‘I am only now starting to understand my own identity’

The author

The author

By Tiara Camille Teruel

As a Filipina-American, I often question my own identity as much as I am questioned about my race.

It starts with a stare, then a question-filled head tilt, until finally they ask: “What Asian are you?”

“What is your first guess?” I reply.

This is usually followed by a long inquiring pause, and a stumped look, often made so I can interrupt with the actual answer.

“I am American. I am Filipina. Well, Filipina-American,” I always respond.

If we really want to get into my ethnic make-up, I have Chinese, Irish, American, Spanish, Portuguese and probably a bit of Japanese, but nowadays, I am just one of many Americans with a multi-mixed ethnic background.

I was born and raised in the Philippines and I am American not only by blood, but in the way that I have chosen to be American. I have grown up here and found my voice about my beliefs here. America has shaped me and molded my ideals, especially as a Filipina. I am mixed and proud to be Filipina-American.

This is a similar answer and truth for the 4 million Filipino Americans living in America. We are Asians. We are Pacific islanders. We are just as much American. There is no denying our presence as the fastest growing demographic in the United States now and as the largest Asian American group in 10 of the 13 western states, but as Filipinos, our society here and even back in the Philippines has been so blended that it is uniquely neither Asian nor Western.

Many Filipinos, whether here or in the Philippines, are just as unsure about their identity. Although we believe we are Asians or Pacific Islanders, many feel closer to the western upbringing, especially by Spain and the United States. This colonial mentality has often been deemed as a negative trait, but nonetheless, still a very significant one in our society.

The Philippines has been torn between trying to understand and embrace its geographical neighbors and the disparity of being more diverse than them. Our society has evolved differently from the other Asian nations. We have different cultural and religious practices than our neighbors in Asia. This is especially seen in our religious background, being that the Philippines, aside from Timor Leste, is the only Christian-dominated nation in Asia.

Although there are dissimilarities seen in Filipinos living in America and those in the Philippines, our identity as a race itself faces the same questions whether you are geographically located here or there. We are a lot alike in what we face with regards to our Western and Asian influences. We aren’t like most Asian-Americans in the sense that we Filipinos are already an original mix of being Asian and Western. We had been colonized by the Spanish for over 333 years and then became an overseas territory of the U.S. after the Spanish-American war. Unlike other immigrants to the U.S., we were exempt from certain immigration laws as U.S. Nationals in the 1900s. We are an integral part of American History just as America is to ours.

‘I have Chinese, Irish, American, Spanish, Portuguese and probably a bit of Japanese (ethnicity).’

‘I have Chinese, Irish, American, Spanish, Portuguese and probably a bit of Japanese (ethnicity).’

As a whole, we must not forget that first and foremost, even with all the Western and Asian influences combined, we have our own unique culture. It is ours and ours to pass along the generations. It may be completely blended and isn’t easily categorized, but that’s what makes it so special – so Filipino. It also makes it distinctly easier to pass along, even as Filipino-American, due to the heavy western influence already instilled in our culture.

I am only now starting to understand the influence we have as a whole community and gaining the much needed confidence and understanding of my own identity. Even then, I see a disconnect within our own support of our heritage and I seek a unity for our race. We have isolated ourselves all over the U.S. in parts and have not fully relied on each other to be able to really make a bigger impact in politics, business, entertainment and other areas of society. We are like sleeping giants with our presence in American society as a whole. A giant that, with the help of the youth and my generation, I am hoping to help awaken.

It’s like making an all American grilled cheese sandwich with our all-time favorite Filipino cheese, or better yet a blend of both. Queso de Bola meets American cheese! That’s us!

We are a beautiful race of amazing people and we have a responsibility to each other to remind ourselves of that and be proud of our heritage. We must not let ourselves dilute our culture in favor of being American or denote our presence in loyalty to being Filipino. We are just as how the Filipino culture stands today – the best blend of both worlds.

Tiara Camille Teruel is a talent agent at NTA Talent Agency, a leading entertainment agency in California.She was born in Manila, and is now bi-coastal between Los Angeles and New York City. Aside from entertainment, she has an interest in politics and is active in philanthropy. Send comments to the author at theredtiaraemail@gmail.com.

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