By Eliza De Guzman, FINDink Contributor

“What did you eat?”

Just as I was about to blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I had to pause in order to process what my friend Emily just asked. I was very confused, because first off, that was a very strange question to ask someone in the midst of singing “Happy Birthday.” Second, I was just eating barbecue with her right before my mom took the cake out, so she did know what I ate! I pretended as if I did not hear the question and just proceeded to make my wish and blow out all of my candles. However, after cutting the cake and taking all the pictures, Emily came up to me again and asked, “What did you eat?” I looked down, as she pointed at the half-sliced cake on the table. Then, I immediately caught onto what she was referring to.

The cake said, “Happy Birthday Ate!”

I giggled after realizing that she did not know that “Ate” was actually a Tagalog word, and that it did not mean the past tense of the English verb “eat.” Naturally, I explained to her what “Ate” really meant. First, it is pronounced “ah-teh,” not “eɪt.” In Tagalog, this is a way to address an older sister, cousin, friend, etc. as a sign of respect. This address is gender specific, as you would call your older brother, cousin, friend, etc. “Kuya.”

Growing up in a small town in Central Jersey with a predominantly white population, there were times where I found it difficult to educate people about my culture and country. My friends would often ask questions about how it was back home in the Philippines, and honestly, some questions were pretty eye-roll worthy.

No, I was not born in this country, but yes, I am an American citizen. I grew up in the Philippines until I was four years old, but I came to the States with the ability to speak English since it was taught as a second language in schools. No, I have not eaten dog meat. My family does not grow their own rice. And yes, my house back in the Philippines has running water!

Sometimes it is tiring being asked stereotypical questions about your identity or heritage. However, I think it is most definitely necessary to answer and correct all these questions and wrong perceptions in order to give the proper light not only to your culture, but to everyone else across the world who share the same traditions you are proud of.


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