Saturday, September 27, 2008

From the perspective of a Local-Born

Earlier tonight, I attended the first birthday party of a member of the NC Pinoy Choir. Naturally, there were heaps of people, lots of playful children, and plenty of food to go around. This party reminded me very strongly of those I attended whilst in the company of my parents and extended family. All the elements were there: people, mostly Filipinos or other Fil-Ams, and they would be friends and acquaintances from work, from church, from Filipino organisations and the like. Despite my being Local-Born (so-called because I am a Filipino who was born "abroad" to Filipino immigrant parents), I recognised a lot of the attendees due to my affiliation with the NC Pinoy Choir and the PAANC. It was really nice to hear Tagalog in my ears once again. Even if I don't catch every word, I am able to understand generally what is being said. This seemed to surprise some of the people there. We even discussed it once the hullabaloo of gift-opening and toy playing quieted down amongst the children.

One of the most common questions I receive from people is, where am I from? Amongst Filipinos, the question I receive is, how old was I when I came to the United States? They generally do not believe me when I tell them I am Local-Born. Perhaps it is because I understand Tagalog? It makes me wonder how I managed. From my earliest recollections, I know my parents spoke to my brother and me in Tagalog as we were growing up. We don't speak Tagalog, or if we did, we lost the ability to speak it once we started going to school. Many of the others reported a similar phenomenon with their Local-Born children, except that they stated their children refused to speak Tagalog at home, and now they don't understand it at all. Somehow those sentiments sound familiar. For me, I don't really recall if I expressly refused to speak Tagalog, but then again, growing up in a community with a large Filipino population ensured that I would be surrounded by those who spoke Tagalog consistently. I wonder if this is the reason why I am able to understand Tagalog. I also find that the more I'm immersed in it, the more I begin to think in small snippets of Tagalog, even if I have problems stringing more than a few words together. One of the guys (a bass in the choir) said he sent his children to spend time with relatives in the Philippines during their summer holidays in hopes that upon their return to the US, they would be able to speak Tagalog. No such luck. They experienced something similar to what I did - the cousins were so overjoyed to be able to "expand their small boxes of English" that they insisted on speaking English all the time so they could practice. Luckily for me, when I encountered this, I was able to understand what my cousins were saying, and eventually, when they got tired of actually speaking English to me, we would revert to our funny little way of communicating - they would speak Tagalog to me (or Taglish, which sounds a bit strange admittedly) and I would respond in English. Somehow, it worked.

The other kids in school were either Local-Borns like me, or they emigrated to the United States from the Philippines when they were young children. Perhaps they still had vestiges of their accents, perhaps not. (I never really noticed that, but then again, when I was in high school, there seemed to be some sort of a barrier between the Local-Borns and those termed "FOBs" or "Fresh Off the Boats". The latter expression, by the way, may be considered offensive by some.) Many of us found that our parents had very similar professions: a typical combination of those in my area was, mother was a nurse, father was in the military, and considering I grew up in San Diego, that would mean Navy. Whether or not the parties took place at others' houses, or even at the ever-popular Admiral Baker Field in Mission Gorge, there would always be plenty of food, plenty of kids running around, and plenty of Filipinos enjoying themselves and each others' company.

Back to the party I attended. I couldn't help by laugh to myself when I noticed a huge group playing some sort of card game (tong-its, perhaps? It was the first that came to mind) in one room. It seems to be a typical activity, either some sort of a card game, or mah-jongg, and generally chips would be exchanged, or even money would be on the line. In the other room, there was a group who were enthusiastically line-dancing, non-stop (or at least, for as long as the CD or DVD was playing). So this scenario was slightly different than a party I attended in Toronto, where the constant was the card or mah-jongg playing whilst others were congregating in another room, watching some Filipino movie playing on The Filipino Channel. But it still seemed ... well, almost like home actually.

So no matter where in the world we happen to be, Filipinos everywhere seem to be similar, tied together by a culture and a language we love dearly. I am sincerely happy that this group has accepted me, the Local-Born, into their circle. It makes me feel at home as I am able to connect to what I term my "inner Filipino."

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