Filipino American: A Lost Language and Identity Crisis


Tagalog is a language I never learned. It is the official language of the Philippines, a country with thousands of islands and many different dialects… but a country I have not yet visited. The irony is that my paternal grandfather was the mayor of Manila (capital of the Philippines) during the 1960’s. There are aspects of the culture and politics that have influenced me but I will not go into those details within this post. What I will mention briefly is that the impact of the Ferdinand Marcos regime and martial law indirectly affected me and spurred me to write a research paper on the topic during the end of my freshman year of college. As I met more people, I began to realize how my experience growing up as a Filipino-American, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, is not unique to me.

The photo above shows me with my mom and Rob Bonta, a Filipino American politician. I was awarded for my academic success in high school as an outstanding student of Filipino ancestry. I had great support from family and friends but it was still tough to focus on the workload of AP courses while balancing my time with guitar lessons and cross country or track & field. Moving away from home was a huge transition for me.

During college at UC Irvine, I joined the main Filipino club on campus, Kababayan, which means fellow townmate in Tagalog. One of the main reasons I joined was my newfound fascination with Kaba Modern, the dance crew that earned 3rd place nationally during the first season on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Part of me felt a cultural dissonance rooted heavily in my poor understanding of the language and culture beyond food. While balancing with my intense coursework as a biology major, I took upon a leadership role to become more involved with the Cross Cultural Center, which is the on campus resource dedicated to promoting diversity through events and assisting students, especially leaders of campus organizations. What I learned outside of the classroom setting was instrumental for shaping me to be a better person and more understanding of where people are coming from. These aspects of personal development helped me re-focus my efforts on what is important to me, taking things with a grain of salt, and not being ignorant.

To close this out, I will leave you with one of my favorite memories. As a freshman about to begin the college experience, I saw Kaba Modern perform in the lecture hall where I had class the next day. This is a video of that performance:


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