Asserting My International Identity
Culture, lifestyle, self-perception, and nationality are some of the many aspects that comprise one’s identity. It varies across time and space, thus, constantly changing as it interacts with geographic and demographic elements. Identity formation, for me, is a continuous process of discovery and rediscovery; it is the establishment of personal ties to a certain geographic location, to a group of peoples, and to a set of principles. I consider myself a hybrid of my Filipino and American identity. It must be noted that I now have two homes: Lucena City and Los Angeles. The former is my motherland and the latter is my new home. Although I was born and raised in the Philippines, I also subscribe to some American ideals that I deem to be applicable in my life. I take various views from both cultures and create my definition of what it means to be a Filipino and an American, at the same time.
As far as my cultural and ethnic heritage go, my father is Tagalog, and my mother is Bisaya; two of the many ethnic identities in the Philippines. My father is from Manila in Luzon, while my mother is from Tanjay, in the Visayan region. Interestingly, tying my cultural and ethnic heritage to Philippine history, my father’s patriarchal ancestors were the Katipuneros or guerrilla liberation warriors in Cavite against the oppressive Spanish rule, while my mother’s patriarchal ancestors were of Spanish descent, the localized Spanish landlords in Negros Oriental. This in itself is contradictory; my parent’s patriarchal ancestors were against each other. I identify with these two places because of my parents’ origin, and hence, this is where I take my roots. Like other Filipinos, I am a hybrid of classes and origins.
I am a Filipina not just because the Philippines is my place of origin, but also because I was raised and oriented in Filipino culture: Catholicism, Tagalog, family values, food, folk arts, and other ways of living. Growing up in the Philippines, I have always been torn between Filipino and American culture. I am both westernized and localized, knowing both Tagalog and English, languages that I learned ever since I was young. I know and speak more English than my mother’s Bisayan dialect and as articulate in Tagalog. I listened to both American and Filipino artists and watched both American and Filipino films and series. Unconsciously, I was subscribing to American culture (a superficial understanding and subscription that is), the way we, Filipinos, perceive America and the American identity; while at the same time, I was reinforcing my Filipino identity by participating in this cycle as well as cultural practices and beliefs. This sense of “westernization” commenced from the successful cultural implant the US enforced during its direct control in the early 1900s and continuous indirect control post-1946 (Philippine independence) through American businesses, consumer goods, and media.
I consider myself an American not just because I am a citizen, although this may be one big factor, but most importantly, because I live through and participate in the daily activities that are exclusive in the US. The social, cultural, and political milieu continually mold my knowledge about the world from America’s point of view. It’s as if I have these social, political, and cultural bifocals composed of Filipino and American knowledge and identity.
I am both an insider and outsider. But this is not to say that I don’t belong anywhere. It is just that whenever I am in the Philippines my heart yearns for America, and while I am in America, I long for the Philippines. I have personal attachments within these two nations and its people. I choose to be a part of both nations. This may be selfish, but this is how I define my Filipino-American identity.
My having two homes and conception of my Filipino and American identity started when I swore allegiance to the United States of America in front of a citizenship officer in the downtown Los Angeles US Citizenship and Immigration Services Office. It was February 2008, months after I have applied for my US citizenship. That moment was quick, and although I was alone, the entire process was impersonal. I was standing in front of a window, similar to what they have in banks. Behind me were people from various backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnicities, all waiting to be called upon by one of the officers to acquire their long-awaited certificates of citizenship. My formal denouncement of my Filipino citizenship deserved more than just 15 minutes of signing a certificate or “agreement” and swearing-in to be a loyal “American.”
After that momentous occasion, the officer called out another name, and there came a family of five. I felt like I was just released from a food processing plant with a big check on my forehead, signifying an approval for American consumption. The entire experience of abrogating my Filipino citizenship for an American citizenship was unimaginable. I knew that it was going to be that way since the immigration papers have been approved and since I obtained my “green card.” Although I had it coming, its effects had never occurred to me until that day. I never thought that the impacts of that process would occur incrementally. I did not feel as different as I ought to be, but knowing that this legal process has altered my identity through a new nationality, it made me uncomfortable with the fact that when I go to the Philippines I am technically a tourist. Like what Jamaica Kincaid said in A Small Place, “For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native somewhere.” But then, how is it possible that a native becomes a tourist in her own hometown?
Ironically, this experience instilled in me a growing sense of Filipino nationalism because I never appreciated the value of being a Filipino until I denounced it legally and a newly formed American identity not only because of my participation in legal processes but also because of my investment in living the quotidian lives of many Americans. These factors coalesced into a form of international identity. I have cultural, geographical, ideological, and personal connections with both the Philippines and the US, and this for me is a form of internationalism that some immigrants possess and generations after will have.
Now, as I sit on my uncomfortable chair, I cannot help but think about the day (which will be in a month or so) that I will be flying thousands of miles again. It is nothing new really. After several flights, I have gotten used to it. It becomes a routine that I take part in almost every year. Although the facilities are incomparable to what I am used to, I still manage to be well-rested during those 13-hour flights. It is not about making sure that I brought what I needed, packed according to the limits, or unpacking that bothers me, but the journey that I will be ending and beginning upon my departure and arrival. It is the thought of once again leaving and arriving. It is as if I am being awakened and sucked back into a world where I must live in. The challenge is that I cannot be in both worlds– the Philippines and the US; I need to choose one and be absorbed by it. The reality is I can never be a full-fledged Filipino or American; I consider myself as a product of both. Like my cultural and ethnic heritage, I am a hybrid of the Filipino and American identity, one supplementing the other. When I grow old, I can simply say I spent half of my life in my comfort zone, and I spent the other half searching for adventure.