Narrative: "Fully Filipinx"
Written by: Mark Bayaua
“It’s good that you learned how to po,” the middle-aged man said as I served his meal at the bar. He goes on to say that his kids resent him for preferring them to speak English instead of learning their native tongue. “I wish my kids did that. Anyway, were you born in the states or PI? Are you full Filipino?” Years of being asked this question had prepared me for this, I think. In Filipinx communities across the states, where you were born challenges your Filipino-ness. In some circles, it determines it. All diasporic people know this plight, that you are a foreigner in your ancestral home and a foreigner in your assimilated home. For me, I’m even further removed. I wasn’t born here, nor was I born in Manila or Solano where my parents are from in the Philippines. I was born an American citizen, 6,300 miles away – literally across the ocean from the reach of John O’Sullivan’s manifest destiny, in Okinawa. Growing up, my family made fun of me saying that I have smaller eyes because I was born in Japan. I’d later find out that that’s not how genetics works, but to this day when someone asks me to tell them something interesting about myself, that’s the curveball I throw.
I’ve never had to think about citizenship or naturalization tests. As I’ve grown, I’ve wrestled with that privilege while watching my relatives jump through hoops to immigrate into the U.S. I moved to California in 1989 when I was 4. Los Angeles, with its myriad of cultures provided a backdrop that did not make me feel like I was surrounded by xenophobes. My being Filipino was happenstance, and generally not a problem throughout my adolescence. But I knew when I met other Filipinos, I would be asked those questions, most often by my friends’ parents. Where I was born did not allow to me to neatly fit into broad categories of Filipino or Filipino-American. There were a few others I knew; Shelly, who was also Filipina but born in Saudi Arabia; Christian, a Hapa who was born on Hawaii which was different enough to get some attention, albeit a U.S. state. We mostly knew Tagalog, understanding while being English-speaking. Our parents would talk about similarly understanding Gaddang, Kapampangan, or Cebuano, while communicating to each other in Tagalog.
“From where are your parents? What province? What’s your last name? When did your family come here? What’s your last name?” the man continues. Who knew that a language codified with respect to its elders would give them free reign to hold you hostage in conversation when you have other barflies waiting? It’s always going to be like this, I think. In seemingly innocuous conversations, I will have to navigate my entire existence of being a Filipino person living outside of the Philippines. I’d have to qualify my claim to a Filipino identity. My last name isn’t Spanish, which confused my classmate who told me that Filipinos were Asians with Hispanic last names. Did that make me more Filipino? I’d learn later that some of my uncles were Alaskeros, further complicating the story our origin story. Did that make me more Filipino? I’ve danced Tinikling for a Pilipino Cultural Night. Did that make me more Filipino? But I wasn’t born there. Does that make me less Filipino?
There are more of us who have had this experience than just my childhood kaibigans. It has been estimated that 10.2 million people of Filipino descent lived or worked abroad.1 We are one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. This trend isn’t changing anytime soon, so when we talk about reclaiming Filipinx identity, a certain amount of nuance is required. Like Mother in Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, it’s hard to have aspirations when your primary objective is survival. My middle- aged patron and my Filipino parent group likely thought focusing on English would increase our chances
1 “Stock Estimate of Filipinos Overseas As of December 2013.” Philippine Overseas Employment
of not just survival, but success. My privilege of being Filipinx in this time is that I get to explore these nuances. My happenstance Filipinx-ness is not so coincidental when viewed with the lens of military bases as contemporary imperialism. The very system that affords me privilege, marginalizes others. Reclaiming Filipinx identity is taking all of these things into account to the best of our ability. I don’t remember exactly how I responded to him while bartending that day, but I know how I’d pitch my response now. I’m 1 part Gaddang, 1 part Pampagueno, 1 part Amerikano by way of neocolonialism. And no matter what any of your respective parts are, if we are willing to explore the -isms and intersections of our identities, we are all fully Filipinx.
Author’s Note: You’ll notice that I switch Pilipino, Filipino, to Filipinx. This is intentional as it has progressed in my own life. This is part of the learning and unlearning we are all doing to Reclaim Filipinx Identity. Isang Bagsak.