(This post is dedicated to my mom, dad and late grandmothers for not only telling me, but showing me why I should be thankful. Always. Happy Thanksgiving!)
I’m sitting here during my layover in Taipei after a week in the Philippines, reflecting on what I saw, experienced, ate :), and felt on this trip. Burying our beloved Grandma invoked a lot of emotions, especially that of gratitude. It’s times like these when you’re thankful for where you came from and who helped raised you to be the person you are today.
As a second generation Filipina, I often find myself in a cultural bubble that is rarely popped. I needed this trip. It was my third time crossing the Pacific and the impact it has had on me is greater than ever.
Back Track to Navarro Parenting 101
My parents are kind of an anomaly when it came to raising my sister Mandy and I in America. With a large population of Filipinos in our hometown, there were a lot of Fil-Am community groups and get-togethers in the area. All of my Filipino friends’ parents were actively involved and had parties with other Filipino families all the time. But Mom and Dad chose not to be part of that exclusive community.
Not to let the apples fall too far from the tree, Mandy and I were discouraged from having only Filipino friends. They may have brown skin like me, understand what Tagalog sounds like and occasionally call their lunch “baon“… but they couldn’t be my only friends. All of us had to reach out, and the rest had to reach out to us.
I once came home with a Miss Fil-Am pageant registration form after receiving word that I could win a scholarship by competing. My mom advised me to scrap the idea, claiming that it was only based on how well-known you and your family are in the Filipino community. Whether that was true or not, I think she was doing me a favor. Could you imagine me doing the tinikling dance as a talent? Yikes.
For a very long time, I felt a separation from the people I thought I could relate to most. A lot of the Filipino kids I knew growing up were second generation just like me and eventually underwent the same identity questioning I did. It’s ok to be proud of where you’re from, but at what point does that hinder you from being American? At what point does it help you? What does it even mean to be American anyway?
To my parents’ credit, they taught us open-mindedness. We are Filipina, but we were also Americans. My parents worked inifinitely harder than I think I ever could to make sure their future was in a better place. After visiting the Philippines this past week, it’s clear why they worked so hard and why they want us to embrace what we have.
Keeping an Open Mind While Rooted
Instead of limiting ourselves to staying within cultural confines of what seems natural, Mandy and I were challenged to meet different people and get to know other heritages, faiths, and walks of life. That’s not to say my second-gen Filipino friends didn’t have much to offer. In fact, they had the most to offer in the long run and I look forward to learning more.
While I sometimes wish my parents taught us Tagalog and instilled more Filipino pride in us, I have to give it up to them for teaching us what it REALLY means to be Filipino—love for family and love for God.
There are certain values and morals that most people would label as “Asian”, implying strict standards and a firm loyalty to blood. I fought that and blatantly rebelled out of disagreement with my parents on some issues, but I have grown a deeper appreciation for the gratitude Filipinos have for their elders and their culture.
With the ailing and passing of my grandparents in the last couple years, I’m starting to see firsthand what the work of your elders can cultivate… I grew up in a land of opportunity, went to a good school, got a great job, married a wonderful man, and having been living well my entire life. None of this would happen without the steadfast dedication past generations had for their faith and family. At my late grandmother’s recent burial, the priest who presented the mass said “blood is thicker than Manny.” Fitting since the mass was happening during the controversial Pacquiao fight! But seriously, it’s tremendous to still stick together after God tests our strength each and every day.
Just because I didn’t eat pancit at every family get together, doesn’t mean I don’t crave it from time to time. Just because my family and I hate karaoke, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the truly talented artists who have come from the Philippines. Just because I don’t have a Filipino flag on my rear-view mirror doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be Filipina.
You see, us second-gen’s are in a weird limbo of trying to stay true to where we came from and establishing an identity in our current circumstance. The goal is to create a harmony of the two worlds, but it involves a deeper understanding of each side.
The modern-day American society I grew up in and the “old-school” Filipino principles I was born under seems like oil and water. But if my marriage is any indication that two worlds can collide and work together, then we have a beautiful history in the making.
I married a Caucasian guy whose equally-fascinating family history traces five generations back here in America with ties to Europe. To be able to share the Filipino side of me with him and our children one day—has become more important to me. I hope to give him a better understanding of where I came from as I learn more about it myself. One day, I’ll be able to take him and our kids to Grandma and Grandpa’s home country (with their help of course… my Tagalog will always be a work in progress!) and give them a rare opportunity to embrace their roots.
To start this path of understanding and appreciating what it means to be Filipina, I’ve decided to blog more about it. Sounds odd, but a large part of my trip was the food. It was something EVERYONE could enjoy. This country’s food has the power to shut up even the loudest Filipino and get a resounding “yum” from the pickiest kids. There’s no better way to savor a culture more than to taste the food. Tracing the history of some dishes (ie did you know that lechon was originally a Spanish dish?), honoring some favorite family dishes/recipes and having Ryan taste test as I try to become a better Filipina wife/cook will be quite an adventure.
I mean, why do you think Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have such successful traveling shows? It’s because they try weird things while simultaneously telling a rich story of the culture behind it.
The only challenge besides trying to get my husband to eat dinuguan will be trying to cook up a feast on top of working full-time.
So loosen up those minds… and waistlines… our kitchen is about to smell crazygood!
One last note: While you and I can comfortably find a meal anywhere, there are many children in the Philippines whose families can’t provide the proper nutrition and water to help them grow and survive some of the toughest conditions. Consider helping UNICEF Philippines by going to http://www.unicef.org/philippines/ and learn more about how you can give a child a fighting chance.