Filipino American History Month

Daly City / San Francisco born and raised. Daly City, California, is known for the huge Filipino presence. People joke around that Daly City is basically “Little Manila.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area that is so culturally diverse, but also, had people that had the same background and traditions as myself. I know that a few hours out of the Bay Area in either direction is a totally different story. So I didn’t realize until my early 20’s how lucky I was to grow up here. I know there are a lot of people that have stories about being some of the only Asians at their high school and feeling the need to conform to those around them, which usually meant acting more white.

Of course, when I was younger, I was unaware of how fortunate I was to live in an area where some people have the same features as me, speak the same 2nd language as me, and have similar traditions as my family. At the time, all of this was my normal reality. I went to a Catholic school that highlighted a Filipino-Chinese Saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, every year. And everytime September rolled around, we would have San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass during school hours. I would feel such a sense of pride. Mr. Mills’ class always “hosted” that mass, and I remember since Kindergarten going to the mass every year.

One student would recite sentence by sentence Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English, and another student would translate that sentence in Tagalog. I can still remember the script: “Lorenzo Ruiz, our first martyr.” “Lorenzo Ruiz, una naming martir…” There was a specific song we sang at the mass that was entirely in Tagalog. I couldn’t understand the whole song, but I could understand majority of it. This was my “normal” growing up. Celebrating a Filipino Saint, for example, was “normal,” but now I look back and realize it’s because we had such a big Filipino community in the Bay Area. And I took so much pride in it. I was so proud.

When I was in 5th grade I was finally in Mr. Mills’ class. I was excited because I knew that I had the chance to play a role in the mass since he hosted it every year. When Mr. Mills started to ask for volunteers, my hand was one of the first to shoot up in the air. I wanted to be a part of San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass so bad. The mass highlighted Filipinos and our language, and I wanted to be involved. Luckily, Mr.Mills picked me to have a part in the mass. I was going to be reading the English translation of Ruiz’s story. I was so excited because it was something I had watched for years from the church pews, but now, I’d be the one presenting it.

I practiced every night with my lines. The mass was going to be in front of the whole school, definitely more than 600 people. We would practice in the church, and I would have the microphone. I was known for being a loud mouth, which is probably why I was picked to read and have the role. Mr. Mills would always tell us, “Project your voice. Enunciate!” I could probably use my regular voice and people in the church could hear me without a microphone, so I was solid. I remember the day of the mass, I started to get stage fright. I looked out into the crowd and saw all eyes on me, as Ivan and I stood infront of the whole school. We told Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English and in Tagalog, and after, I felt such a sense of pride that I got to be a part of something that highlighted my people.

Even though I grew up in a place where there were a lot of Filipinos, I still didn’t understand why nobody on TV looked like me. I would get excited watching shows that had an Asian person, and it was even more heart eyes if I knew they were Filipino as well. It was to the point where my sisters and I would say things like, “Look, an Asian!” “Do you think they’re Filipino?” “I bet maybe they’re half,” when we would see an Asian on TV. So even though I came from an area that was very Filipino/ Asian dense, I knew from a young age that Asians were  not being represented on the TV screens. From Manny Pacquiao, to Shay Mitchell, to Apl.de.ap, to Jokoy, to Jasmine Trias on American Idol, once we caught wind of them being Filipino, we rode hard for them. On Balitang America, the Filipino news station that broadcasted American news through the Filipino lens, they would feature any Filipino making a name for us in America. From the music industry, to entertainment, to education. 

I feel like Filipinos are very proud of other Filipinos who “make it.” Even if they have a small following, just claiming their Filipino heritage will have other Filipinos rep them. I even remember going on Shay Mitchell’s Ask back in the day and asking if she was really half Filipino. She actually responded and confirmed that she was in fact half Filipina. It made me so proud that an actress that I looked up to was representing us on the screen. I even recall reading interviews where Shay talked about growing up in an area that was mostly white, and being biracial had her feeling left out. Seeing people that look like me on the screen was important growing up. I was the kind of kid that literally set a “Filipino For Lyfe” themed MySpace background. Jokoy described seeing other Filipinos on TV as motivation to go for his dreams and make it as well. 

When I got to high school the history books just touched on Filipino American history oh so briefly. I used to skim through the history books in middle school and see where Filipinos or the Philippines was ever brought up. It wouldn’t be much. High school was a weird time. Going to a high school in Daly City meant that there were gonna be a lot of Filipinos. It wasn’t always the case, but sometimes there would be snarky comments (sometimes from people I was even cool with) complaining about how the whole school is mostly Filipino / Asian. Being Asian or Filipino in Daly City didn’t make you special. You were just like everybody else. Which I saw was a good thing when I was younger. But then I hit my teen years and wanted to be different, I didn’t want to be “like everyone else.”

I wasn’t ashamed to be Filipino, but I wasn’t repping it hard like I used to. Why would I have to rep it if everyone and their mama was Filipino in Daly City anyways? Don’t get me wrong – I still would be happy when I saw a Filipino coming up. But at the same time I wouldn’t plaster “Filipino For Lyfe” as a MySpace background anymore because I thought it was cringe. At this age I was on the prowl for a boyfriend (cringe lyfe), and when people would ask if I would ever get with a Filipino guy, I’d respond in a way that made it seem like “never in a thousand years.” Which I thought was okay, since I’m Filipino too. “What if I find out they’re my cousin or something?!” I would say. Which by the way, isn’t too far fetched, my family on both sides are pretty big.

I would say it wasn’t until I got to SFSU and joined the journalism program did I start to get that sense of pride back again. Suddenly, my whole perspective shifted. I took on the role of “journalist” and was bothered over the fact that a great portion of newsrooms are ran by white people. White men to be exact. The lack of diversity in journalism is what ticked me off. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to represent my people and capture stories of people in my community, and branch out further. Suddenly, that pride was back. But that pride was matched with determination. Determined to make change and actually make a difference. I wasn’t giving people a “voice,” because everyone has a voice. I wanted to be so open and chill that anyone felt like they could open up to me and tell their stories, and describe to me their raw emotions.

Suddenly, I had a mission. I wanted to get more in touch with my culture, the good and the bad. And since being on this journey, I have learned a lot, just by talking to people casually about their own experiences. I started to embrace my Filipino culture with open arms again, like how I did when I was a kid. I didn’t care if I was 1 out of 2 billion Filipinos in the Bay Area. I didn’t care about the “Little Manila” jokes anymore. I wanted to learn more about my people’s history, their stories, their struggles. And I wanted to write it. Not some random journalist who is just trying to bang out another story. I didn’t want someone else to be writing our stories.

Especially being out of school, I have made efforts to try to educate myself on my own. I remember writing a paper in community College about how my dad’s side of the family arrived to America. Just by talking to the members of my own family, I uncovered historic events. My great grandfather was a prisoner of War and survivor of the Bataan Death March. This information I would’ve never known if I didn’t have the school assignment, and if I never asked for the story. I started becoming obsessed with other people’s stories. My whole life I’ve been the talker. And now, I’m taking on the role of listener and teacher.

October is Filipino American history month. Every month, we teach the kids at my school about a new country. This month, I chose the Philippines. Over the years I have seen the Bay Area, but San Francisco is particular, changing. And changing fast. And it’s nice to teach my 1.5 – 2 1/2 year old students about my culture and traditions. One of my students got picked up and told her mom she painted a flag for activity. Her mom asked if she remembered what country’s flag she painted. My student responded with, “Well, it’s where teacher Marinelle’s mom and dad is from.”

I had the right idea when I was in 5th grade, “Filipino For Lyfe.”

Filipinx For Black Lives

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

In the last week and a half, my social media platforms have been flooded by opinions, video footage, and information about the BLM movement. Everyone is getting vocal. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is posting non-stop. The problem is, everyone thinks their opinion is the right one. Some are willing to hear the opposing side, some are agreeing to disagree, some don’t want to hear it at all.

This whole week my group chats and messages have been blowing up. It seems like everyday, I’m hearing the story about another friend of mine confronting an undercover racist relative or friend on social media / text message. Everyone is fed up. People are done ignoring content on their timeline and just scrolling past because they don’t want to start beef. Nope, those days are gone. Silence has gotten us to this point. As a country, we’re realizing that staying silent isn’t the way. We’re realizing that ignoring undercover racists is doing a lot more damage than we think.

All these killings, protests, video evidence of police brutality are giving people the courage to finally speak up to those they call family or social media friend. I know it’s very tough, but the uncomfortable conversations need to take place. It starts in your household and those around you. That’s how we make change, by keeping the conversation going to educate ourselves, the people around us, who we raise, and who raised us.

I know confronting older family members or acquaintences you know on social media can be difficult for some. We all know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so I understand why some people feel on the fence about confronting someone so directly – whether that be commenting on their post, texting, calling, or in person. But the death of George Floyd has really forced everyone to look at the people around them and decide whether they want to tolerate and allow people with differing views to stay in their lives. It sounds a bit dramatic to cut someone off for having a different opinion, but when that opinion is about racism and in turn denies / undermines certain groups of people, we have to really evaluate who we choose to surround ourselves with. And in order to make that decision, the conversations needs to be had with friends and family.

Being from the Bay Area where the Filipino community is very big, it gives me a sense of pride when I see “Filipinx for Black Lives” signs at protests. And I know for a fact that a lot of Filipinx kids are trying to educate their elders and those around them on the Black Lives Matter movement. And this is not something that’s easily done, especially in the Filipino culture. There is a generational divide between first generation Filipinx Americans and their elders. Especially being born and raised in the Bay Area, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by a diverse community, people from all backgrounds and cultures. We grew up in an environment that allowed us to think freely, accept people’s differences, grow up with friends of different cultures, and live completely different lives than our ancestors.

We literally come from two different worlds. Generally speaking, traditional Filipinx born and raised in the Philippines are pretty conservative. This is where the generations seem to clash. Speaking against a Filipinx elder is seen as complete disrespect. Especially if it isn’t your parents you’re disagreeing with. It casts a bad name on your parents and it takes “who raised you?” to another level. For that reason, many Filipinx children find it hard to oppose their elders and their views. So the cycle continues for Filipinx American children: fighting the urge to speak out, avoiding conflict by ignoring ignorant comments, minding their business because they’re not in the conversation even though they’re ear hustling. Because we know, either from experience or how we were raised, that you should always respect your elders, and sometimes that means never speaking out of turn.

“If you don’t agree with what they’re saying, or maybe what they’re saying is wrong, it’s okay. Just ignore.”

We’ve been taught to ignore. Ignore the ignorance. Ignore the racist views. Ignore out of pocket and unacceptable comments. And if you speak out, you are shamed and seen as disrespectful. It’s a toxic cycle, because it punishes Filipinx Americans for speaking up and having an opinion. We are taught to comply and if you disagree, disagree silently. We are taught that your age is the deciding factor on if your opinion is valid or not. And in turn, basically saying respect comes with age and not earned.

This is the dynamic in a lot of Filipino families. But people shouldn’t get a pass to be racist because they’re older. This closes the door for open conversation and for education to take place. Sometimes conversations aren’t even started because you get the sense that some of these elders are already set in their ways of thinking, and no amount of facts, stats, or common sense can change their minds. So instead, some stay silent because what’s the point of stirring the pot if nobody’s gonna eat it anyways?

The truth is, if you confront an elder Filipinx relative or friend for being racist, they will deny it with all of their being. They are completely oblivious to how their comments, views, and microagressions hurt other people. And when someone responds on the defensive when confronted, it’ll feel like the conversation is going in circles. You can’t force someone to hear you out. Successful conversations only take place when both parties are willing to be open minded. When confronting someone about being racist towards the black community, they may use the excuse that they aren’t racist because they don’t use the “N” word. But there are so many other ways where racism can take root.

And it all stems from self-hate and fear. And that self-hate and fear has been passed down through generations through microagressions. Some traditional conservative Filipinx elders will swear on their graves that they aren’t racist, but when some really stop to think what they were taught when they were younger, there’s no hiding the fact that a lot of what we learned is racist and damaging.

Who you choose as a partner is a big deal in the Filipino culture. I’m pretty sure it’s a big deal in every culture as well, but I can only speak from my own culture. We are taught to look for a successful partner, of the same race preferably so there are cultural similarities, but if not, you better make sure they’re light skinned and rich. Bringing home an African American partner is frowned upon, while bringing home a Caucasian partner is seen as a victory. If your African American partner is successful and making good money, they get less shade points, but you’ll still get the side eye and be the talk of the party behind your back. If you bring home a Caucasian partner, they will be more accepted, and you’ll get looks of approval. A silent “good job” head nod will go around from aunt to uncle. In fact, your relatives will start to awe and woo over your future light skinned children who will *fingers crossed* inherit the “good features” of being white. Also known as, they pray your kid won’t have a Filipino nose.

And that’s an ongoing theme in the Filipino culture. They are so blatantly ashamed of their dark complexion and Filipino features. They have adopted the notion that darker skin is ugly and unwanted, and everyone should strive to be lighter. Lightening soaps and other products are so heavily advertised around the Philippines. They have celebrities swearing by these products, they have doctors on commercials, they have little Filipinx brown kids hating their skin. We are taught from a young age that being dark is something to be ashamed of, it’s something that needs to be “fixed,” while being lighter is the “goal.” But it doesn’t stop at wanting lighter skin. No, this goes deeper than the outside appearance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my people and I’m proud to be Filipino, don’t get it twisted. I just know that we as a community and as a people are not perfect. There are toxic behaviors and ideals that should not be circulating around anymore. It’s 2020. It’s time to do better, act better, and be better. That being said, a lot of the conservative Filipinx elders try to do just that, in terms of being a model citizen. We as a people work hard, we push ourselves, we try to abide by the rules. Some serve in the military, some go into the police force, some take the route of civil servant. And unfortunately, some believe that their time being served will get them the same perks and treatment as white people. They try their hardest to be model citizens and get the approval of the white man. But the truth is, as a Filipinx in America, you can try as hard as you want to adopt the American culture, try to get their features, act like them, lighten your skin, forget where you came from, but you will never have the same privilege as a white person. We will never be on the same playing field because we are a minority.

We have more in common with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters who are also fighting to be seen as equals. We are all on the same boat, even though some people don’t want to acknowledge it. Instead of tearing our brothers and sisters down, we should link up and put up a united front. Because we are all fighting the same battle. Some groups have it way worse than others, but it is up to us to stand up to the oppressors.

There are some people that genuinely believe that everyone has an equal chance of making it, and that the playing fields are even regardless of your economic background and race. The argument of “if they are not successful, it’s because they chose that life.” Which is somewhat true, but only to an extent. The playing fields are not even, and a lot of systems for people of color, especially black people, is set up so they can fail. And if you can’t see that through which neighborhoods get good school funding, what foods are offered to those who are on a budget, the stats of those incarcerated, I don’t know what to tell you.

Some will argue that this is more of a reason for minorities, especially black people, to work 10 times harder. But the point is, why should they have to work 10 times harder just to make the playing fields even? It shouldn’t be like that. Unfortunately, this is the reality for so many people. It is in our Filipinx privilege that we are not the main targets of oppression and police brutality. However, please don’t get blindsided and think that you are the exception to the rule. You are still a person of color.

I believe a lot of the Filipinx elders are opposed to the idea of standing with the BLM movement because they are misunderstanding what it stands for. So let me make this clear : standing for the BLM movement doesn’t mean you condone looting, it doesn’t mean all cops are bad, and it doesn’t mean that only black lives matter. The older Filpinx mindset is to believe that all the rioters and looters are a part of the protests. I’ve seen some referring to the protesters as “animals,” “barbaric,” and “thugs.” Please, please, please remember your history, and know that these are loaded terms. Never forget that Filipinos were showcased in Zoos for the amusement of others, to show and “prove” that we were barbaric and animalistic. How Americans view Filipinx people has changed and we have came a long way since the 1900’s. But it is time for us to stand in unison with our black brothers and sisters who are still having those labels attached to them to this day.

It is time for Filipinx people to stand and support black lives like they support black culture. For all the undercover racist Filipinx people who take part in these dance challenges to songs by black people, to those who cheer on black people but only when they’re winning your city a championship, to those who try to adopt the fashion, style, and slang, this is a message for you. You can’t love black culture only when it’s convenient for you. You can’t love what black people produce talent wise but leave them hanging when it comes to their rights and lives. You can’t chant “all lives matter” when you know you’re turning a blind eye to black people and their struggle.

Black people are dying every day from police brutality, and we are refusing to let this go on any further. The truth is, a lot of people are pressed about well known businesses burning down, churches, flags, etc. Things that are easily replaceable and essentially mean nothing. The fact that people care more about burning goods than black people’s lives is beyond me. You’re more pressed about people burning flags? Flags that were never meant for them, representing a nation that was never meant for them to be included in, a land they built for free and still get treated like second class citizens? But seeing black and brown people dying, being mistreated, arrested, maced, beaten, etc, is so common to you that you’re basically used to it? It’s truly a shame.

It’s time to have the uncomfortable conversations with family and internet friends. Silence is letting hate breed, especially if you have black people in your own family. Im proud of my Filipinx brothers and sisters who are speaking out against those closest to them, even if it’s difficult. Even if you’re seen as rude, disrespectful, abnoxious.

The generational gap is something we’ve struggled with. But times are different. Our generation are allies to the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community. We are no longer staying silent to appease those who can’t see the bigger picture. Try your best to educate those who are too set in their ways of thinking.

Filipinx for black lives. We stand with you, we see you, we understand your frustration, and we’re here to break the chain of racism you might’ve felt from our community. It’s truly beautiful to see so many people of different backgrounds get together to fight for what is long overdue. So many people are breaking the chain of ignorance, unlearning racist ideals that they grew up on, and educating those around them. But it all starts with breaking the silence.