Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's your heritage?

When I first started my blog back in November, it felt like I was this leaky faucet just dripping with ideas. My inspiration stemmed from my desire to explore the unique faces of the Pinay identity. It was a way of reaffirming my own sense of self since coming into my mixed Filipina Canadian heritage had definitely been a work in progress.

Throughout my youth, I had convinced myself that I was a Canadian that just happened to be Filipino. So being a Filipina was merely a consequence of my ancestry. Whenever I answered the well-played-out What's your heritage? question, I always felt the need to emphasize my Canadian-ness in my explanation: “I was born in Canada but my family is from the Philippines.”

It was a reflex I had developed over the years in order to convince people that I really was one of them even though I didn’t look like them. It was a second skin I had grown way back in elementary school when kids would shrug their shoulders and crinkle up their faces in puzzlement whenever I said I was a Filipino, as if this was synonymous with me saying I am a Martian. And at the time, it was my way of resolving both my Filipino and Canadian identities since I perceived them to be two diametrically opposed entities.

Complicating matters even more was the way my family always seemed to blame my teenage shortcomings (ie. cutting classes and missing curfew) on my Canadian (ahem...White) friends, convinced that all of my own free will suddenly flew out the window when I was in the company of these infamous ringleaders.

While peer pressure obviously played a large part in my teenage rebellion, I'm pretty sure that race had nothing to do with anything considering I knew a bunch of Filipino kids, and Chinese kids, and Indian kids who used to smoke cigarettes and cut classes all the time. It was like a right of passage or something. But before I get carried away here, my point is that my family had harnessed these discriminative notions of Canadian culture from their own coming to America experiences. To them, I was doing my Pinay heritage a grave injustice by behaving more Canadian. What that really meant was well beyond me and somehow I felt like I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

So with all sob stories aside...

I started to figure things out. Seeing the amazing work done by Dr. Melinda L. de Jesus (Pinay Power Peminist Critical Theory: Theorizing the Filipina/American Experience) and Sabrina Margarita Alcantara-Tan (Bamboo Girl) made me realize that I was walking down a well-worn path paved away by millions of other Filipina Canadians and Americans. We were nurses, and punks, and teachers, and queers, and professors, and activists. Some of us could speak Tagalog, while others could barely utter a single sentence in our ancestral tongue due to highly held values of assimilation. Some of us were raised in strict Catholic households where girls were just girls, while others were taught the values of Pinay Power. But despite our uniqueness, we were all Filipinas.

As I began to connect the dots, I couldn't help but feel this overwhelming affinity for all of the women in my family.

So what's my heritage?

While I was the only Filipina at those punk rock shows, my aunt was the first Filipina nurse to arrive at Winnipeg’s Health Science Centre. As I crowd-surfed my way closer to my favourite band, yet another aunt carried her sister on her back as they fled from the Japanese during the Second World War. And even though I had earned my own shred of street credibility, my mother was busy earning two academic degrees and balancing the responsibilities of single motherhood.

That's who I am...

**Note: A section of this post was previously published in my article,"That's What a Filipina Is!", which appears in the latest issue of RicePaper Magazine.


SoupNumber5 said...

Similar story for me.

" I was born in Alabama but parents are from the Philippines."

I think I was saying it for the same reasons as you. And yes, my parents blamed my American friends for my bad behavior.

An interesting read.


Hey thanks Soup! Yeah, it sounds like we've had some parallel experiences, eh? For a lot of my life, I think I suppressed my Filipino-"ness" in hopes of appearing more Canadian, however, I realized that tactic was only wasting a lot of unnecessary energy. Things became a lot easier once I decided to really embrace who I was--as lame as that sounds :P

ZenDenizen said...

I like to say "Jersey" when people ask me where I'm from :)

That's great that you were published in RicePaper.

Sudy said...

Right/Write on!

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