BANYAGA: FOREIGNER

From MLE Yahoo Groups, Lino Gerona sends this July 27, 2011 email from Boleg Paripar re an article written by one of his sons regarding the Filipino language/culture:  “Raising my two boys, I decided to provide them the best education I could afford.  I sent them to private school.  During summer vacation, instead of summer camp I enrolled them in a Catholic school in Pangasinan serving mostly the underprivileged.  My youngest son submitted this piece with his entry  application to the US Naval Academy (USNA).  He had graduated from USNA a few years ago, and has since joined the service.  This is the piece:”

BANYAGA:  FOREIGNER

I am a Filipino American.  It has taken me a long while to grasp what being Filipino American means.  My parents were both born in the Philippines.  They arrived in the United States during 70’s.  For many immigrants, starting off in a new country is difficult.  The hardships they endured were justified by the prospect of a better life for their children.

However, I thought this better life came at an expense.  My brother and  I could not understand Tagalog, the Filipino language.   We lacked knowledge of the Filipino heritage and culture.

After my sophomore year, my father thought it was about time I learn.  So he sent me to the Philippines to go to school.  I got accepted into La Salle – a renowned high school in Manila (with many rich kids who speak English).  My father had second thoughts about the school.  He decided to drop me in a small Catholic school in a rural region of the Philippines.  In Binmaley, a town in Pangasinan, I went to Binmaley Catholic High School.

I wasn’t going to be surrounded by rich kids that spoke English.  My father said, they were too Americanized.  To me, La Salle would have been perfect.

Binmaley Catholic High School was different.  There was one main entrance with a guard.  He didn’t allow students to enter if they didn’t tuck in their shirts properly.  He also disciplined those that were late.  The days I was late, I turned around and went home.

The school looked rundown.  My classroom looked like my garage.  My garage, however, has electricity.  Binmaley Catholic wasn’t the most technologically advanced school.  Large windows on both sides of the classroom substituted for the lack of electricity.  There were no lights.  The windows were only frames in the wall that closed shut with larged wooden boards.  The floor was swept off most of the dust in the morning by the students arriving early.  Paint was peeling from both walls, floors and ceiling.

Sitting in class, I found myself more concerned with the building and its state of disrepair.  The school was rundown.  I could understand why my parents saw a better life in the U.S.

While analyzing everything, I forgot the reason I was there:  to learn the language and live my culture.  That wasn’t going to happen.  I am American, a foreigner.  People didn’t mind pointing that out either.

“Hey Americano!” shouted a woman with a cigarette.

I looked to my left.  There was a group of adults playing billiards and smoking.  I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t these people be at work?”  Apparently I caught their attention by walking silently, minding myself.  I was being ridiculed because I am an American.

The only similarity I have with these people is the color of my skin.  We do not speak the same language.  We do not share the same culture.  They saw me as a foreigner.  I was not Filipino in their eyes.  I was told before I came to the Philippines that it is obvious I am American.  The way I walk.  The way I talk.  The way I dress.  Even my posture spelled American.

In the Philippines, I was called “Balikbayan,” meaning returning home.  However, I was not returning home.  I was visiting.  My classmate and the woman shouting “Americano” pointed out I was a foreigner.  This of course made me feel like a foreigner.  I did not belong in the Philippines.  I was American and the Philippines was not my home.

However, in America, my differences start with the color of my skin.  In America, Chinese and Japanese can account for all of Asia.  In America, I am commended for my “good English.”

“Excuse me; I just wanted to tell you that your English is really good.”

I turned around to see an elderly woman smiling at me.  I wasn’t quite sure what she wanted, so I responded, “Come again?”

The elderly woman smiled again and looked at my friend Gwen who is Chinese, “I overheard you and your sister talking and I thought, ‘they speak English really good.’”

Gwen chose to respond, “Well.  We speak English WELL,”   She sounded irritated.  The misuse of well and good is a personal pet peeve of hers.

“Thank you ma’am, we were born here.  And she’s not my sister,”   I finished the conversation by walking away and bringing Gwen with me.

The woman assumed that because we weren’t white, we must be foreigners.  Seeing two foreigners together, they must be brother and sister.  Pointing out their “good English” makes her a good American.  She left feeling a better person.  Gwen and I left feeling irritated.

The only difference I have with other Americans is the color of my skin.  We speak the same language.  We share the same American culture.  However, I am still seen as a foreigner.  The color of my skin blinds them.

I cannot deny my Filipino heritage.  Denying I am Filipino, is denying I have two Filipino parents.  However, I cannot deny I am an American.  I was born in the US.  I am Filipino American and that is my culture:  a combination of Filipino values and an American attitude.

The color of my skin is a petty difference.  Someone who makes it an issue is not worth my time.  Going to the Philippines made me realize that just because I look Filipino, does not make me entirely Filipino.  Despite their negative approach at making a point of it, I  realized that inside I am an American.  However, the American woman that only saw the color of my skin helped me realize that some people are just ignorant.  I am an American.

I am a first generation Filipino American.  I won’t let anyone deny me my heritage.  My parents overcame the hardship for the prospect of their children having a better life.  I am both Filipino and American.  I received the gift of two cultures in one.

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