Identity is in a constant ebb and flow. Our identities go through evolutions from from grade to grade, from class to class, from year to year. There are constant influences to identities, whether they are as trivial as a hug or as transformative as a homicide. The most interesting aspect of identity to me is ethnic identity, as these are largely dependent on factors under others’ control and rarely under our own.
Cultural assimilation is a large adversary to identity. I am a second generation Filipino man with a white father. My mother’s own father was white despite her being born in the Philippines, as he worked at the American military base that used to exist in Subic Bay. While my complexion doesn’t usually signal to people that I am more American than I am Filipino, my base of knowledge certainly does. My grandmother refused to teach me Tagalog as I grew up and only spoke of funny stories from her homeland rather than her customs. Why? “I want you to be my American grandson.” My mother actually did wish to teach me as much as she could about the Philippines, yet her memories of both language and culture was largely absent since she moved to the United States at the age of seven. I have knowledge of two ethnic foods and a few miscellaneous Tagalog words for my body, with my grandmother’s dementia standing directly in the way of me learning anything more. I yearn to understand more about my roots, yet my education has only described how the United States has preyed on the Philippines for its own gain in the past. My grandmother never had ill intent in withholding her heritage from me — many people foreign to the United States see it as a place to grow and flourish, and she likely thought that keeping my eyes set on where I was born would bring me the most success. Unforeseen by her, I now sit feeling like a part of my mind is missing.
I might technically be considered American-Filipino, but it is hard for me to feel comfortable calling myself Filipino at all. I dearly hope that I can discover more about my heritage through my time at UCF, but it will not be nearly as authentic as learning it through my own family. Hopefully, this anecdote has made it clear that allowing children the opportunity to understand their background and choose whether to incorporate it into their sense of self is an important responsibility not to be neglected by parents. It helps prevent problems of both identity erasure and diverse thought. The smartest, most authentic minds are those whose perspectives are wide-ranging.