I wrote the following article for online zine New Slang, published on Sunday, 11 April 2010.
I can still remember that one night back in college, at my part-time job calling alumni for donations, when the woman on the phone asked me the question I dreaded the most: “So, Erin, where are you from?”
I drew my breath, “I’m from the Philippines,”
“Oh, really? Where in the Philippines?”
“My family lives in Quezon City. It’s a part of the Greater Manila area, which is the capital.”
” . . . I see. Hold on while I get my husband.”
Thinking she had the phone muffled, she called for her husband, whom I was supposed to talked to.
“She says she’s calling from Grinnell College. And she says she’s from the Philippines, but she doesn’t have an accent. I don’t think she’s really from the Philippines.”
Answering a simple question like, “Where are you from?” means unloading all the baggage that comes with it. Many people may believe that there is a logical connection between where one is “from” and what he/she is supposed to sound like, but it is much more complicated than that. With the woman on the phone, I could almost see images of nurses, lumpia, and Imelda Marcos’s shoes flashing before her eyes as I carefully evaluated my choice of words, knowing that my answer would immediately shape her impression of me – what I looked like, what I liked to eat, what I believed in, and ultimately whether I could be trusted with her family’s hard-earned money.
While the conversation above took place in the United States, many people all over the world fall prey to the assumption that “where you are from” determines who you are. In the Philippine experience, I find it frustrating that the our cultural landscape places so much emphasis on standardizing the expression of Filipino identity. With these expectations in place, it remains a fruitless exercise in monitoring one’s level of Filipino-ness and thus a challenge to advocate for diversity in Filipino cultural identities.
My story may represent a tiny fraction of our population; however, it is significant given the global nature of the Filipino community. As Filipinos continue to live and grow in different parts of the world, our cultural identity will evolve.
This past weekend, I found my old personal diary from the 5th and 6th grade. 1994 was the year I moved back to the Philippines from Grenada, and I wrote my thoughts about it throughout the year. I will also write about other moves in future installments.
Check out the mid-90s pop culture references!
This morning my dad said we are going back to the Philippines . . . I don’t want to. Everything I love is in Grenada. I told [my friend] and she said maybe I could stay with her. I’m trying not to cry right now. I don’t want to leave . . . I hope my dad is telling a lie. Grenada is my country and no one can change that. Period.
September 29, 1994
. . . Well, [my friend] came again today. I told him we were going back to the Philippines for good. I don’t know how he feels, but I don’t LIKE WHAT IS GOING ON HERE. Oh well, my life is already ruined anyway.
October 5, 1994
My dad got reservations today. We’re leaving 7:30 A.M on BWIA next week. I think my life is ruined. I really try to look in the bright side. In the Philippines, I get to go to SM and go shopping. I’ll get new clothes. But they don’t sell cool stuff like what they wear here in Grenada. Oh well. Gotta tell everyone now.
October 8, 1994
I feel so sad about leaving soon. I love Grenada. We have to donate our children’s puppet show to the school. But my dad promised me we will get another one. I will get new clothes in the Philippines. I don’t want to wear a uniform [to school]. I look gross.
October 12, 1994
Well, I feel much better now about my trip. We went by [our family friends’] and they want me to go to Megamall and all sorts of places. I ♥ Megamall. Oh yeah, they also have German, French, Chinese, and Japanese schools.
October 13, 1994
Oh I’m going to cry! Today was definitely the best day of my life. [Our family friend] made my cake for class. It was beautiful and delicious. The secondary class ♥ it . . . My whole class gave me a card. It was so wonderful. I don’t wanna leave. I could just cry just now.
October 14, 1994
I’m in Miami now. In the Everglades Hotel. I miss Grenada already.
October 16, 1994
I’m in the Philippines and I’m crying. I wanna go back to Grenada . . . “Always” [by Erasure] is No. 1 in the Philippines, [my brother] said. The little Tagalog speaker.
October 17, 1994
Today I had my exam [at my new school]. It was pretty easy. I slept a lot during the afternoon. I finished Super Street Fighter 2 and Clay Fighter. It was pretty fun. I wanna go back to Grenada still. But I’m starting to get used to this place. I really like 94.7 radio station. It has a lot of the stuff I know. Well, nothing else to write.
October 20, 1994
Today was my first day at [my new school]. I made a lot of friends.
October 25, 1994
Today we had computer class again. I think typing is so hard. Anyway, nobody sat with me for lunch today. I think those girls hate me.
November 2, 1994
Today was OK. Dad and I went to Megamall and went around. I wanted to buy an Ace of Base video but they didn’t have it. Well, Goonies is on TV and I was sent to bed. I don’t want to. Well, I’m starting to think less about Grenada. (Oh my god.) Gotta go.
January 10, 1995
Today was another bad day too. I get a C+ for my health. I never felt so retarded in my life. If those people from Grenada heard that, they would call me retarded and all kinda thing. I learned some Chinese characters today and they make me see how unartistic I am. My life is breaking up again.
January 11, 1995
Today is the last day of school of the week. We are stuck with a whole bunch of homework for the weekend. I’m not really that excited about the science fair. I don’t feel like going to school anymore. It doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I don’t care if I end up retarded. What I really need is a break from myself and my life. I want to have a vacation. A long one. I don’t want to come back.
February 13, 1995
Today I got a letter from Grenada! It is from my class! They have not changed . . . [They say] nothing has been going on in Grenada. Oh I ♥ those letters so much.
February 22, 1995
Today was just like a normal school day. But they gave me a new name and call me Granada Bomb because I told them about Grenada. That is really silly.
March 1, 1995
. . . Today [these girls] were fighting about me. “Oh Erin, sit with me!” I sat with [my friend] instead. It’s good that I did. I’m in a new club called Friends 4 Ever . . . I ♥ this week.