Here is some background of my family when they immigrated to the United States of America from the Philippines.
My mother, uncle, aunt, and my grandmother were the last of my maternal family on my grandmother’s side to come to America in the 1990s. My great-grandmother and her other five children with their families were already settled in America, so it was my grandmother and her children’s turn to immigrate over. First, they arrived in Minnesota, then moved to California and settled in San Diego. To put in perspective, my mother was the middle child and was around 14 or 15 years old when she flew across the Pacific Ocean to a new world. She graduated from a high school that is a few miles away from where I grew up. Afterward, my mother would give birth to me.
I am the product of an Immigrant Family – the first child in the family to be born in America.
I seriously gave a lot of thought and consideration to this because it sort of explains who I am (and I so wish I realized this when I was trying to figure out my college essay topic).
- I am literally the oldest child* in my generation
- I am very responsible and have yet to crash and burn in my life figuratively speaking (yes I have literally crashed and burned…save that for later)
- I am the only one who can be in a decent Tagalog (Filipino) conversation and read in Tagalog.
- I have the need to be perfect because I have to be a role model to my younger siblings
- I am a fighter.
I feel like I had a really different childhood apart from the rest of the kids in my family even though a majority of it was spent with my brother and cousin, but there were small things that really had a big influence on me. For one thing, religion was a big part of my childhood: I was the only child that really went to church with my great-grandmother and grandmother on Thursdays and Sundays. Granted, I don’t go to church that much anymore and have a slight question against organized religion, but I had a set faith which gave me a set of morals that I stuck to, even now, and my siblings didn’t really have that experience like I did.
Secondly, the language barrier. I’m not completely fluent in Tagalog, but I know enough to speak to people when I go to the store and a lot of the older relatives, so I had that connection with my family and it sort of elevated the expectations they had on me. Because I knew what they wanted from me, I had to set my standards higher than what they expected. I was a pleaser, I didn’t mind it; I was taught to be selfless and generous because it was a form of respect. Another thing with communicating in my native language was that I was the sibling/cousin who used to eavesdrop on the adults when they were talking shit about the kids. However, whenever they told us to do something in Tagalog, I couldn’t use the excuse that I didn’t know what they were saying because they knew that I knew what they wanted me to do; my brother would get out of a lot of things because he used that excuse.
Lastly, how I dealt and perceive my grade-school education. I certainly moved to a lot of elementary schools as a child and that had a big impact on my life. I think I moved like 4 times…maybe 5… and it was just because of a lot of reasons. My family decided to move houses and then move cities and then move back but to a different school and then like one school opened up and was new so they transferred me; there were so many things going on. With me moving from one school to another, it affected how I made friends; which actually wasn’t great. I would say that the first school I went to was predominantly filled with more Filipino kids because of the neighborhood, and I could relate to them better because some of us would be bringing homemade adobo or sinigang for lunch, or even have those shrimp chips and yam yams to share during recess. And it wasn’t just the food, it was how we looked and were raised that helped us fit in with each other. Although, I did find myself to be one of the few kids to be put in speech therapy because my accent was so thick that my teachers had a hard time understanding me. This was only because I would speak Tagalog at home with little bits of English here and there. Granted though, once my mom figured I needed speech classes, speaking Tagalog phased out a little bit.
However, as I moved to different schools it got harder to fit in. I would say the 2nd school I went to was predominantly white and Latino, and I could count all the Asian kids with my fingers. I remember this school was where I experienced bullying a lot because they didn’t know about my culture and how my lifestyle was. I would phase out eating my usual snacks and lunch because it weirded the other kids out, and I decided to buy lunch from school. I became the girl who sat alone at recess and read books (even when I wasn’t bullied at other schools, I still read books during recess). It was tormenting because I didn’t understand why my culture became a weird thing, so I became ashamed of it for a small while. My younger brother didn’t have this experience because he was barely starting elementary school and sort of already had the hang of mixing two cultures.
From this, it took me awhile to embrace my culture again, but I had help being comfortable with who I was when I started singing in choir and taking piano lessons. Music was sort of my Savior which pushed me out of the dark and into better times. It was my refuge, and there is nothing else I’d rather do than give back to music and submerging myself in it. The bullying did cause me to close myself from people, but after taking up music and continuing my life lessons through Tae Kwon Do, I decided to become a fighter through life.
Being the first-born Filipino-American in my family comes with so many responsibilities. The American Dream was something my parents wanted, but it really is up to me to uphold that Dream for them. That’s why I try so hard to be great at all the things I do. It isn’t a perfectionist thing, it’s just that I hold myself to a higher standard than what my parents would expect of me. Even with music, I have to work really hard to prove it can be a sustaining career for me. There are perks with how I grew up, and it’s just helped me be an independent person in many ways. I wouldn’t trade my childhood and being the oldest for anything else. I’m glad I got the opportunity to be an Ate for my siblings and cousins. I’m like Aang the Airbender; I am the bridge between the kids and the parents, the Avatar of generations. 🙂
*I do have a cousin of a cousin (no blood relation) who is older, but that side of the family is kind of far, and will not be taken into consideration in order to keep things simple.