Goodnight, ‘anak’ — Goodnight, child

The author: ‘Enough of How Filipino am I? as if culture could be quantified and ancestry were a contest.'

The author: ‘Enough of How Filipino am I? as if culture could be quantified and ancestry were a contest.’

By Amanda L. Andrei

My mother told the most fantastic bedtime stories. After reading our Bible verses and reciting our prayers, my brother and I snuggled down in our bunk beds and listened to her recount her childhood in the southern Philippines.

There was the time her father brought home a monkey as a pet and it became a part of the family until it went crazy and tried to burn down the house. There was the banyan tree in the swamp that was rumored to swallow up children (but it was the quicksand underneath, not the tree itself). And there were misty stories of mythological creatures, a part of the past that remained in the background, mingling with missionaries’ work and a fervent church.

When we were sufficiently sleepy, my mother would kiss us on our foreheads, bless with a prayer, and murmur, “Goodnight, anak.” Goodnight, child.

The childhood bedtime ritual is the tenderest form of education. It is precisely this stage, the transition between the waking world and dreamland, where the parent imparts wisdom, faith, magic, and hope to the child. Within these sweet, liminal moments, the parent imparts identity.

Many second-generation Filipino Americans form their identities and know of their heritage through stories and reconstructed customs. Some are lucky enough to travel to their parents’ (or parent’s) homeland, but feel a pang of guilt that they do not know the native language or the national history. And for those of multiracial descent, negotiating Filipino and Filipino American culture can be difficult when they feel they must “choose” between heritages.

But any confusion or guilt over the Filipino identity should be revisited in a different light. Enough of “How Filipino am I?” or choosing identities – as if culture could be quantified and ancestry were a contest. The identity of the Filipino is one which embraces mutability—our capacity to change and adapt with each rushing tide. No matter whether you have visited the islands or never left your home state, speak a dozen dialects or only English, have skin like Vanessa Hudgens or, you are a part of this brilliant and changing diaspora.

And somewhat paradoxically, the greatest gift that our parents have given us, the second generation of Filipino Americans, is this constancy in our mutability. This constancy is infused with all the wisdom of family, the faith in God and higher callings, the magic of imagination and creativity, and the hope for a better tomorrow.

I’m getting married this year. I’ll have an Irish surname. If blood could be divided into fractions, you could consider my future children to be a quarter Filipino. And yet they are still part of this diaspora, this dispersion of the archipelago. I will still tell them bedtime stories of monkeys, swamps, banyan trees. I will bless them, say prayers with them. I will still call them ‘anak.’

Amanda Andrei is a writer, anthropologist, and engineer based in the Washington, D.C. area. She has been writing for the Asian Fortune since 2007 and has covered topics ranging from the arts, education, health, youth, and other community events. She was editor of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program e-newsletter from 2008-2010. This essay originally appeared at the Philippine American Foundation for Charities Philippine Independence Gala souvenir journal and is being republished with permission.

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