Originally posted: 02/18/2016
I am half Filipino, half Caucasian.
My maternal grandparents are first generation from the Philippines. They’ve got this amazing story of how they escaped Japanese occupation of the Philippines by living in the mountains at the start of WWII. They fled to Hawaii, to the land of prosperity, to America. And they spent the rest of their lives bringing over every last relative over for that well-known American opportunity.
Their story is inspiring beyond belief, and very personal to me. To read it in its whole, go to this article. Felicidad and Patricio – their perseverance and ingenuity have built their foundation into the heart of my family.
My father’s side is White American. Mostly German, and a sprinkle of English and French. They are the hard-working Americans on the posters during our nation’s Golden Age. They are Motown Auto Industry manufacturers. They’re soldiers and sailors. They are the blue-collar-working-their-way-into-white-collar story.
It’s really a family to be proud of.
A New Responsibility
I’ll be honest with you. My heritage did not become important to me until I began having kids.
Before that, I was just a kid myself with no self-awareness and no understanding of what it means to pass down rich traditions which represent the struggles, heartaches, and successes of your people.
It wasn’t important to me, because it wasn’t important to my friends.
But 7 years ago, my son was born. And a strange desire in my soul was also birthed on that same day. As I looked into his eyes, I felt a mixture of happiness, joy, overwhelmed-ness, and fear. Fear that I would mess him up. Fear that I wouldn’t teach him everything he needed to know. Fear that he would become stagnant in that very thing which I currently lived in – mediocrity.
It’s a feeling every parent gets punched in the face with.
And so I began reflecting on the life lessons I would need to pass down from father to son. Gain wisdom. Love God. Believe in Christ. Do good. Be Generous. Show manners. Take care of your family. Be humble. Be a productive member of society. Show respect to your elders.
Pass on your heritage.
But what was my heritage? What group did I belong to? I’m not white, but I’m not Filipino. But I’m both. What traditions did I need to teach my children? What is my cultural identity?
Who am I?What is my #cultural #identity? Who am I? Click To Tweet
It’s a funny thing not quite fitting in with Whites, and occasionally ending up as the butt of racial jokes. For me, it was all in good fun, I was never on the receiving end of any violence or hate, but it still left me confused. Why am I not part of this group?
If you look at my picture down in the author bio at the end of the article, you’ll see that I look like a white person.
Well, okay. If I don’t fit in with Caucasians, maybe I can find solace with my Filipino brothers and sisters.
In Kansas City, there is a Filipino Association, a cultural center. Every year they have a Fiesta Filipina. It’s a cultural celebration of Filipino traditions.
It is seriously a ton of fun.
They do all the stuff we did at my grandparents’ house every Sunday night for our large, weekly, family get-together. They have traditional dancing, with that exciting Tinikling to top it off. It’s accompanied by old ballads from the fishing communities on the shores of Luzón. And we can’t forget the food – the pancit, lumpia, halo halo, and chicken adobo.
So I took my family.
I knew all the foods, all the dances and songs, the accent where the F’s are pronounced as P’s, and the always-friendly-always-hospitable mindset. It was like being at my grandpa’s house again, where I lived with my mom, dad, and brother until my adolescent years.
But I still wasn’t one of them.
I would talk with someone about how nostalgic these customs made me feel, and how important it was for me to relearn the heritage of my people. But the second someone with darker skin walked up, my conversation partner would turn his head and give complete attention to the real Filipino.
Over and over again, I was the outsider who needed to be welcomed, but not the insider who has shared experience of tradition.
As I tried to explain this to my Filipino family over the phone, I wasn’t greeted with a “no, no, you’re always one of us.” Instead it was, “Oh come on, Nate. You’re not Filipino. You’re not even Hapa (a Hawaiian word for ‘half’). You’re Haole (a derogatory Hawaiian word for ‘white’).”
It was confusing and frustrating. I felt like I didn’t belong to any group. Not white. Not Filipino. Not anything. No one would teach me.
And worse, I put my son in the same position. What was I supposed to pass on now?
My True Heritage
Everybody wants to belong, and I found myself in a place where I belonged to no one.
Was it an identity crisis? Maybe. I didn’t go out and impulsively buy a sports car or motorcycle. I didn’t have a mental breakdown. I didn’t whine or cry.
But it still hurt to the depths of my very person.
As I struggled with my identity over years and years as an adult, I came across two passages of Scripture in which I have since found great solace:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Maybe I don’t quite fit in Caucasian circles. And maybe I don’t have the same spot at those Filipino parties that I once thought I did.
But my identity is found in who God says I am. And He says I am one of His.
That is my heritage. I can pass on the traditions of God’s family, and I can rest assured that I belong.
I belong.My #identity is found in who #God says I am. And He says I am one of His. Click To Tweet
And so today, I continue to learn everything that I can about the Filipino side of my family and our customs and I teach what I can to my children. And I pass on what I know about our American heritage of hard work and innovation.
But more than that, I can give my children an identity. They, like their father, are adopted sons of God.
And we will go out into the world, into our cities and teach that same heritage to our community. There is acceptance within Christ. There is love and belonging in God’s family.
You don’t have to cling to your cultural group to know who you are. You don’t have to go find your existential sense of purpose and identity.
Because God, your very Creator, has told you who you are.
Also published on Medium.