Written by: Airah Macadangdang
Hello! My name is Airah. I’m a college student at University of Hawaii at Manoa pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Science in Biology. With this degree, I plan on pursuing medicine and most importantly be able to serve the underrepresented communities in Hawaii and hopefully, in other parts of the world as well.
I moved to Hawaii, USA when I was only 8 years old. It was quite an adjustment for me because I was really young at the time and had very limited communicational English skills. Thankfully, there was the ELL program that I was a part of in elementary which served as a common ground for all those whose first language was not English. I found a sense of belonging within the program with newly found friends who shared similar struggles, and teachers who knew the kind of help I needed. Eventually, I felt more and more comfortable and confident going to school bearing in mind that I was not alone in my journey.
Middle school, on the other hand, was a completely different narrative--so different from my simple & easy high school and elementary experience. I guess this is because middle school is typically where kids are a little bit meaner, and they try to be cool and popular. During this time, I learned about the stigma surrounding being a FOB and “sounding un-American.” Surprisingly, I didn’t buy much into it and continued being myself anyway. I didn’t really care if I mastered the American accent or not; all I cared about was doing whatever I needed to get done in school. This was also the time I discovered my growing interest in medicine and I decided to shift my focus on that vision instead.
High school was a better experience. It was definitely better than elementary and middle school. The stigma kind of subsided but was still existing. At least this time around, kids had a little bit more control over what they should or should not say. I was also surrounded by good people which perhaps was the reason why I had quite a memorable high school experience. I then again found new friends who also had similar immigrant stories to mine, except this time around they were not just people I could parallel my immigrant story with; they were people who, just like me, wanted to prove that they could do it too.
Despite the stigma and being ridiculed for being “so Filipino,” I’ve always wholly embraced the values, principles, and traditions that are practiced inside a typical Filipino household. I believe that these are exactly what set Filipinos apart from westerners. It is the routines and values that we learn inside our Filipino homes that make us unique and special from the rest of the world. So, how should we reclaim our Filipino identity? It is simply not to be anything else but to be a proud Pinoy. It is to be family-oriented. It is to be flexible and adaptable, and to be hospitable. It is to be resilient and driven. And most importantly, always placing God at the center of everything.
As cliche as it may sound, my advice to young Filipino immigrants is to dream big and make it happen. Your dreams are valid and as long as you keep working your way to it, they become more and more possible through time. Never mind the ridicules. Work silently and resiliently towards your dreams, develop a strong work ethic while keeping your family and your faith close to you, then inspire and show them the true power of being Pinoy.