Monday, June 28, 2010

Children of Filipino Immigrants and Assimilation

It's not often that I find literature or studies specifically about the Filipino American experience, or in other words, the experiences of 1st generation U.S. America born children of (a) Filipino immigrant(s).  So it is a bit of a relief to see a lot of the stuff I've been feeling as part of my experience as a Filipino and white American be talked about in the article Paradox of Assimilation by Espiritu and Wolf.  The article examines the Filipino American population in San Diego, CA.  Some of the parts that resonate with me I'll quote here and comment on.

This first quote I thought was interesting because when my mother says I'm white maybe she's equating white not only with physical features but with nationality as well. Although, I think it may be poignant that white culture (and I'm not even sure there is a thing such as white culture as I understand it, but that's for my next post) and American culture are equivocated.

"In a qualitative study of Filipino Americans in San Diego County, Espiritu (1997) also found that most Filipinos rejected the assimilative American identity. Instead, they equated "American" with "white" and often used these two terms interchangeably. For example, a Filipina who is married to a white American referred to her husband as "American" but to her African American and Filipino American brothers-in-law as "black" and "Filipino" respectively. This practice--of equating American with white--reflects the racialized history of Filipinos and other Asians in the United States. Historically, U.S. immigration exclusion acts, naturalization laws, and national culture have simultaneously marked Asians as the inassimilable aliens and whites as the quintessential American (Lowe 1996). Excluded from the collective memory of who constitutes a "real" American, Asians in the United States, even as citizens, are expected to remain the "foreigner-within"--the "non-American." In the case of Filipinos, emigrants from a former U.S. colony, their formation as racialized minorities does not begin in the United States but rather in the "homeland" already affected by U.S. economic, social, and cultural influences (Lowe 1996, 8). Cognizant of the enduring significance of race, a Filipino man who has lived in the United States for thirty years explains why he still does not identify himself as American, "I don't see myself just as an American because I cannot hide the fact that my skin is brown. To me, American means white" (Espiritu 1997)..."

Not so much having to do with Filipino experience, but I quoted this for truth:

"…a European-non European distinction remains a central division in [U.S.] society" (Lieberson and Waters 1988, 248).

This belief in the promise of equal opportunity and the rousing endorsement of the United States--even in the face of racism--testifies to the enduring power of the ideology of the United States as the land of opportunity, fair play, and abundance."

Indeed, the American myth is very strong for Filipinos here and those aspiring to be here, even when many of my family members can recount at least once instance in which whites have done or said racist things toward them.

"Because they are proficient in English, Filipino parents may be less compelled to teach their children the Filipino language. As a Filipino immigrant parent explained, "We don't teach the children Tagalog because we're comfortable in English also. English comes out almost automatically when we speak to them. Even the grandparents speak English" (Espiritu 1994, 257)."

I once asked my mom why she never decided to teach my sister and I Tagalog, and she said at differing times that either she never thought about it, or we did not show any interest in learning. I have since asked her to only address me in Tagalog so that I can build off of the Tagalog I already know just from having been surrounded by it for many years, but she often forgets to do so. It seems to be more convenient for her to talk to me in English, even though after two decades, she continues to have trouble mastering the English language to the extent of a native speaker.

"Along the same lines, CILS data suggest that there is a lack of active cultural socialization--the deliberate teaching and practicing of the languages, traditions, and history of the Philippines--in Filipino American homes. Although close to three-quarters of the parents surveyed stated that it is very important for their child to know about the Philippines, over half (57%) reported that they seldom talked to their child about the Philippines and close to three quarters (72%) admitted that their family seldom celebrated special days connected with the Philippines. A Filipino American tells of the 'cultural void" in his family:

Not much was going on at my house. Nothing. It wasn't made explicit

that Filipino culture is something that we should retain, that we should hold

on to, as something that's valuable. There wasn't that much sense that we should

keep the language. So you don't really get taught, you know. And I found that to

be a real common experience among Filipinos my age. Our parents don't realize that

we don't know anything about the old country: who was the first president, when was

independence day, who was Jose Rizal? (Espiritu 1994, 258).

This perceived lack of cultural transmission in Filipino American homes can be attributed in part to the parents' long work hours and/or to the pressure that force immigrants to assimilate the mainstream culture. As a Filipina American stated, "We don't celebrate these holidays because growing up in my neighborhood, white-washed suburbia, we just couldn't" (Espiritu 1994, 259)."

Again, my mother never thought it necessary to teach about Filipino culture. I didn't know the day of independence or the first president until this article made me realize that I didn't, and I promptly looked it up. Similarly, I had no idea who Jose Rizal was until I first heard his name when we went to visit a few historical sites on my first trip to the Philippines when I was 16.

"First, as predicted by the pluralist model, second generation Filipinos, like others in the CILS sample, move toward an ethnic rather than an American identity over time. But they also conform to the forces of assimilation because they believe in the "American dream" and prefer English to their parents' native language. These data suggest that ethnic identification is a more dynamic and complex social process than has been predicted by either the assimilationist and pluralist perspectives."

For me, I had enough exposure to the Filipino culture through family that there are often times where I don't particularly identify as white so much as Filipina American. I'll never fit in as a Filipina because I don't look Filipina enough. However many Filipinos usually have three things to say when it comes to how I look: that I'm tall, and/or beautiful, and that I should go to the Philippines and be a movie star. I don't know too well since I don't have a large amount of knowledge of the Filipino attitude toward celebrities, but it seems that the more rich Filipinos in films that speak more English, the more "high class" they seem, compared to the poorer maids who work under them. There is also value placed on those who are of mixed blood (mestiza) that have Spanish blood as this is seen as a sign of being high class as well, along with the light skin that comes with it. I may be mistaken though, but this is just my impression from the attitudes and biases that I've been exposed to.

"...they are already part of the system as opposed to being marginalized by it compared with other immigrant groups. Another possibility is that our notion of "assimilation" is flawed in that it suggests more ease and integration than what may be occurring for some. Speaking English and owning one's home do tell us about economic integration, but not about socio-emotional matters. In other words, such measures cannot and do not elucidate the process and meaning of assimilation for those who live and experience it. Thus, our analysis underscores that rather than navigating a path towards a sense of ease and belonging, the process of assimilation is a complex one, ripe with contradictions and disrupture; indeed, this case encourages a critical rethinking of the notion of assimilation in and of itself."

The many years of first Spanish imperialist domination that is then replaced with U.S. American imperialist domination surely has done its job to try and erase Filipino culture to be replaced with more palatable, civilized values. Filipinos, though free from US colonization, are not yet free of its effects. It's telling that although Filipinos are the second largest Asian American population in the US, yet are rarely as visible or mentioned compared to other Asians such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean Americans. It might be due to the Filipinos' ability to blend in well since the US has already planted its values and ideas in the Philippines many years ago when it claimed it as its own. Many Filipinos already speak English in the Philippines as it's the language used in higher education. We are also mistaken for being Mexican often (at least that is in California, I can't speak for other states). However, the Philippines itself is considered the melting pot of Asia with having so many diverse influences and cultures within its borders. I think I will try to take that fluidity and plurality as part of my heritage, and own it. I don't necessarily have to see things in a binary way as is often the case here in the U.S.

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