember our history beyond what it means to be American.
To be Filipino American is to fight back with the intent of not getting even, but of getting back everything that has been taken from us and thrown into the ocean. Our ancestors and our history are laced with the blood of resistance and revolutions of both the past and the present. From Andrés Bonifacio to Lean Alejandro, we know that the young and the poor Filipinos of the past have fought against the powerful and wealthy that have oppressed them, and sacrificed themselves for the strength of their communities. From Gabriela Silang to Lorena Barros, we know that the Filipinas that have faced the cruelty of patriarchal wars and dictatorships have never taken a beating sitting down, but instead rose up to claim that the role of the Filipina women is on the frontlines of resistance, leading their fellow women to liberation.
To be Filipino American is to stare at the death of our culture in the face (and) declare that we are still here. We have been dealt blow after blow of discrimination and repression, but we’ve always come up stronger than those in power, and we will continue to do so until all Filipinos and Filipino Americans are able to remember their identity and the history of their people. I’ve been in a position where I had not known what it meant to be Filipino. But through the research of my history and the history of all my kababayan, I won’t be looking back.
And to all the Filipino Americans I have met that have either decided to support me and my journey in unearthing my identity, and to all the Filipino Americans that I have met that are still struggling to start that same journey but have had the courage to tell me about it, I say, “Salamat, we will all find our way home.” (Featured photo by Ann Constantino Beck; Carlo Ceballos receives his trophy, cash, and certificate from prize donor Atty. Lara Gregory.)