HECUA classrooms

HECUA classroom series: Growing up Filipino(ish)

HECUA programs offer students a chance to think deeply about the issues that matter most, and we’d like to share a piece of that experience with you. This past semester, students in our Inequality in America program wrote a series of blog posts on a topic of their choosing. The only instruction? Select a theory or reading that intersects with your own lived experience. Over the next few months we’ll publish those powerful reflections from our Inequality students. You can find all of the posts by searching the HECUA classrooms category on our blog.

Growing up Filipino(ish)

by Natasha Mara Victa

I moved to the United States April 1st of what would have been first grade. Entering school, I quickly learned that I had to assimilate into American culture. It took me three months to brush the British accent I had learned from my four years of living in England. And when introductions were made in classes to come, I would immediately brush off Mara, my second name, and tell teachers and classmates to call me Natasha. Just Natasha.

Never in my life have I felt Filipina or American. For most of my life, I brushed off my “Filipinoness”, because I thought I was not “Filipino enough.” I don’t speak Tagalog, although I’ve developed a knack for piecing together the minimal Filipino words that I know from years of attempting to eavesdrop on my parents when they are talking about me. While both my parents are from the Philippines, I’ve hesitated calling myself “Filipino.” It feels hollow to say I am from a country when I have more knowledge about food rather than history.

The strongest connection to Filipino culture I have, was the food that my Grandmother, or as I called her, Owa, spent so many hours cooking. She came from the Philippines for four months of every year to cook and spend time with me and my sister. We spent so many hours talking about life in the Philippines and the titas and titos whose names I’ve memorized and faces I never knew. She taught me the three most important things about Filipino culture: the immense amount of selflessness giving, the importance of family, and the power of belief.

Because of Owa, I’ve never been able to call myself solely American either. Every time I have to fill out a form with the term “nationality” on it, I cringe. Even though I have been a citizen since 8th grade, but it is still hard for me to claim a country that automatically assumes I’m a foreigner. I didn’t grow up with the same TV shows or movies, I pronounce a lot of things “wrong” still, and frankly, I enjoy spices on my food.

And because I look different, after basic introductions are made, one of the most common questions I’ve ever gotten is “Where are you from?”, “What country are you from?”, or my favorite: “Are you (insert another Asian or South American Country here to which I have absolutely relation to)?”

So what am I?

I didn’t start really thinking about this until the death of my grandfather, Lolo, November of my senior year of high school. The funny thing about Lolo is that we share the same birthday, July 8th. In the Philippines it is traditional to have two names one Christian name and one “surname.” Because we share the same birthday, my parents changed the original second name they were going to give me, Lara, to Mara.

Growing up, I hated my middle name. I didn’t understand its significance, and I was more concerned that the lunch lady was calling Mara instead of my real name, Natasha. And even though I spent all my life ignoring my middle name, it just didn’t feel right after Lolo died. I took his name, like my Filipinoness, for granted.

I did not realize until my first year in college. Leaving home and going to the University of Minnesota made me realize and start to understand all the abundance of different kinds of spaces I’ve interacted with growing up, something that many people don’t usually get! But most importantly, I now have a answer to the question: Where are you from?

I am a Filipina-American because the combination of these two places is the only way describe who I am. I am Filipina in my love of food and people. I am Filipina, because my second name, Mara, has just as much importance as my first because it is a recognition of my late Grandfather (Lolo), Mauro Victa whose birthday I share. I am American because I stand up for what I believe in and stubbornly push forward until I have my way. I am American because I grew up in the states, understood the culture, and have lived here all my life. No one person has the right to take away my experiences.

My story, like everyone’s matters. The United States is a nation of immigrants, therefore immigrant stories should be embraced and told. And frankly, it is a shame that mainstream media and history books do not acknowledge much beyond the scope of white America. There are so many different colors, and variants of the word “American.” No one person should be forced to deny or ignore any part of their heritage or upbringing just because they don’t look the same or don’t speak the language. I’ve spent most of my life and upbringing away from my blood culture. I have a hard time claiming either of these countries as my own because one want to just call me “Asian” and the other wants to call me “American.” There are so many spaces that I have seen, and frankly I don’t fit into the neat and pretty labels that society wants to place on me. I am Filipina. I am American. I have the right to claim both as my own.

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