Raised a Pinay: Growing up under three Filipinas

The author: A mainly Filipino upbringing

The author: A mainly Filipino upbringing

By Rachel Walt

The house was filled with the familiar aromas of a party, including the mouthwatering scents of fresh fried lumpia and the pepper and bay leaves of chicken and pork adobo. Outside, the air hazed with savory smoke from barbeque smeared in banana ketchup.

All around the small property, laughter and music pierced the evening as food and drinks were passed around. In the kitchen would have been my mom, Imelda, replenishing the already abundant dishes of Filipino favorites. On the microphone would have been my aunt, Tita Helen, one of the many karaoke singers of the night. As for my grandmother, Lola Remy, she would have been enjoying the night, offering assistance but ultimately kept entertained by the crowd of young adults.

Many find it strange that I identify strongly with my Filipino heritage, despite only being half, and definitely looking more American than Filipino. However, the scene above must have occurred every weekend, at least that’s how it felt growing up. Despite growing up outside of the Philippines, my upbringing was mainly Filipino.

Even when my mom spent most of her days at work, my tita (aunt) and lola (grandmother) were always there to pass down traditional values to my little brother and me.

Mom wanted her family members close by when we found ourselves in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. Dad’s job had us relocating every few years, but the Filipino community was a constant presence. The first three years were especially the busiest, moving-wise. After the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the closing of U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, we went to Pensacola, Florida. Then, only mere months later, my parents and I went back to the Pacific. We only stayed in Okinawa for a few months as well. South Korea was finally a place in which we could settle down for a while.

Rachel’s women’s network, from left: Mom Imelda, Lola Remy and Tita Helen.

Rachel’s women’s network, from left: Mom Imelda, Lola Remy and Tita Helen.

Lemuel was only a week old when my Tita Helen flew in from Hong Kong. She helped mom out, taking care of Lem and me. Soon, however, she had to return to Hong Kong. Mom and Dad decided that since they had the means, they would sponsor other members of the family to come live with us for the opportunity to work outside of the Philippines. South Korea was certainly a lot easier to reach than the U.S.

First to be sponsored was my Tia Mila, lola’s youngest sister. Unfortunately, I don’t have a strong recollection of the time she was with us. I do remember, and know her still, as a woman who is loving, youthful, and a natural nurturer—qualities often prided by Filipinas. Perhaps due to how young I was, I remember her as always smiling.

Unfortunately, it was not the same for my Tita Helen.

Mixed in with all the fun memories of her are also all of the memories of her yelling. After Tia Mila left, Tita Helen was granted a sponsorship to work in the country and stay with us. However, I was at a mischievous age, and Lem was growing fast and taking after me. We may have been too much the troublemakers for our tita, who was still just in her early twenties. She often had to take on the role of disciplinarian, almost as fearful as the parents. Being the younger sister, she was also very energetic and creative. She often had plenty of activities for us to do. She was like a third parent to us for years, and there is no way I could envision my childhood complete without her.

Around 1998 or so, my lola was able to stay with us for some time every six months. Lola Remy is a treasure. I don’t think there is any other word that can singularly encompass the essence that is my lola. She is sweet, and often cares for others first. Lola was always so calm, but really knew how to find the ticklish spots with her soft matronly hands. We’d always be thrashing wildly on her lap while she just sat smiling and singing, calling our backs her piano and our bottoms her drums.

Having multiple Filipinas running a household gave me a very different upbringing than a lot of other Filipino American children. While I received the traditional values, I was also exposed to the little nuances of the Filipino home—the respect for all family members by generation, the mano po (kissing the hand as a sign of respect), the walis (broom) and tsinelas (slippers) as disciplinary tools, the tabo (plastic or tin can used to scoop water), and even the squat and hover — sorry but I could not leave that out — just to name a few.

More importantly, I realize that lola’s love for family knows no bounds, and that was what passed on to my mother and tita. As cliché as it is, that’s really what I got being raised by many Filipinas, the overwhelming love and responsibility towards family.

Rachel Walt’s father, Martin, was born in New York City. A former Navy sailor, he is now a defense contractor in Afghanistan. Mother Imelda Walt is a native of San Juan, Metro Manila. They met in Okinawa and got married in the Philippines. Rachel just graduated from NYU and is currently working for Advancement for Rural Kids as an Operations and Marketing fellow.

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One Comment

  1. […] invite her to write for The FilAm, and she obliged with two well-written essays: the insightful “Raised a Pinay” on how the women in her family have been the biggest influence in her life, and a snappy review […]

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