Growing up Filipino in America

Thanks to feedback on my first blog, I spent the last week pondering how I define myself as being raised the Filipino way while growing up 100% of the time in the United States. It was a bit difficult to think about due to the simple fact that often times it’s hard to pinpoint certain traits about yourself that have stayed with you since before you can remember. Thus, I sought advice and help from my parents to gain their perspective and point out things that I otherwise would not have even thought about. After days of discussion, we collectively came up with the following list of traits that show that my Filipino culture and heritage has been retained and instilled in me, despite growing up within the American cultural melting pot. Here they are in no particular order:

  • RESPECT — I, along with all of my cousins my age around me, were all taught to uphold a certain level of respect for others that simply is not the same as the vast majority of my American friends. This is especially true when it comes to elders within the family. This isn’t to say that all of my American friends were rude; in fact my American friends are some of the best and nicest people I’ve ever met. However, there are just certain things that we as Filipinos do that is specific to our culture: calling our older siblings or cousins Kuya/Ate or Manong/Manang (I used each of these for different relatives), giving mano (allowing them to bless us by taking their hand and placing it to our foreheads) to our older relatives or kissing them on the cheek when we first meet them or after it’s been a long time, or even quite simply not calling the parents of our friends by their first names. Away from the family, I was taught to be very polite in public, speak clearly when spoken to, or not to make scenes or commotion in public. In other words, I was always taught to be “mabait.”
  • FAMILY — At the root of growing up and being raised Filipino is the strong and at times intense sense of family. My parents have been married for over 46 years, my brother has been married for almost 17 years, and this trend continues through almost all of my extended family as well. For all of my relatives, family always came first, and those of them that are parents all lived for their children. It doesn’t matter what the financial situation is or what the current circumstances are: family always came first. My family means the world to me, and no matter what disagreements I might have with them, at the end of the day, family is all you have to depend on. Unfortunately, I certainly can’t say that a lot of my American friends have this kind of support system.
  • WORK ETHIC — Make no mistake, there are a large number of very lazy Americans, who are content with doing the least amount of work possible to reach their personal level of success. This can be seen in school, in the work place, or life in general. On the other hand, I was raised almost to overachieve. My parents always pushed me to do well in school, practice playing piano until I get things perfect, work hard to advance my career, and not to back down when things don’t go my way. I see this same hard work ethic with my relatives, whose parents always strongly support the school, work, sports, and arts efforts of their kids. Thus, I feel that it’s in my nature to always do the best I possibly can, no matter what the importance or situation.
  • SACRIFICE — This ties in closely with work ethic, in that in order to maintain a strong work ethic, certain sacrifices always have to be made. My parents sacrificed a lot to drop their current careers in The Philippines and immigrate to the United States to find a better life for themselves and their children. Once arriving here, both my parents struggled through entry level jobs that they were overqualified for in order to just get their foot in the door toward their careers. As I grew up, both my parents worked full time to support my brother and I, thus I spent a lot of my childhood in the company of my grandmother. My parents also sacrificed a lot by helping and supporting our relatives back home in The Philippines, working hard to get them to move here to the United States, and helping them get on their feet and independent as soon as they arrived. These types of sacrifices continue with my brother’s family and the families of each and every one of my cousins as well.
  • FAITH — I say faith specifically rather than “religion” or Catholicism because no matter the religion or beliefs, faith is the underlying power. I was raised Catholic and still very much consider myself to be one, even if I rarely go to church these days. It’s my faith that I was raised with from before I can remember that stays with me, and it’s this same faith that I rely on to get me through life’s hardships. I honestly can’t think of a single Filipino in my extended family that does not have a strong underlying sense of faith behind them.
  • FOOD — You really can’t grow up Filipino without all the Filipino food! I’m truly blessed that my mom is such a fabulous cook. After all, when she was still in The Philippines, she actually hosted a cooking show on television and taught cooking classes. While I never developed a taste for dinuguan (aka “Chocolate Meat”), kare-kare, or balut for that matter, I’m more than happy to be eating various forms of lumpia, pancit, adobo, lechon, longganisa, bangus, tocino, bibingka, and chicharon. I also very much love fried spam or corned beef with eggs and rice for breakfast, along with corned beef in pan de sal for breakfast on the go. I also take pride in my mom’s leche flan recipe: there is absolutely no other leche flan that tastes as good as hers, even after she’s taught her recipe to many other family members. Plus, even eating this food is a Filipino cultural experience itself, since I was raised to eat with a spoon and fork, with the spoon of course also doubling as a meat-cutting utensil.

I hardly believe that this is a complete list, but if anything it should give an idea of how I was raised and how the Filipino culture was instilled in me. I’ve carried these traits with me throughout my life, despite any outside influence from friends, media, schooling, or politics. If you have other traits to add from your own experience, please feel free to post them up in the comments below!

Armin H. Ausejo is a Filipino American born and raised in Seattle, WA. He currently works as a Marketing Director and Photographer. For more information, please visit his website: ArminAusejo.com

About Armin H. Ausejo

I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, USA to parents that immigrated from The Philippines in the early 1970s. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communications in 2001 and my Master of Communications in Digital Media in 2006, both from the University of Washington. Among my interests are cars, photography, music, video games, and all things geeky.