ISSUE NO. 2
APRIL - JUNE 2005
The Yaya Sisterhood
Sheila S. Coronel
By the World's Bedside
A Yearning for Rice
Candy Quimpo Gourlay
The One who Stayed
Trained to Care
Out of the (Balikbayan) Box
Photos by Luis Liwanag
Jose Torres Jr.
Men as Mothers
Alecks P. Pabico
Vinia M. Datinguinoo
Physicians of the People
Yvonne T. Chua
The Philippines is in the Heart
Susan F. Quimpo
My Arabian Nights
Jose Torres Jr.
Cecile C.A. Balgos
U R S I N G T H E W O R L D — THE
PHILIPPINES IS IN THE HEART
When did you first realize you were Filipino?
When I was in the 2nd grade, I had a white teacher who had been in the
Philippines for about five years because her husband was stationed in
the military. For International Week, she had us do the tinikling
(bamboo dance). I didn't even know how to dance the tinikling,
and how I learned was through this white teacher who asked help from
the school's PE teacher, who was also white! I was surprised, because
you know how your parents are supposed to be your teachers for life?
And yet they didn't teach me anything about the Philippines. I always
asked, but they never really explained. And then this white teacher
was teaching stuff about the Philippines — it was coming from a totally
unexpected source. That was odd.
I got to college, I worked in the Office of International Student Affairs.
We were holding a workshop for cultural ambassadors, and I was helping
with the workshop. The office director put me in a spot by having me
explain the Death March. I thought, "Oh great! Oh my gosh!" I only knew
so much about it. Something's wrong. All I knew was that it was tied
in with the Japanese, World War II, and I didn't know where it started
and how it began.
For me, I always, always thought I was Filipino, since forever, before
anything else. In my immediate family, we were always told, "You're
Filipino, don't be white." My white family (relatives), they are aIl
divorced, they are all messed up and addicted to drugs. So growing up,
the device for not becoming that would be "be Filipino." So when I realized
that I was different, it wasn't realizing that I was Filipino, but realizing
that I was half-white!
I was in elementary school, I would go over to my Filipino friend's
house and their parents would call me "mestizo" to my face. It came
to a point when I really hated that word for a long time, They'd say,
"This mestizo boy is eating pan de sal and adobo,"
But eating that was the most normal thing for me because that's what
we ate at my house! My friends' parents who were (more recent Filipino)
immigrants were mean to my mom because she was Fil-Am, and she can't
speak Tagalog. Of course my mom can't speak Tagalog or Ilokano, she
was born in Colorado! But the parents of my friends, who came after
1965, didn't understand that. So for me, I had to learn that I was part
white and I wasn't part of the post -1965 gang, who could speak Tagalog.
Suddenly, I had this realization that there were "other" kinds of Filipinos.
(In 1965, immigration policies allowed professionals trained abrad to
legally enter, work, and secure citizenship in the United States. A
record number of Filipno professionals migrated to the United States
during this period.)
when I went to Hawaii for college, it was totally different again. In
Hawaii, they didn't care if I was Filipino, they just saw that I was
brown, and that I looked like I was from Hawaii. So I wasn't Asian,
or Filipino, or mestizo or anything like that, I was just "local." So
I had to adapt to all that stuff, after having realized that there were
other Filipinos besides (my grandpa's) manong generation.
I guess it was the first day of kindergarten at the Jewish school in
New Jersey. And it wasn't just skin color either. I remember my Mom
dropped me off: She got me really excited; she built it (school) up
trying to get me ready for it. I didn't go to a preschool before that
so it was my first formal school. I was expecting school to be fun.
But when I got there, I was the only one who looked Asian, very Asian
— bucked teeth, black hair with bangs. My brother was in the same school
but he was older and I think was a little embarrassed by me.
Did you experience overt manifestations of racism or discrimination?
Yeah, I experienced discrimination, discrimination from other Filipinos.
I grew up in a neighborhood that had very few Filipinos so I was used
to hanging out with mostly whites. Then, when I moved to California,
the Filipinos there were critical — why was I with white friends? But
when I tried to hang out with Filipinos, they said I wasn't Filipino
enough. I couldn't speak Tagalog. (Ivy" parents are both Filipino.)
I was born in the Philippines and migrated when I was five. I grew up
speaking Tagalog at home. But I had difficulty relating to other Fil-Ams
because they'd look at me, and just because I spoke Tagalog, they expected
me to know more about the Philippines. But then I didn't.
There was certainly racism in the Jewish school I went to. In Judaism,
if you married a non-Jew, traditionally, he or she would have to convert
to Judaism because it was taboo to marry outside the religion. My mom
never did that and my Dad never expected her to. So every year the school
principal would call our house to ask my Dad, "So did your wife convert
yet?" And my Dad would say, "No and I'm not planning on it either."
And the principal would say, in a really nasty way, "So how much are
you donating to the (school) fund this year?" I didn't get financial
aid even if I was qualified for it.
remember that my brother Josef was barred from leading the morning prayers
in school. You see, all the boys were looking forward to their bar mitzvah
(a ceremony for admitting a Jewish boy as a member of the adult community,
usually at the age of 13). After your bar mitzvah, you were given the
honor to lead the morning prayers. It was a special chant, and Josef
was really good at it; everyone thought he had a nice voice. One day,
one of the teachers from the school, a Middle Eastern Jew, came to our
house to talk to my parents. He said that all the teachers and students
threatened to walk out of the morning prayers the following day if Josef
were to lead it. He said it was because Josef and I were just "converted"
Jews. We were the only converted Jews in the entire school. (Jewish
lineage is passed through one's mother, therefore Olivia and Josef had
to be "converted" because their mother never became Jewish.) The teacher
was sincerely apologetic and told my father he would support him if
he decided to fight the school. My Dad was very angry and wanted to
file a complaint. But my brother Josef didn't want to attract more attention,
so he told my father to let it go. But we all knew it was a big deal.
kids at the school were mostly cool, it was just the parents and teachers.
I remember one time, we were having a birthday party at home and this
kid came over. In my house we did not eat kosher food. So my mom prepared
paper plates because if you're Jewish, you're not supposed to eat off
plates that had been served non-kosher food on. One mom sent her kid
to our house with her own snacks, lunch and her own utensils. And the
mom said, "So we won't trouble you." She had attitude about it. Who
was she kidding? We're not stupid!
us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.
Copyright © 2005 All rights reserved.
PHILIPPINE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM