Jade Peñafort is a senior sociology major.
Before October ends, I want to recognize Filipino American History Month, which celebrates the accomplishments, history, and legacy of Filipinos in the United States. But first, it’s important to acknowledge colonialism and the effect it still has on our people today. During the Spanish colonial era, Filipinos were stripped of their language, traditions, and identities. Years later, under U.S. imperialism, Filipinos became a laundry list for Uncle Sam to exploit as the demand for cheap labor increased. Because of this, Filipinos eventually came to make up the third-largest Asian American population in the country. Despite having widespread Filipinx communities throughout the states, there is still a large lack of representation in what it means to be Asian American.
As a child, I was always aware that I came from a Filipino background. Both my parents were born in Quezon City and came to California as teenagers. I knew a good amount of Filipino dishes and could sing a few Filipino songs. I knew that I was Filipino, but it would be years before I understood what it actually meant to be a Filipina woman.
In elementary and middle school, I was always embarrassed to bring food from home because it smelled different. I hated my last name because it didn’t fit in among my nonethnic classmates. I was even taught to pinch my nose when I was younger so that it wouldn’t be as flat. I learned from a very young age that being a person of color in the United States was deemed undesirable. I tried so carefully to distance myself from my Filipina identity because I was always surrounded by my white friends.
Attending predominantly white schools in Redwood City my whole life made me realize how much I wanted to conform to white culture. I couldn’t comprehend that by ignoring my culture, I was erasing a part of myself that helped me identify with my roots and why I am the way I am.
It wasn’t until college that I began to interact with and embrace my Filipina identity. In Professor Evelyn Rodriguez’s class, Filipinx for Black Lives, I learned to embrace the true history of Filipinos outside of the biases of Eurocentric ideology. We explored our own family trees and the traditions we may or may not continue to uphold in the states. Furthermore, we learned about our roles as allies and where we stand as people of color under white supremacy, and how we are linked to other marginalized communities.
I was able to immerse myself in communities that understand my culture and upbringing. I’ve learned how important it is to surround myself with people who recognize who I am, where I come from, and the things I am capable of. The small community we built taught me to feel empowered by my culture and have pride in the stories and traditions that shape my identity. I was even taught to appreciate the uniqueness of my last name and the importance of pronouncing a Spanish name correctly.
In Rabbi Camille Angel’s class, Queering Religion, I learned what it meant to be a woman and a sister and how I can use my privilege to uplift those around me. In Professor Marco Durazo’s class, Latinx & Chicanx Culture and Society, I am learning about the experiences we share with other ethnic groups under the system of white supremacy.
In each of these classes, I met amazing people and was able to immerse myself in a culture that wasn’t present in my youth. We understood each others’ struggles and pressures to assimilate to white culture as a people of color. We were able to debunk the myths that prevented us from fully accepting our Filipino identities and allowed us to create a safe space for learning, experimentation, and exploration.
Navigating our identities is never easy. It takes personal effort to really learn about your background and heritage. To me, being Filipina means carrying on the stories and traditions that have been passed on throughout our history. It means carrying myself with confidence and resilience, the skills that our ancestors carried with them. It means decolonizing my mind, unlearning history, and reclaiming my Filipino roots. It means sharing perspectives and forming a deeper understanding of your place in the world as a Filipinx individual in a way that makes sense to you.
As this month comes to an end, it’s important to acknowledge your family roots and the personal narratives that don’t get to be heard. It’s important to take pride in your family name, the shape of your nose, or the smell of a yummy traditional dish. For centuries, Filipinos have been stripped of their ability to create their own narratives. As the younger generation, it’s our responsibility to preserve the narratives of our ancestors and those to come.