How To Celebrate Filipino American History Month

By Chrissi Fabro, FINDink Contributor

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“Kabataan unite! Fight for people’s rights!” echoed throughout the auditorium and halls of Balboa High School in San Francisco the weekend of October 1st. In the most exciting way to kick off Filipino American History Month, more than three hundred Filipino youth from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, California and other major cities came together for a national conference and founded a nationwide alliance of Filipino youth called Kabataan (Youth) Alliance.

Most of the attendees were either in college or high school, very young people enthusiastically ready to take history into their own hands and change our world for the better. In all of them, I saw the leaders of our tomorrow.

It made me reflect and ask myself, “What was I doing with my life while I was in high school and my early years in college?” I was not as socially or politically conscious, and I definitely was not an activist. A lot of me at their age was searching for a sense of Filipino identity, especially being the daughter of two Filipino immigrant parents whom have already very much assimilated to American life and culture.

But the youth in the conference were way beyond the search for their Filipino identity. They were youth critical of the injustices faced by our communities and worked together to come up with ways to advance the rights and welfare of our communities in the US, the Philippines, and abroad.
 

Know History, Know Self. No History, No Self.

Jose Rizal’s famous quote — “Those who fail to look back to where they came from will not reach where they’re going” — is one that strikes a deep reverberating chord in the hearts of many Filipino youth whom have been raised in the US and are trying to understand and know our roots. But to truly know and understand what it means to be a Filipino is to know our people’s history of resisting centuries of colonization and imperialism in the Philippines.

With the concrete conditions of being an archipelago, the people of the Philippines were naturally divided geographically. Throughout the history of the Philippines under Spanish colonization, there were revolts happening all over the country. It was in the struggle against Spain and the oppression of the people of the Philippines that forged a national sense of Filipino identity. Later on, the Filipino people would continue their resistance against the US as a colonizer, Japan as an invader, and against the United States’s new form of domination in the Philippines — imperialism.
 

Today’s World

It is important to know our roots and where we come from, but it is just as important to know the burning issues of our times.  Filipinos all over the world face severe crises, from our local communities in the US to overseas in different countries and back home in the Philippines.

In the Philippines today, our people fall victim to the horrifying drug war. So far, more than 13,000 people — and counting — have already been killed. We know this is no war on drugs but a war against the poor, as vigilantes raid the homes in urban poor communities, kill unapologetically execution style. In Mindanao, martial law has been extended until the end of the year, with Duterte threatening to extend it nationwide. There have been aerial bombings in the city of Marawi, forcing thousands of Moros to evacuate to other cities. Moros beg Duterte to stop the bombings and to lift martial law. And lastly, Duterte’s all-out war against revolutionary forces also targets above-ground activists, with human rights defenders and other activists critical of the government  being harassed and threatened.

While the US government is prioritizing militarization of countries including the Philippines, there are constant attacks on education, health care and other basic social services.  As Filipinos living in the US, we are not exempt from these issues. We continue to face extreme hardships: the trauma of family separation, labor trafficking and exploitation, the rise of gentrification and displacement, and the constant threat of deportation.

 

How Youth Should Celebrate Filipino American History Month

As Filipino youth in the United States, we must understand that the very problems in the Philippines of joblessness, landlessness, and poverty are the same problems that continue to force more than 6,000 Filipinos to migrate abroad, but more importantly, they are the problems that have led to the vibrant mass movement of our people for national liberation.  We must understand the struggles of our people in the motherland are directly linked to the struggles we face as Filipinos abroad, and therefore we must fight the struggle on two fronts: the United States and the Philippines.

The founding of this alliance is the most concrete expression of taking history into our own hands. By uniting Filipino youth from all over the country, we are able to wield the power of the Filipino youth to fight for positive changes that advance our people.  History challenges the youth everyday to take up the struggles of our communities.

To know our our roots is to understand the legacy of our people in resisting injustice and fighting for our liberation as a people.  To truly honor these histories is to continue their legacy. On this year’s Filipino American History Month, I challenge the Filipino youth to go beyond learning their histories and take collective action to concretely respond to the needs of our communities.  Join Kabataan Alliance!

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Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc. 

Self-Reflection in Aisle Five: Finding Myself at Red Ribbon

By Czaerra Ucol, FINDink Contributor

Finding yourself is a really daunting task. Just the thought of how far inward you can study your own self - kinda like the expanding brain meme - can put one off of looking more deeply into their identity. But, like the weirdly adventurous person I am, I decided to jump right into it!

For those of you that don’t know me, I came into college as a Chemistry major on the Pre-Med track. I had always envisioned myself becoming a doctor in the future, and once I became one step close to that image, I realized it’s not what I wanted at all. I still love the complexity and thrill of solving a problem right when it comes to STEM, but my motivations for majoring in Chemistry had faded once I saw the cut-throat and competitive community surrounding me. The one happy part of my first semester of college, however, is what sparked my journey into self-reflection: I had decided to take Tagalog to fulfill my language requirement. I myself do not speak Tagalog, and honestly neither do my parents since both actually speak Ilocano more often.

I had expected a dry lecture - much like the language classes I took in high school - but what I received was much more. My teacher (Professor Agnes Magtoto) took it upon herself to teach her students not only the language of the Philippines, but the history and culture. Tagalog became my favorite class, and that’s when it dawned on me; I wasn’t a “different” person from the Czaerra that was passionate about solving math problems. My love for complexity paired with my lingering confusion over what it means to be Filipino-American suddenly paired and led me to the most obvious decision I could make - switching my major to Asian Pacific American Studies.

Now, most of my classes this semester are dedicated to my new major, and being surrounded by so many other Asian/-American people just as excited about learning as I am makes me feel like I’m not alone in my endeavors. Now that I’ve begun to tackle the academic way of exploring my identity of being Filipino-American, I decided to expand my horizons and try to apply myself in the “real world”. How did I do it, you ask? Simple: I got a job.

But it wasn’t just any job - I had gotten a job at Red Ribbon located inside the newly created Seafood City in Chicago. For those of you that may not know, Seafood City is a gigantic Filipino marketplace that sells everything from ube halaya to dinuguan. I actually already worked another job, but as a millennial struggling in our capitalist society, I applied for another job and got it. The reason I picked Red Ribbon was because I felt that while food service in general is a difficult job, being the face of an integral part of Filipino culture and being surrounded by people that look like me would help soften the infrequent blows to my confidence.

I was really shy at first; I was actually one of only two Filipino-Americans on the crew at the time. Everyone else was an immigrant from the Philippines, ranging in age, aside from one other Mexican-American worker that was my age. Going into work, I felt alienated from the rest of my co-workers at first when they would joke with each other in normal-speed Tagalog, which is much faster than the snail’s pace speed we speak Tagalog in during my language class. My fluency level isn’t that high, so customers that spoke to me in Tagalog were very dismissive of me when I’d answer in English. Like, clearly I understood you enough to reply, so why would you then ask, “Are you Filipino?”. Sigh. Even the supervisor that had interviewed me for the position asked if I was Filipino.

It was a weird feeling; Among non-Filipinos, I was very clearly Filipino, but among other Filipinos, I was very clearly separated as American. I guess I should have seen it coming; While the two groups (Filipino and Filipino-Americans) do share a history, at a certain point - ie. whenever your family immigrated to the US - we split off into congruent yet still different struggles. But, I couldn’t exactly voice my deeply personal questions while a customer was complaining to me about her halo-halo being too cold. Yes, that happened. I don’t know what temperature she expected ice to be but… yeah…

I strictly went into my second job thinking that, as a short-term job, I wouldn’t make any close friends. Well damn, was I wrong. I guess you could say this was my first “real” job - my first job was/still is that of a music teacher’s assistant - and so I’ve never had experience in the food industry or with customer service. I always felt really burnt out because I would have to teach in the morning at work at night, but I’m the sort of person to not let others worry about my own problems so I tried not to let it bother me. Over time, though, the older women working there took me in as their little sister and the people my age were like my cousins. The shared hardships suddenly clicked and the Filipino inclination to describe all relationships with other Filipinos as familial started. In my moments of being burnt out and unable to stand all day at the register or carry cakes, I remember little moments like my co-workers buying halo-halo for me and letting me unofficially take a break. I also remember all the conversations we’d have when the day had winded down and basically no customers came into the store an hour before closing. They’d tell me about their partners, their kids, where they’re from in the Philippines - they really opened up to me.

I think I was taken aback just because I had never experienced older Filipino people treating me as an equal instead of someone younger than them, if that makes sense. The (perhaps unintentional) generational gap between, for example, me and my titos and titas at family gatherings was a very real issue I had always dealt with; but now that I’ve turned 19 and gained my own independence, it was nice not being looked down on and respected even more by my “elders” - I put it in quotes because they’re only 10-15 years older than me and want to preserve their youth (sorry, ates!).

Of course, there were times I’d still feel alienated. Obviously, no amount of simultaneous mopping of a bakery floor or stuffing leftover ensaymadas into our mouths is going to solve the problem of immigration and lack of connection to the motherland felt by the diasporic community. My co-workers would be talking about what community colleges they’re going to and the fact that I had been able to be accepted by an out-of-state school, and it being NYU, was shocking to them. I realized the bubble of academia had swallowed me up once again and made me blind to the people I’m really supposed to be talking to in order to further my understanding of what it means to be Filipino.

You can read as many Filipino-American academic papers as you can, and you can have the purest intentions at heart, but it’s important to ground yourself by remembering individuals in the community you’re trying to connect to. Productivity in terms of making progress in your path of self-identification doesn’t have to be anything big like being able to write a whole article about it; it can be comprised of smaller steps as easy as making a friend you can share your love of being Filipino together.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc. 

Mental Health in a Filipino American Household

By Julie Jimenez, FINDink Contributor

Since it is Filipino American History month, it’s important to understand that “Filipino-Americans constitute that second-fastest- growing Asian American group in the United States, following Chinese Americans.” (Sanchez & Gaw, 2007)

They also have the highest labor participation among all Asian groups, and were one of the earliest immigrants, dating as early as 1763, where seafarers jumped ship and settled in the Louisiana bayous.

With that being said, Filipino Americans have been shown to be a high risk group for mental disorders such as depression. The percentage of Filipino Americans who are depressed sits at around 14%. However, there still tends to be an everlasting stigma that effects Filipino American families and their views on mental health. (Sanchez & Gaw, 2007)

For instance, Catholicism is the most practiced religion within the Filipino community. It is a faith where adversity and suffering is typical and can be handled because of their beliefs with God.

In terms of psychotherapy and treatment for mental illnesses, many Filipino American families view therapeutic sessions as costly. It’s not necessary. Economic needs are more important that mental health needs.

Why is this the norm for us though?

Why is it in our culture to stigmatize and criticize people with mental illnesses?

Why is it almost impossible to talk about a negative feeling in our households?

Why do we have to repress our thoughts and our feelings because we know our parents would shame us?

Why can’t we be comfortable in our own home, where we can share our values without being yelled at and constantly reminded about where we came from?

Why can’t my parents, or even in better words, my own family love me enough to let me get the help I need?

Why can’t they see that I can’t “do this on my own?”

That I am “trying my best?”

That I’m not “sick in the head?”

That I’m sad for too many days at a time?

“She seemed so okay at home.” My mom told my sister.

But that’s because I had to condition myself to seem “okay.”

Filipino culture is so centered and so focused around the family. Family time is very important to us. We want our families to be happy, stable and successful. 

But why is it that within my own family, I can’t express who I am?

It’s this stigma in our culture. It’s this idea of a perfect family with so much happiness that any negative feeling should not exist.

While there are many aspects to the Filipino culture that I appreciate, love, and cherish…

This is one that I don’t understand.

And having been through the pain of having my own parents shun me for how I felt, I think it’s time that we tackle this stigma.

We need to start allowing ourselves to open up more without judgement.

Without fear.

We need to appreciate the many other wonderful aspects of our culture, while also fixing our views on serious issues such as mental health.

And that starts with us and the younger generations to do so.

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

An Exorcism of Demons

By Michael Marbella, FINDInk Contributor

When I created this piece, I essentially wrote it as a lyrical “**** you” to this implicitly expressed idea within my family that my sexual orientation is something to be ashamed of and something that my grandparents wouldn’t have approved of if they were alive. But, in hindsight, I also created this piece for other young, queer Filipin@s who are still finding their way out of the closet, who are still working towards a more loving acceptance of themselves and their identities.

For my queer kababayans reading this, I want you to know that even if you are still struggling with gaining the acceptance of those who love you that there will also be people who will open themselves to you and welcome you into their lives wholly and fully as you are. You are loved, you are accepted, and you are essential to the fabric of what makes up the gorgeous tapestry that is the Philippines and Filipino America.

Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat sa pagbasa nito.

 

An Exorcism of Demons

according to my aunt

my Lola would have exorcised the gay out of me

like errant demons into a herd of swine

so I spit back the words of the Roman Missal

like a mouthful of loose teeth

but now I see my Lola

seated at the right hand of the father

coming in glory to judge me

because I am the serpent

gliding through the branches of the tree

I am eve

banished from the garden

for sin too detestable to those who made me

because I wondered

what was under adam’s fig leaf

and I partook of the fruit that I found

to sate my hunger

for a knowledge only god had.

I was told once that the lord was with me,

to bow my head

and to pray for god’s blessing

but, holy grandmother, mother of my mother,

would you pray for me—a sinner—

now and at the hour of my death

or, like Tita Neneng, will you damn me for my sins

and banish me to the fires of hell

because my soul cannot be led into heaven,

even though I am in most need of thy mercy?

o, kapamilya,

I am sorry if I have offended thee

because, though I dread the loss of your love

and the pain of your scorn,

I firmly intend

to never do penance

or make amends for my life

because I confess: who I am is not a sin.

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

Tinikling: Toying With The Traditional

By Athena Abadilla, FINDink Contributor

But first, what’s this “tinikling” you speak of? To quickly explain, tinikling is a traditional Filipino dance that originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. It involves the rhythmic clapping of bamboo sticks on the ground and against each other while dancers step over and between these sticks on timing with the beat.  

It’s become a trend in the Filipino communities that I’ve met to take this traditional tinikling and perform it with a twist: contemporary hip-hop/pop music and modern clothing.  What are the ramifications of fusing American pop culture into this traditional dance from the Philippines? Can this new-age style of tinikling still even be called tinikling if it doesn’t honor its roots?

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Last semester, our Filipino club at Columbia University got an invite from a professor to perform tinikling at her son’s birthday party.  It was an around-the-world themed celebration, and we were there to represent the Philippines.  While deciding what our performance would look like for the party, the birthday boy’s parents informed us that their son had been really into the, at that time, newest Ed Sheeran chart-topper “Shape of You” and if we could incorporate that into our performance set that’d make him so happy.  Needless to say, we did.  It also wasn’t the only time we’ve choreographed tinikling to non-traditional Filipino folk music though.  We’ve clapped our bamboo sticks and danced to famous artists such as Bruno Mars and the Chainsmokers.  One of our performances even included moves to that once popular “Juju on that Beat” dance craze.

At various events and parties, to get young people more hyped about this special part of our Filipino culture, clubs and dance troupes often modernize the traditional tinikling like we did.  A popular group back home in Hawaii, called the Tekniqlingz, are famous for doing so.  Their mission is this: “to strengthen ethnic identity and cultural awareness through education and the perpetuation of the Filipino culture in art, music, and dance.”  Some people, however, may argue that altering the sound and sight of a traditional tinikling performance is an erasure of its significance.  I see the validity of this point but do believe that a well-executed modern tinikling performance could lead to a stronger embrace of our Filipino culture; this’d be okay only if done appropriately and with good intentions like Tekniqligz has (for example, groups could consider starting the set with the traditional folk music and telling the backstory before switching up the beat).

But do we all really know the history of tinikling enough to share it through our performances?  “Tinikling” directly translates into “tikling-like” referring to the certain species of “tikling” birds.  Back in the rice fields of the Philippines, farmers used to set bamboo traps to catch these birds who were always a nuisance to the growth of the crops.  However, the birds were swift, running over and avoiding the snaps of the traps.  The quick clapping of the bamboo sticks and equally quick but graceful movements of the dancers are actually meant to imitate these birds in the traps and be reminiscent of the beautiful simplicity of farm life in the Philippines.

Let’s not forget this story that has been passed down generation to generation with this traditional dance.  It’s crucial, and especially important during this month celebrating Filipino American Heritage & History, to make sure that the tradition behind the tinikling dance and other cultural practices that we choose to bring into the 21st century does not get lost in translation.  

 

BamBOO! Happy October & Filipino American Heritage Month! Remember, the views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.


 

go back to where you came from, this is America

By Aleisha Flores, FINDink Contributor

i remember being around 8 or 10 years old

at shoprite’s infamous can-can sale

with my family

swimming through the sea of customers

to get our hands on the non-perishables

being sold for 20 cents apiece

when some white kid goes up

to my dad, looks him dead in the eye

and goes, “you’re dark. go back to where you came from,

this is America.”

i never wanted to fight someone so bad in my life

with my tiny fists and tiny feet

kicking and punching him so hard

that maybe it’d take him back to wherever it was

HE came from

but i didn’t fight him

i just stood there and watched

and when he walked away i asked my dad,

“what was that about?”

he just shook his head and said, “i don’t know.”

a decade later

and thinking about that day still gets me angry

my parents didn’t risk it all coming to this country

just for some white kid to tell them to go back

to their own

during a frenzy for some

canned goods

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.