Kirby Asunto & Shirley Asunto: A relationship nurtured on traditional Filipino values
By Cristina DC Pastor
At 18 years old, in-demand pop singer Kirby Asunto can very well make a decision to get an apartment, live on her own, and manage her flourishing career. As a matter of fact, the law says she can get married without her parents’ approval.
Right now, Kirby is having none of that.
Her mother, the feisty and overprotective Shirley is fortunate she has an affectionate and obedient daughter who respects her decisions and old-school ways.
“Sinasabi ko sa kaniya, kahit umabot ka pa ng 25, basta wala ka pang asawa hindi ka puwede mag-desisyon sa sarili mo,” said Shirley when the two women sat down for an interview with The FilAm at their Linden, New Jersey home.
Kirby was in full agreement. She said, “Going back and forth to the Philippines, I’ve learned (Filipino) traditions. I’ve compared them with my life here. I see some of my friends here who now have kids…whaaat?”
Shirley said she and Kirby have an excellent relationship nurtured on respect and traditional Filipino values. They are very close, and she said her daughter cannot sleep without her nearby. “Ma-miss niya yung amoy ko,” she joked followed by lingering laughter.
Continuing in a serious tone, she declared, “Ayoko lang ng premarital (sex). No no no no!”
The story of Shirley and Kirby Asunto is not only a narrative of a mother and daughter who seem to get along well with each other. Hovering in the background are intricate cultural and gererational dynamics. The women are holding tight, making sure the permissiveness in American society does not dilute their closeness.
The biggest misconception FilAms have about their relationship, according to Shirley, is the issue of control: “Akala nila fino-force ko si Kirby kumanta kahit ayaw nung bata. Hindi totoo yan. Mahilig talaga kumanta si Kirby.”
Kirby validated her mother’s words, “I love singing. I’ll never get tired singing for our community.”
From the crib
It seemed that when Kirby was born, the youngest of Liberato and Shirley’s four children, she was already “singing from the crib.”
“Na-notice ko humming humming siya, sabi ko, parang may boses itong batang ito ah,” Shirley recalled.
Before she even turned 2 year old, Kirby was already trying to imitate the dance moves of Britney Spears and sing the heart-achy ballads of Regine Velasquez. Her father, who was then very new in the U.S., would ask Shirley to send home videos of his daughter which he played to ease his homesickness and also shared with family and friends.
In nursery school, Kirby, on her own initiative, joined a Linggo ng Wika singing contest at St. Ives School in Taguig in Metro Manila.
“Sabi niya, nanay sumali ako sa contest? Anong contest sinalihan mo? Siyempre kantahan,” said Shirley, a full-time housewife.
Kirby has been winning every singing contest in her school, a streak interrupted only when the family – including older brother Mark — joined their father in the U.S. in 2006. Two older daughters, a nurse and a school teacher, remain in the Philippines.
In the U.S., Kirby entered as a fourth grader at Number 9 Deerfield Terrace Elementary School in Linden. She enrolled at Myles J. McManus Middle School to continue her education but did not finish. She opted to be homeschooled when her singing career became busy with bookings left and right, requiring frequent trips to the Philippines.
It all began when Kirby would be asked to sing at community events, grace this and that party, sing with other artists, and receive awards for her exceptional musical talent at a young age. One gig led to another until she got invited to perform at major events and sing before important personalities, such as former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and diplomatic officials. A momentous appearance at the 2012 Pacquiao-Bradley bout in Las Vegas had Kirby singing Lupang Hinirang before a capacity crowd of more than 16,000 and beamed worldwide.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Kirby.
Shirley gave credit to two community organizations that have backed Kirby through the years, from the time this wisp of a warbler burst into the scene: the National Federation of Filipino American Associations and the Philippine-American Friendship Committee. She said Kirby began singing at NaFFAA conventions at 9 years old, she’s now called by officials as “our NaFFAA baby.” As for PAFCOM, she expressed gratitude to officer Gani Puertollano who was always ready to motor Kirby to her many engagements at a time, said Shirley, “when I didn’t know how to drive yet.”
“Si Gani parang tatay niya yan,” she said.
Kirby thinks her mom is a typical Asian mom, not all that strict, just steeped in traditional values.
“Kungbaga pauwi na siya, papunta pa lang ako,” she replied quoting a folksy motto, when asked if she found her mom smothering. She does not chafe at her rules and is grateful to have been raised in the homegrown conservative values of her parents.
Kirby expressed her wish of going back to school.
“I want to finish college,” she said.
She is still undecided what to take up and what school to go to. Next year, she and her mom will start their search in earnest. Singing will not be totally forgotten even as she pursues formal education.
“Ten, 20 years from now I hope I still do what I’m doing,” she said.
Has she been in love? Listen to the full interview here.