Two Countries for just One Me

I was not born in the current country that I reside in. I was born on a cold wintry night in December in the Big Apple, the state that brought forth Broadway- New York. Of course, my only memories of New York are the memories of my last visit there when I was 9. I remember eating Chuck E. Cheese pizzas, swimming in the pool of plastic balls, and watching The Pagemaster with my cousin. I barely remember visiting the Museum of Natural History. All I have to remember it by is a couple of pictures and the memory of two books on dinosaurs I used to read over and over again that was bought from there. Of course, no one can blame me for just a few memories of my home state as I moved to California when I was three, and I stayed there until I was six years old.

I remember whenever my friends and I would fondly discuss our childhood, there would be many things that were greatly different. I couldn’t relate at all. They would say, “Remember Pong Pagong from Batibot?”,and I would just stay there and smile and ask what that was. Children here grew up with TV shows like Batibot and Filipino dubbed anime (it was the 90s), while I grew up watching PBS shows-Sesame Street, Storytime, Shining Time Station, Reading Rainbow, Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood, Disney channel afternoon shows like Ducktales, and Saturday morning cartoons such as Madeleine and The Little Mermaid TV series. I wore clothing brands like GAP kids, and I remember IKEA and getting churros from Cosco. My very first history lesson was not about Lapu-Lapu and Magellan, but about Chrostopher Columbus and his three ships. I grew up with the Easter Bunny, buying real trees for our Christmas Tree, mountains with snow and Santa Clause coming down the chimney, even if our fireplace didn’t really work.

For me, back then, the Philippines was a distant land where my parents and some of my relatives came from. Tidbits of Philippine culture for me back then was characterized by some Tagalog words I knew and some dishes, specifically nilaga soup and barbecue with vinegar and rice which I always ordered at DJ’s a diner near our house that served Filipino and Chinese food. I never thought back then of where my parents came from or why some of our food and words were different. I didn’t feel a need to. After all, I had classmates with different nationalities, and we just accepted it. Anyway, we were all the same, we were Americans, give or take a few small differences.

When I came to the Philippines, it was different from what I imagined. In the States, it’s okay if you are from a different culture or if you have a different accent. Over here, people stare at you because you speak differently, but you look like everyone else. Sometimes, I had no idea what people were talking about and I remember Filipino classes were so difficult to understand. (Back then, there was no such thing as Filipino for Foreigners or Basic Filipino). Filipino food was easier to get used to. Filipino cuisine is much more diverse than American cuisine, and since my parents did cook Filipino food in the States, I easily got used to it.

I think of myself as a kid of two cultures- East meets West, and at times, I am thankful for that, and sometimes it confuses me. Sometimes, the way I ask questions or the way I think is very American, compared to how Asians think or talk. I still love American food- you can’t go wrong with burgers and hot dogs with mustard, and I still don’t understand the concept of sweet ketchup (I mean the sweet blend Del Monte ketchup). I am proud of America when they have great achievements, and personally, I try to celebrate the 4th of July and Thanksgiving Day (which leads to dinners of mashed potatoes, and roasted chicken). I am proud of being an American citizen.

On the flip side, I am proud of being a Filipina. After all, I am American only by nature of where I was born. The blood coursing through my veins is Filipino, or rather a unique blend of different heritages and cultures that a typical Filipino has. (For my siblings and I, we’re a mix of Filipino, Chinese, Portugese and Spanish.) I enjoy Filipino cuisine (and some of the more exotic delicacies such as balut and sisig) more than my Philippine born siblings do. I speak Filipino, or rather a mixture of Filipino and English known as Taglish, most of the time. I am proud of being part of a nation with such a rich and beautiful culture and tourist spots. I love visiting Intramuros. I’m proud of the Philippines whenever a Filipino has an achievement (even Manny Pacquiao, although I’m not so fond of sports and boxing). Lea Salonga was my childhood idol because she had a great voice, she was Princess Jasmine, and she was FIlipina.

I’d be happy and proud of being American yet at the same time, I’d be happy and proud about being Filipino. I became greatly disturbed as I didn’t think that you could be BOTH at the same time (I am not talking about being a dual citizen here).This was the main problem of my confusion. I remember one conversation I had with a high school friend when we were out in the mall. At that time, we were getting very influenced by a certain amazing History teacher of ours, one who felt it her duty to instill patriotism in us. Our conversation became heated as she was arguing that just the mere fact that I thought of moving back to the States to study for college and to work there was very unpatriotic of me. In my high school eyes and mind, I felt that being unpatriotic was one of the WORST things anyone could do.Eventually, I let the discussion drop, and we never talked about it again. In fact, I never really thought about it that much anymore after that. I just accepted it as a fact of life. After all, it didn’t really matter, unless it meant that I had to pay higher tuition fees because I might be considered a foreign student (thank goodness for recognition papers that recognize me as a Filipino citizen!)

For me, my ‘culture’ and my ‘history’ is both American and Filipino. They are BOTH part of me, even if I’m not a typical Fil-Am kid. I look up to Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, just as much as I look up to Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal. I love researching and learning about the American Revolution as much as I enjoyed reading about the Philippine Revolution, and the Katipunan. Because of this, there were many times that I felt displaced, that I couldn’t relate to others who watched Batibot when they were kids, or only had/pledged allegiance to just one country, and could proudly say “I am Filipino”, and that was that. I felt like I had to explain where I was from, because I’m an American citizen, but I’m Filipino by blood. I’m BOTH- American and Filipino.

There were times when I still felt disturbed by this, but I always let the subject drop. However, whenever people around me asked about where their home town was, and many people here have families who come from different provinces, I’d feel a little tinge of envy. I felt that need to claim a place to be MY home town, to have a place to belong to. Since feelings come and go, I just decided to ignore it, and just deal with it whenever I start feeling disturbed at how displaced I feel sometimes. It was better not to think about it that much. However, less than a year ago, a friend of mine, in a conversation mentioned a term that I have never heard of before. She told me that I was a third culture kid. I was intrigued, and confirmed the existence of the term with a friend of mine with a degree in Social Sciences. However, I never really researched about it until now, when once again, I started feeling that I didn’t belong, that I had to search for an answer to this. I searched online and I found this:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.
– David C. Pollock
THIS is what it was, THIS is the reason I feel displaced. I had already come to terms with this as being something that I couldn’t exactly explain, and as something that make me unique, as it is part of who I am. Finding out that there really is such a thing such as this, and finding out that there are others out there who are also like this, is amazing. At least I now know that I’m not alone. I am glad that there is a term to describe what it is. Knowing that it’s definable, at least, is somehow reassuring, that it’s not just something I made up all on my own.

Knowing this does not change anything. It just gives me another term, another word to add to the jumble of words that already describe and define who I am. It helps in the process of self-discovery. Things make sense little by little as one discovers things about themselves piece by piece, bit by bit, and this is just one of those. Knowing this reassures me that it’s okay to have a different kind of culture and that it’s okay to be part of two cultures. It’s okay that your sense of patriotism is to more than one country. It’s okay if you can’t pinpoint exactly what your ‘hometown’ is. It’s acceptable. It’s part of you. So, next time, when anyone asks me where I’m from or what nationality I am, I can say my usual mantra without any sense of displacement. I can now proudly and confidently say that I’m an American and a Filipino, and I’m proud of it.

NOTE: I believe that there might not be that much awareness regarding this, so for people who might be interested, you can check out the site where I got the video  at the beginning of this post from- http://tckid.com, or you can check out http://www.tckworld.com/, a website with all information regarding third culture kids, the origin of the term, etc.

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