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Thursday, June 17, 2004

NCM > Filipino Adoptee Navigates Straits of Identity in U.S.

NCM > Filipino Adoptee Navigates Straits of Identity in U.S.
Filipino Adoptee Navigates Straits of Identity in U.S.
ASIA, Commentary,
Eliot Cashell, Jun 08, 2004

It took me a good 20 years to start figuring myself out. As a Filipino adopted by Caucasian parents from West Virginia, my life began a little differently.

As such, I was always embarrassed to visit my Filipino friend's homes because their parents never failed to ask me: "What island are you from?" or "What is your last name and what generation are your parents from?"

None of my answers seemed to make any sense. I tried to find answers to these questions by applying for a study program in the Philippines. However, I was denied admittance because I had expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the Navy. The director of the program explained the negative relationship between the U.S. military and the Philippines and thought that it would be too much of a cultural shock for me.

So, I turned to a group called the Philippine Cultural Society of the George Washington University (PCSGWU). There I felt welcomed and comfortable exploring my Filipino background.

I no longer found myself standing in the middle of friends’ living rooms, being hammered with cultural questions by their parents and without any satisfying answers. Instead, I learned through my peers about the Filipino culture without having to feel so different.

I ate adobo for the first time, read every piece of Filipino literature I could get my hands on and learned several cultural dances. I started to attend bigger venues like the Filipino Inter-collegiate Network Dialogue (FIND).

I began to notice how some Filipino-Americans took their culture for granted. I saw that no matter how hard I tried or how much I learned, other Filipino Americans would not accept me because of how my Caucasian parents raised me. However, these valuable experiences taught me how to become comfortable with myself.

After college I joined the Navy and received orders to attend the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL program in California.

When I learned that there were only three Navy SEALs who were of Filipino background, the rigorous training motivated me. I dreamed of becoming a SEAL and speaking to large Filipino groups, telling them that by making it through the tough training, I was able to overcome the stereotype accorded Filipino Americans and all Asian Americans of being weak, subservient and easily conquered.

I did not finish the training, but I got further than any other Filipino under the harsh scrutiny of my instructors.

The challenges I confronted forced me to look inward and learn who I really am. I know life will continue to present challenges to me that are dynamic and that they will define me, which, in turn, will help me understand and learn more about my identity.

One thing is certain: I enjoy learning about being Filipino American. It will always be part of my life, and knowing that there is always something more to learn is comforting. Being Filipino American gives me a passion to live.

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