By Stephanie Twining, Director of Social Media
A few weeks ago, I was inspired by my friends on the Hispanic Heritage Month Panel to extend my learnings and experiences to the larger AMP team and beyond.
While I’ve known October to be Filipino American History Month for some time, I wasn’t certain how to personally celebrate aside from the making of Filipino food (lumpia, ftw). So, in honor of this celebratory month, thank you for letting me share a bit of my story with you.
While many recognize and admire famous Filipinos like Manny Pacquiao and Jo Koy (trust me, we love them too!), the magnitude of the Filipino American community as a whole is often overlooked.
Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian American group in the United States and the largest Asian American group in Washington state, where I live. Even still, I’ve found that we fly under the radar. Often identified as Asian, Pacific Islander, neither, or somewhere in between, answering the common “what is your race?” question is tricky.
A quick introduction: I am half Filipino and a first generation Filipino American. My dad was born in Manila and immigrated to the US with my grandparents and aunt when he was seven. My mom, on the other hand, is a blend of Irish and German, inheriting her red hair and blue eyes from my grandparents who migrated to Seattle from the Dakotas. What a power combo. 😊 While I love both sides of my family dearly and have developed so much pride for this mix, I’ve admittedly spent much of my life trying to understand my unique ethnic identity.
When you’re in school, all you want is to fit in. I mean, who doesn’t? But when you’re one of only three kids who don't present white in your K-8th grade class, that truly isn’t possible.
Regardless of my photo being used on the front of brochures and websites to showcase diversity for schools and organizations, I’ve also been told by people of color, “you’re not Asian enough”. In 7th grade I was asked to speak Spanish in front of my class because the teacher assumed I could speak it fluently (Tagalog is the national language in the Philippines, by the way). In high school, I was asked to “prove” that I was Filipino and was told “there’s no way you’re Asian”. I have been challenged to pronounce my maiden name correctly many, many times (“No, that can’t be how you say it”). As recently as January, I was told it would be great to have me in the room as a woman of color because I would “check a lot of boxes”.
I don’t share these stories for pity and understand that there are much larger issues at bay when it comes to race in the United States. Rather, I point them out as common examples of micro aggressions against racially ambiguous and/or mixed-race people because I know that these comments and prejudices derail progress being made toward journeys of self-discovery and contentment.
Today, I feel very confident in who I am and have a deep appreciation for where my family comes from. Two big things have led me to this:
- In 2014, I visited the Philippines with my entire family for the first time. I have since described the trip as an “Eat Pray Love” moment for me. It enhanced my connection to my dad’s life before he moved to the US and helped me appreciate all of the sacrifices that my grandparents (two school teachers) made in order to leave and start a new life.
- Three years ago, I became a mom. (Actually, my son, Miles, would be quick to remind you that he’s three and a half, so, I became a mom three and a half years ago.) My daughter, Lucy, turned one in August. In parenthood, I’ve found a renewed sense of responsibility and honor to share their heritage with them. I want them to be proud of their darker skin and hair. I want them to speak up when someone assumes something about them based on their looks. I also understand my responsibility to lead by example, especially in the face of prejudice and assumptions.
The purpose of writing this during Filipino Heritage Month in 2020 is to simultaneously share a small portion of my experience with racial identity in the hope that it will resonate with others, but also to encourage readers to consider Filipino Americans and Asian Americans as a growing, contributing, wonderful group of Americans that we should be thinking about more often – both professionally and personally.
I would also encourage everyone reading this to understand that you are enough. Do not shy away from your heritage. Don’t entertain the belief that you fit into just one box – learn more about where your family came from and speak up if someone doesn’t quite get it right. These conversations are lessons that I’ll certainly pass down to Miles and Lucy.
Thank you for reading. I’d love to share a few resources and articles if you’re interested in more information:
- Why We Celebrate Filipino American History Month (HuffPost)
- Cora Cooks Pancit (Children’s Book)
- Jo Koy: In His Elements (On Netflix)
- Float Disney Short (on Disney+)
- Raising Mixed Race (Parents Book)
- Mixed in America (Instagram)