On Being Filipino. A Love Story.

By Narcisa Gonzalez

Throughout my life I knew I was Filipino. 100%.
I took off my Tsinelas before I came into the house. I didn’t flinch when I smelled burning goat hair in the air. I had a 50-lb rice dispenser in my kitchen. I grew up in an American city with parents both born and raised in Pangasinan . I was raised as a first-generation, Filipino-American. I am a FilAm – cultural-identity crisis survivor.
It wasn’t until I was in high school (predominantly white) that I was first tipped off that being Filipino was a mystery to many. My friends would invite me to countless sleepovers and having older siblings who never were able to do it, it didn’t phase me to say no. Then as friends stepped into my home to hang out, they’d always ask, “what’s that funny smell?” Tuyo, I thought…”What funny smell?”
I was always protective of my family for reasons I perceived as being different. Embarrassed almost? Possibly… maybe…. yes. How can anyone be attracted to me once they were introduced to a bunch of kamay-eatin’, bone-sucking, Catholic family of seven? I longed for the cute white guy in the office, dreaming that one day he’d say, “Join me for fried fish, rice and bagoong for lunch?”
As I went out to dinners with friends, we’d always eat “white food.” But I never gravitated to or craved pasta salad, fennel-leek soup or meatloaf. I’d go home and make myself a bowl of rice and a fried egg. Walking to dinner, friends would make fun of minivans as they drove by – as I was thinking, of course a minivan, how else would we all fit?
Then one day, my guard was down. My dad passed away and a “guy” in my office offered to get my mail while I was away and move my car during street-cleaning days. He was so kind. Just like my dad. He came to my father’s funeral and saw all my vulnerabilities and saw what I was hiding from so many – all the most wonderful things being Filipino is all about. My family. I wasn’t embarrassed anymore, just proud.
This ‘guy’ seemed like your typical nice guy, Irish-Italian from New York and lucky for me, quite handsome. He engaged my family in the most genuine way. And he even smiled as he chewed on his first-ever fish head. (He was having sinigang and ate everything in the bowl to be polite.) It also helped that he would open the door for my mom without fail. And he would walk as slowly as she would. So… this guy takes off his shoes before coming into the house, doesn’t question what’s being served to him, went to Catholic school, liked minivans, didn’t flinch when a live chicken was being butchered at the kitchen sink, a college degree AND pogi?  Score! He got through the cultural landmines with flying colors. His core values were spot on.
So after a courtship with me (and my mom and my siblings), he joined the family. And best of all, he cooks better adobo than me.
A Filipino family is all about food, community and hospitality. It didn’t matter what part of the world I was from – wonderful is wonderful, or as my native Filipino friends would say, wunderPUHL. I’m so happy and proud to share my culture, moreso now that I have two mestizo boys who should know their roots and ancestors.
Narcisa Gonzales @narcisafilamSF is married with two mestizo boys living in San Francisco. She travels the world with wide-open eyes on everything food, fashion and great design. Her parents are from San Carlos City, Pangasinan, The Philippines.

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