Growing Up Filipina-American: 'Crazy Rich Asians' Special
With the success of the film adaptation of author Kevin Kwan's 'Crazy Rich Asians', the increase of Asian American presence in media has continued to soar.
I'm just here for it all. I'm here for the ethnic representation movements that films like 'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'Black Panther' are finally bringing forth. And I'm here for stepping out of the stereotypes that we're all responsible for fueling in the past.
I grew up in the U.S. and throughout those growth filled years, Asian American representation has never been this big. EVER. On top of seeing an all Asian cast, it filled me with pride and joy to see Filipino-Americans represented in the film as well. It was refreshing to see both new and old faces of Asian actors and artists, making it on the big screen. Even more so refreshing to see a woman like myself & many others, who is Asian American, leading in a movie like this...
The Asian/Asian American population in the US has been considered part of the "good minority" for the past 20 or so years (or so I've experienced down in here in Texas) and I have definitely felt it throughout my life.
What do I mean by 'Good minority'? I mean that we're not "so bad" that we've made it to news, that because we "assimilate so well" into American culture, we're not so much of a "bother" to the majority compared to other demographics. I say this because the generalization of being part of a "good minority" is still a bad one (generalizations, really).
Asian American representation in many creative platforms has continued to be a struggle & I feel like the most representation of most Asian demographics have seemed to be the stereotypical ones: side kick, nerd, martial art, poverty stricken roles. And that's never been fair to N generation of immigrants who characterize otherwise.
Previously, I wrote about my own Fil-Am experience. It sure wasn't all of it but I feel like I covered some basics. Prior to & after seeing the movie, many thoughts really began spinning in my mind about what it truly meant to be an Asian American today. And so I asked around... Eventually, I decided on interviewing a special someone who recently entered my life: my cousin in Cali, my Ate Ami.
So here's the whole interview old school style! ;) Happy reading, everyone!
Growing Up Filipina-American
with family guest speaker
Me: Hellooo! Go ahead & introduce yourself! :)
Ami: My name is Ami, I am Marjorie's cousin. I actually met her for the first time - I met you for the first time around Christmas time, right (?) of last year. And yeah, I'm excited to be here!
Q: So Ate, were you born in the US?
A: I was born here, yeah. So I'm first generation but I was born in LA. So my parents met [in] Saudi, then they immigrated over here. My mom was able to get a job as a nurse- go figure (shared laughter)...
[Funny & awkward exchange of telling each other this is the first time we've ever done an interview style sit down]
Q: Did you ever have a lunch box moment?
*Lunch Box Moment: the first time you eat a cultural food from home and someone makes a comment about its appearance or smell - just how different it is. Usually occurs during early years of childhood at school and usually associated with that person experiencing a negative reaction from a culturally different party.
A: Yeah! I was like, "what's a 'lunch box moment', I don't understand (laughter). Luckily for me, elementary and middle school was when I had packed lunches. High school, I was just given money to get my lunch there. So having packed lunches, I actually grew up in a community where most people were actually ethnic - Filipino or Hispanic. So in my case, I never really had a "lunch box" moment. If anything, it would've been more like, "bro, let me get some of that" - "can I get some of that fish or lumpia or pansit!?" (laughter)
Q: So did your parents ever make anything "too ethnic" for your friends? Like not even one single time, your friends were like "dude. What is that? That low key stinks"?
A: Probably the most ethnic dish - I don't even know if this is a Filipino dish - but my mom used to make like straight liver. I think I remember somebody asking about that. But other than that, my dad isn't like the traditional Filipino. He doesn't really like the hard core stuff like the balut. I never really had it. My parents were never really that exotic when it came to Filipino food. I think the worst thing was the liver.
Q: But did you like that thought (the liver)?
A: I liked it back then but I don't think I could eat it now (shared laughter).
Q: Okay. So speaking of lunch box moments and how other people comment about your ethnicity - did you ever experience racism?
A: Uhhm. Racism? I think probablyy - again I was raised in an ethnic scope - so besides the typical middle schoolers. They're terrible aren't they!? But other than the "ching chong ching", not really. I was thinking about this last night actually. I think when it comes to racism, [Filipinos] have it pretty easy compared to other ethnic groups. When I try to think about negative things that have happened to Filipino people, like struggles we've been through (in US). I don't think it's anything compared to that of African Americans or Hispanics. I think people are pretty neutral to Filipino folk. In my experience...
Q: Were there any cultural barriers you had to overcome at home?
A: Um, I would think towards my teen years. Probably the only cultural barrier that I actually had to deal with was that age group. I'm growing up, I want to have my own independence. You know how teenagers get. And my mom especially being totally traditional Filipino, she was really strict on me. She was so strict to the point where I couldn't do anything my friends could do. Things as simple as going to sleepovers.
I think this is the one & only time she ever let me spend the night at my girlfriend's house. But literally it was my girlfriends & her mom ([who my mom was friends with] so it wasn't like some random stranger). And all the girls including their mom were on the phone with [mine], trying to talk to [her] about letting me stay over. Eventually, she did & I can't believe she actually did that.
Oh! Being pushed academically. Like always. I couldn't miss a day, no matter how sick I was. My mom would always push me to go. I always had to have straight A's. Those are the two I can think about.
Q: Did you ever feel resentment towards your parents for making you always do that? Were you able to explore your creativity?
A: They did let me - I mean, I was creative & everything. And I think with academics being a part of it, I think that was just all I ever knew so I never was resentful towards them. It was just kind of the norm, like I knew it was just what I had to do. But when it came to me not having any freedom when I saw, that y'know, my other friends were starting to have a little bit of freedom, that's when I started to feel kind of resentful towards how strict they were with me.
Q: You actually asked me this question! Would you consider yourself more Filipina or more American?
A: American. I was born here, raised here. There are always going to be little parts of me that are like "oh yeah, I'm Filipino". So my husband, being American - like he's just a white boy (laughs) - would always point out, "babe, you're being such a Filipino right now". He would say that with little things (laughter)! I don't know but y'know how a lot of Filipinos like to put covers on everything (laughter)? Like my dad does this weird thing where he doesn't take the plastic off new electronics & just keeps them on 'cause he doesn't wanna scratch 'em. Weird right?
Also, I'm never on time. I'm always on Filipino time. That's also one of them (laughs).
Q: Growing up, did you have other Filipino or Asian friends?
A: (Laughs) Yeah, we had our little group. I always kind of felt like the outcast though when I had my Filipino friends around. Yeah, we're friends and everything but I always felt like I was an outcast for some reason.
Q: Did you feel "too American"?
A: I think so. Yeah, most of them speak Tagalog & I don't.
Q: As a mother, are you instilling any of your Filipino heritage to your children?
A: Well... Let's take a moment here. When you think about Filipino heritage, what is it, exactly? I was like, "I don't even know my own heritage so it's important to know it" (jokes).
When I think of Filipino heritage, the first thing I think of is our close family bonds. So we come from a heritage based on family roots. We come from a third world country, we don't have much there, but we do have what matters. We have family. And that is definitely something that yes, I will instill to my children. [They] already are feeling that. Unfortunately, I don't have much family around here. It's only my dad but my dad's very involved in my family. He's here every night. He's always there for the events & everything.
It's hard with us being first gen; we don't have much of our family here. Ever since I was little, I've been making my friends my family. So I do have that close connection but not with my family per say, it's with friends that I've made into family.
[My son] has that sense of closeness with our friends because we have a lot of family friends that we see very often. He's growing up with their kids so we're already starting with that.
So family is a big part of it so much so that y'know, you can see a trend in adults staying with their parents for a longer time until they move out. [We can be] with our parents until we're 30 or until we're married. Which is a good thing because it [makes it easier for us] - especially here, it's so hard to go to school and pay for a house & work all at the same time. So it is God sent that we have our family take care of us while we get that out of the way. We have that as a blessing & not a lot of people can say that.
Academics. I want my kids to be disciplined, know the importance of academics, the importance of making a career for yourself.
Q: This just came to mind... Going back to a previous question: if ever your children were to experience or witness racism, how would one handle with that as a parent?
A: That's a good question. Y'know, I'm really hoping that my kids will never have to deal with that. I'm really hoping that with it being 2018 and being in California (I mean it's such a melting pot here) I feel like racism isn't as bad as it used to be. But I don't know, I'm not in the schools. Kids can be savage...
I mean really, it's just kind of like a lot of things. I just have to do the best that I can do to do my part raising my child to not be one of those people that bully others. I already don't teach difference in color. I don't want him to be able to differentiate. I want [my kids] to see everyone as a person, not as a race. Y'know what I mean - teaching that sort of thing young and just teaching them to be a good person all around & letting things go. I want [them] to be able to stick up for [themselves] but I want [them] to be reasonable if [they] ever experience anything bad like that...
Let God handle those people that are just gonna be mistreating [them]. [They] don't need to be around that. It's terrifying when you think about your kids & the world because the world is getting pretty crazy these days & you can't always be there for your kids. You kind of have to teach them what you can, do the best you can & hope for the best... It's a learning experience for me.
Q: What is your favorite part of your identity/Filipino-American culture?
A: I think, socially, I'm very hospitable when there are visitors. I always make sure that they're taken care of. I'm really friendly & respectful and I think that has a lot to do with my heritage because that's just the way that I was raised. More petty things though, it would probably be that I never have to shave. Because my leg hairs are really thin, thanks to our genes. Also, I think we have it pretty good when we age...
Q: Least favorite?
A: I think the thing that bugs me the most is when other Filipinos ask me if I speak Tagalog... I don't know what it is, but that's like the first thing any Filipino ever says to me. Like when I see a Filipino walking in at work or if I see them out and they look at me, I knooowww the question's coming.
So the first question is: "are you Filipina?" and then the second question is: "do you speak Tagalog?" And then I have to say 'no' and then I feel like I have to explain myself. I feel like that's the thing that I don't like the most. Again, the more petty thing would be my height. I'm short... Other than that, I don't really have anything to complain about (laughs). I mean when people stereotype us, it's usually things like, "oh they're probably really good at school" or "they're probably a nurse".
Q: Do you have any words to Filipino-American/Asian-American community out here that may be reading?
A: WE ROCK. Don't let the few stereotypes to ever define you. A lot of who you are has to do with how you're raised and who you're around. It is important to understand your heritage but ultimately you make who you are.
Me: Thank you so much, Ate Ami! Thank you for letting me interview you!
Ami: Thank you for having me! This was so fun!
It's important to understand that any individual cultural experience may be similar to parts of others' journeys but will never be the exact same as anyone else's. It's about familial culture, about where each person grew up, what they've been through, those that surround you, and the time period in which that person grew, etc. There are so many things to consider.
Not only has 'Crazy Rich Asians' fully opened the door for dominant Asian American representation in film, it's also opened up more conversations about the importance of understanding the presence of individual journeys within a demographic. And I believe that to be just as powerful.
Read up on the first 'Growing up Fil-Am' Post!
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