Witnessing Filipino-American successes boosts my hopes
During a watch party for “The OC” in his early twenties, a friend’s roommate leaned in conspiratorially.
“You know she’s half-Filipina,” he whispered, pointing to Summer Roberts, the pretty brunette played by actress Rachel Bilson. “Like you.”
“Eh.” I squinted and bit my cheek. I looked closer, analyzing the bronze of her skin, the width of her nose, the deep brown of her eyes. Could she be? Really?
When I got back to the computer desk in my apartment, I did what any other curious Filipino person would have done in 2003, I called Al Gore’s internet, typed in www.askjeeves. com in my Firefox browser and waited (and waited) for some sort of confirmation.
Last year: Fort Myers and Naples Restaurant Reviews: After 41 Years, We Reveal JLB
Hello from JLB: Remembering what it’s like to dine for fun
“Is Summer Roberts Filipino?”
“Filipina OC actress?”
“Filipino actress The OC TV show?”
Jeeves had no answers.
My quest for representation was a decade too early. The technology that would eventually connect me to Filipino-Americans all over the United States was still being perfected. In my little town of Robert E. Lee County, FloridaI always felt alone.
What I had was a list of “Filipino Hopefuls,” a file hidden among my Word documents listing rumored Filipino celebrities: that guy from the Black Eyed Peas; this girl from the Pussycat Dolls; Rob Schneider; Enrique Iglesias. And now Rachel Bilson. Perhaps.
The problem with being Filipino is that we are not easily categorized.
Filipino-Americans are the third largest subset of the Asian-American population, which according to recent census data is now the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. In this large and rapidly expanding category, Filipino-Americans follow only the Chinese. Americans and Native Americans, with 2.9 million of us spread across those 50 states. We’ve infiltrated Alaska, Maine and the two Dakotas.
And yet, who are we?
“Who are the Filipinos?”
Ask Jeeves today and you’ll get 62 million results, starting with a dating site that promises, “Sincere man meets women from the Philippines (sic)”.
A better answer would be that we are the product of centuries of colonization. We are a Southeast Asian archipelago so disputed, so invaded, so “saved” by our invaders – 377 years under Spanish colonization; 48 years under American colonization; a brief but violent Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 – that our sense of identity has become as fractured as our 7,100 islands.
To survive our colonizers, Filipinos had to adapt. Filipino-American writer and sociologist Anthony Ocampo has called Filipinos “racial chameleons.” We tend to conform to our environment. And when we’re pushed out of an environment, like my mother was when she left Metro Manila in 1978 to support her parents and six younger siblings as a registered nurse in a town in Florida she had never heard of, we adapt to any location. we are.
Quickly and efficiently. Perhaps too quickly and efficiently.
My mother perfected the already solid English she had learned in her scheduled schools in the United States. She fell in love with My White Dad and Stevie Wonder and “Facts of Life” and Meatloaf (like Spam but beefy!). She bled into her surroundings. All in the two years before my birth in 1980.
This has long been the Filipino-American way. We came to the United States as nurses, doctors, workers. We arrived quietly, happy to have an opportunity, something that centuries of colonization eradicated from our homeland. We tried to blend in.
And yet, like so many minority groups, we have always longed for representation.
When I was younger, I used to get upset when a dark-haired stranger approached me in a store. I saw them watching me, moving closer until I was within earshot.
“Pilipina ka ba? they would say.
I nodded, then answered in English because my mother considered Tagalog useless in the United States.
“Only half,” I told them.
And women would clap their hands or run their fingers through my black hair or puff on my wide, flat nose like a puppy.
“I knew it! Ayé nako! I say to my husband: It’s Pilipina that one! I knew it!”
I realize now that these women www.askjeeves.com-ing me. They needed connection so badly that they let their curiosity get the better of their ways.
Fortunately, so much has changed.
At last week’s Grammys, when Olivia Rodrigo, Saweetie, HER, Silk Sonic’s Bruno Mars and Rob Schneider’s daughter Elle King scooped awards, Filipinos shouted it from the rooftops, “These are our people. ! Watch them shine!
Later that week, when the University of Kansas basketball guard Remy Martin draped the Philippine flag over his shoulders while cradling the NCAA National Championship trophy, we shouted again. Days later, when Kasama in Chicago became the first Filipino restaurant in the United States to win a coveted Michelin star, we cleared our throats, sipped calamansi help, and screamed again.
These victories felt like a balm; a plate of cut fruit delivered from the universe after months and years of Asian hatred, of our lolas and titas beaten, kicked and worse. These wins don’t solve that. They are not magically remaking our mental health system. They do not create a broader safety net or a more diverse and inclusive curriculum.
But they matter.
As Kevin Nadal, a Filipino-American psychology professor and researcher, wrote in December in Psychology Today, representation can help reduce negative stereotypes, “the more people are exposed to or come into contact with groups different from them , the less likely they are to harbor prejudices. .”
These victories should give hope to Filipino and Asian Americans. We need to see ourselves doing, winning, triumphing. We need to see our dreams lived out by people who share our heritage. We need to know that we are not alone.
Rachel Bilson, it turns out, doesn’t share that legacy. She is half-Jewish and half-Italian, according to Google. And that’s OK. I needed her 20 years ago, but look at all the Filipinos I have now.
Annabelle Tometich is a food writer and restaurant critic for The News-Press and Naples Daily News.