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.”

To My Filipina Girls

Filipina girl,

Please just keep doing you.

Don’t let these beauty standards tell you what to do.

Fuck those products that make your skin lighter,

I feel like this is something I need to address as a writer.

You don’t need products or surgery to change what you were given,

I wish you inner peace and accept the features you’ll forever live in.

However, I am not one to judge if you go down the surgery route,

But let’s be real we know what this epidemic is all about.

Society and culture tells you that you have to look a certain way,

These things were molded into our minds so young as if our brains were clay.

You’re confused as to why your family tells you to eat more, but will later throw it in your face,

And now you’re wondering why you stare in the mirror and look at your body like its a fucking disgrace.

You’re looking at the people on TV and can’t help but stare,

You’re stuck wondering if you’d feel better about yourself if you were fair.

Fuck that shit, let me say this once cuz I’m a lil’ fighter,

Those people want you to stay insecure and have you wish that your features were “whiter.”

The running joke is that of a Filipino’s nose,

Well let me tell you this, and this is how the new story goes…

I love my nose, my color, and all my Filipino features,

I’ll never deny my background, preachin’ like I’m a preacher.

There’s nothing more sad than discrimination from your own people,

They think if your “Filipino” don’t look the same as theirs then you are not their equal.

Growing up, I never saw people in shows that look like me,

I would get excited and feel pride when there was a known Filipino on TV.

When they repped Filipinos publically it made me even prouder,

So that’s why I’ll say this message again, this time even louder:

Filipina girl,

You are more than your outer beauty,

Educate, inspire, grow that brain, that’s your fucking duty.

Because when you do that, only then will you know,

They want you to stay insecure so they can sell you things, and damn now it shows!

My mission is to make it for the people that look like me,

I’m Filipina and I’m proud, and that’s the fuckin’ tea! πŸΈβ˜•