Filipino Boy Essay


POUNDING RICE, ni Galo B. Ocampo, 1974

The traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipina maiden) is shy and secretive about her real feelings for a suitor and denies it even though she is really in love with the man.

Tuksuhan lang (just teasing) is the usual term associated with pairing off potential couples in Filipino culture.  This is common among teenagers and young adults.  It is a way of matching people who may have mutual admiration or affection for each other.  It may end up in a romance or avoidance of each other if the situation becomes embarrassing for both individuals.

Tuksuhan (teasing--and a girl's reaction to it) is a means for 'feeling out' a woman's attitude about an admirer or suitor.  If the denial is vehement and the girl starts avoiding the boy, then he gets the message that his desire to pursue her is hopeless.  The advantage of this is that he does not get embarrassed because he has not started courting the girl in earnest.  As in most Asian cultures, Filipinos avoid losing face. Basted (from English busted) is the Tagalog slang for someone who fails to reach 'first base' in courting a girl because she does not have any feelings for him to begin with. 

However, if the girl 'encourages' her suitor (either by being nice to him or not getting angry with the 'teasers'), then the man can court in earnest and the tuksuhan eventually ends.  The courtship then has entered a 'serious' stage, and the romance begins.

A man who is unable to express his affection to a woman (who may have the same feelings for him) is called a torpe (stupid), dungo (extremely shy), or simply duwag (coward).  To call a man torpe means he does not know how to court a girl, is playing innocent, or does not know she also has an affection for him. 

If a man is torpe, he needs a tulay (bridge)--anyone who is a mutual friend of him and the girl he loves--who then conveys to the girl his affection for her.   It is also a way of 'testing the waters' so to speak.  If the boy realizes that the girl does not have feelings for him, he will then not push through with the courtship, thus saving face. 

Some guys are afraid of their love being turned down by the girl.  In Tagalog, a guy whose love  has been turned down by the girl is called sawi (romantically sad), basted (busted), or simply labless (loveless).   Click here for Tagalog romantic phrases used in Filipino courtship.

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HARANA, ni Carlos V. Francisco

Panliligaw or ligawan are the Tagalog terms for courtship, which in some parts of the Tagalog-speaking regions is synonymous with pandidiga or digahan (from Spanish diga, 'to say, express').  Manliligaw is the one who courts a girl; nililigawan is the one who is being courted. 

In Philippine culture, courtship is far more subdued and indirect unlike in some Western societies.  A man who is interested in courting a woman has to be discreet and friendly at first, in order not to be seen as too presko or mayabang (aggressive or too presumptuous).  Friendly dates are often the starting point, often with a group of other friends.  Later, couples may go out on their own, but this is still to be done discreetly.  If the couple has decided to come out in the open about their romance, they will tell their family and friends as well. 

In the Philippines, if a  man wants to be taken seriously by a woman, he has to visit the latter's family and introduce himself formally to the parents of the girl.  It is rather inappropriate to court a woman and formalize the relationship without informing the parents of the girl.  It is always expected that the guy must show his face to the girl's family.  And if a guy wants to be acceptable to the girl's family, he has to give pasalubong (gifts) every time he drops by her family's house.   It is said that in the Philippines, courting a Filipina means courting her family as well.

In courting a Filipina, the metaphor often used is that of playing baseball.  The man is said to reach 'first base' if the girl accepts his proposal to go out on a date for the first time.  Thereafter, going out on several dates is like reaching the second and third bases.  A 'home-run' is one where the girl formally accepts the man's love, and they become magkasintahan (from sinta, love), a term for boyfriend-girlfriend. 

During the old times and in the rural areas of the Philippines, Filipino men would make harana (serenade) the women  at night and sing songs of love and affection.  This is basically a Spanish influence.  The man is usually accompanied by his close friends who provide moral support for the guy, apart from singing with him. 

Filipino women are expected to be pakipot (playing hard to get) because it is seen as an appropriate behavior in a courtship dance.   By being pakipot, the girl tells the man that he has to work hard to win her love.  It is also one way by which the Filipina will be able to measure the sincerity of her admirer.  Some courtships could last years before the woman accepts the man's love. 

A traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipinpa maiden) is someone who is mahinhin (modest, shy, with good upbringing, well-mannered) and does not show her admirer that she is also in love with him immediately.  She is also not supposed to go out on a date with several men.  The opposite of mahinhin is malandi (flirt), which is taboo in Filipino culture as far as courtship is concerned.

After a long courtship, if the couple later decide to get married, there is the Filipino tradition of pamamanhikan (from panik, to go up the stairs of the house), where the man and his parents visit the woman's family and ask for her parents blessings to marry their daughter.  It is also an occasion for the parents of the woman to get to know the parents of the man.

During pamamanhikan, the man and his parents bring some pasalubong (gifts).  It is also at this time that the wedding date is formally set, and the couple become engaged to get married. 

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TAMPUHAN, a classic painting by Juan Luna, 1895.  This painting depicts sweethearts having a lovers' quarrel.

The Tagalog term tampo has no English equivalent.  Magtampo is usually translated as 'to sulk', but it does not quite mean that.  'Sulk' seems to have a negative meaning which is not expressed in magtampo.   It is a way of withdrawing, of expressing hurt feelings in a culture where outright expression of anger is discouraged.  For example, if a child who feels hurt or neglected may show tampo by withdrawing from the group, refusing to eat, and resisting expressions of affection such as touching or kissing by the members of the family.  A woman may also show tampo if she feels jealous or neglected by her beloved.  Tampuhan is basically a lovers' quarrel, often manifested in total silent treatment or not speaking to each other.

The person who is nagtatampo expects to be aamuin or cajoled out of the feeling of being unhappy or left out.  Parents usually let a child give way to tampo before he/she is cajoled to stop feeling hurt. 

Usually, tampo in Filipino culture is manifested in non-verbal ways, such as not talking to other people, keeping to one's self, being unusually quiet, not joining friends in group activities, not joining family outing, or simply locking one's self in his or her room. 

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Tagalog Love Words (An Essay)

Our loving ways
by Edilberto Alegre

"Mahal kita, mahal kita, hindi ito bola."

The phrase is the first verse line of a song which was written by a teenager, so said a DJ of the time, in the early 1970s. That's some three decades ago. And yet we still hear it played on the radio, especially around this time of the year.

The line literally means "I love you, I love you, I am not joking." Bola means ball, as in basketball. To "make bola," a patent and peculiar English Tagalog statement, derives from Tagalog: e.g. Binobola mo lang ako, which implies saying untruths but in such a charming manner that what the speaker says appear to be true. It's related to "binibilog ang ulo," literally making a head round -- bola (ball) and bilog (circle) have the same shape round. It remotely recalls "drawing circles" around someone.

To make the title of this section sound closer to English, then: "Seriously, I love you." That deflates the statement though, since the translation is bereft of all that affection in a Pinoy's wooing of a woman. Affection and the lightness of language -- for she, if Pinoy, too, knows he can just be saying it but not truly meaning it, so he enjoins her at the end of the line plaintively: do believe me, hindi ito bola, seriously, peks man, cross my heart and hope to die.

Deep down the Pinoy knows words are just that -- words. Sounds articulated by the vocal cords. Nice to say, good to hear. They need not always carry the weight of truth. And we're adept at manipulating them. It's a cultural attitude to language. We're not supposed to believe everything we hear.

Verbal meaning is kahulugan. The root word is hulog which means "fall" (nahulog sa hagdan -- (s)he fell down the stairs) primarily and "partial" (hulugan -- installment) secondarily. So there are always implications and nuances and the truth is more in them than in the words themselves. So, the bearer must be assured by the speaker -- Hindi ito bola.

Oral speech especially is, then, a game. Politicians are masters of the game. Quezon and Marcos were acknowledged orators who exhibited their genius for bola in public fora here and abroad.

Love in the oral level is a game. There is the pursuer and the pursued. And there are the arrows of words to slay the wooed into belief. Even in the written certainly, the attitude to language is the same. No wonder then that the perennial best-seller continues to be a thin book of samples of loveletters. In Tagalog, that is.

Where is the truth of the loving, then? In the acts of loving, in the action of love -- especially those which are not meretricious; those which do not advertise the feeling of love and loving behind the act and actions. Wala sa salita; nasa gawa. Not in the words but in the actions.

How does one show na hindi ito bola? There is a cultural context to it, of course. As red roses in the west. There's the gift giving, too. But traditionally it's pasalubong -- bringing someone a gift since (s)he was not there when the giver was. A gift to show that one remembered. Valentine's Day is a foreign idea which has not yet seeped into our traditional cultures.

But let me dwell on it a bit. Red is the emblem of the heart (so very bloody, though!), as roses should be red if one wishes to get across love as the message of the giving. This one day even old people won't feel corny wearing red shirts or red skirt. I know, in fact, a few who have Valentine's Day attire which they take out only once a year.

In the 1970s there was this red-and-white taxi named Alfredo's. On that one day, riders who wore red or red-and-white were entitled to a 50% discount. See, how far we can go! Luneta (national park) in those times bloomed in red. That one crazy day!

They are not that crazy in Japan. Primarily it's because the culture which Valentine's Day still tries to penetrate does not possess the articulate meretriciousness of ours. Theirs is an oppressed society -- oppressed by feudalism which continues to fuel it. Their extreme behavior on this day consists of a mild reversal of roles, namely, the girls can gift the boys with chocolates to express their feelings. And that's confined to the young. Just the young.

Let me contrast that with a story here in Tacloban, Leyte (Eastern Visayas). A couple who had been married for almost three decades had seven children between them. On Valentine's Day morning, the husband forgot to greet his wife. She let it pass. In the evening he came home a bit tipsy. He had forgotten completely that it was Valentine's Day. When he was changing his clothes she threw her slippers at him. Love and loving we expect even after decades of togetherness.


These are stories from my hometown, Victoria in the province of Tarlac (Central Luzon). True-to-life love stories. There are many such stories there.

The first has to do with the parents of my closest friend, Ely. His father, Apo Sinti, was taciturn. Ely feared him. He knew he could whip a guava branch to pulp on an offending son's butt. During his entire life Ely remembers only one event -- the father made a top for him using only a bolo (sword). He does not remember him talking to him at all.

In contrast, the mother -- Apo La Paz -- was always talking. They had a huge house on our Calle Real (now Rizal St.) and they had always a slew of maids. She inherited quite a large mass of riceland so she was used to ordering people about.

Apo Sinti found eating at the family table a bother. Perhaps he could not stand Apo La Paz's incessant yakking which became worse during meals. So, Apo Sinti had his special table in the kitchen. A rather small one. He always ate ahead of everybody. Apo La Paz herself, not a maid, would set the table. Then she'd have him called.

He'd come, sit down, and eat silently. She'd be bustling in the kitchen -- checking the food a-cooking on the stoves, the setting of their huge family table, the gradual filling up of the dining room with people, food, and the drinks and sweets which were on another table ready for serving.

During all this she would check on Apo Sinti -- saw to his glass of iced water which had to be replenished always, and the banana which was his preferred fruit. They did not speak with each other. He ate all that was served him. She knew exactly how much rice he ate and what viands he preferred and how much of these he consumed.

Then as silently as he came in, he'd leave. Apo La Paz would then call one of the maids to clean the table and place it in one corner of the kitchen.

One Sunday morning, Apo Sinti staggered to a traysikad, a bicycle with a side car, even before the mass ended in our one Catholic Church proximate to the town plaza. He didn't make it back to their house. He had a heart attack.

Apo La Paz cried, but she didn't wail. She saw to all the funeral arrangements. She was the overseer of the wake. After the funeral she retired to her room. She had to be called for the family meals. She receded into silence.

After a month, she died.

The second story, has to do with the old couple across our house. I don't remember their names. They were a very quiet, self-contained husband-and-wife. They married late, it seems. Their only child was a loquacious tall male who since childhood manifested strong signs of effeminateness.

The son was away for high school. And then a terribly extended medical schooling. They didn't seem to mind. The old man hardly went out of the house. The old woman we hardly saw. All that I remember of them is her standing around as he watered the many plants their son loved. Their yard was a veritable garden.

Every few days a young boy would sweep the yard. The old couple would be seated in their veranda. I have no recollection of their voices. But they did talk with each other. I could see them from our own second-floor veranda.

One day the old man fell ill. The young boy called my father, who was a medical doctor. My father said it was serious. After three days he died. The effeminate son came back and made quite a scene in his wailing and flailing about. He returned to his medical school after the funeral.

We only got news of the old woman from the young boy who stayed with her. He was the son of one of their tenants. He said that she refused to go out of her room. He served her her meals there. She receded into silence.

After two weeks, she died.

These two old couples remind me of a Guy de Maupassant short story. A hunter shot a bird. The other bird, its mate obviously, circled around it. It refused to leave. It kept going around the spot where the first bird fell. Gradually it went down, still moving in circles. It was as if it wanted to be shot, too. The hunter aimed at it and killed it.

They remind me, too, of an old Indian myth. In the beginning, Man and Woman were one. Somehow they got separated. The Man went to the right. The Woman went to the left. They had been looking for each other since then.

Love or, I suppose, marriage in the myth is the discovery of our other half. The Man and the Woman become one again. We go through life looking for our other half, that which would complete us. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes not. If we don't then we go through another cycle of life, another cycle of searching. Life is a quest for completion by way of finding the Man or Woman who is our lost other half.

In our culture we call this completion of self love.


What does our language tell us about love? There's a range starting with wooing, suyuan, an old fine Tagalog word that indicates a man's declaration of his love by overt action, verbal or otherwise. Usually it's non-verbal -- singing, glancing or stealing glances, services -- and indirect. Ligaw, a more modern term, has directness.

Ibig connotes desire, wanting, even an impulse to possess the other. Its highest statement, though, is love of country -- pag-ibigsa tinubuang lupa which carries a hint of self-immolation.

Mahal implies valuation, therefore, the other is prized, valued highly. It's root meaning has to do with the monetary cost of goods as in Mahal ang mga bilihin ngayon (Goods are costly now).

While manuyo (from suyo) and manligaw are active, they are traditionally a man's action toward a woman. A one-sided wooing, a pursuit of the woman's heart.

Ibig and mahal are feelings. They express the content of the heart that pursues. The words are focused on what the wooer feels for the wooed. There are three words which have become poetic because, I think, they are old expressions. Irog is fondness or affection for another. When there's a hint of yearning it becomes giliw. When there is reciprocity it becomes sinta. And thus sweethearts or lovers or magkasintahan. And when one introduces the other the term of reference is kasintahan. If it's friendship it's ka-ibig-an; a friendship which has a latent possibility for desire. Kasintahan is closer to affection.

Purely physical desire is of another category altogether: pagnanais. The root word nais implies focused desire; focused on an object or objection, that is. While that which is desirable is kanais-nais, its opposite, di-kanais-nais, is not only not nice but unpleasant.

In contrast to pagnanais the words which refer to love or loving (suyo, ligaw, ibig, mahal, irog, giliw, sinta) contain a lightness -- fondness, affection, yearning. There's no obsessiveness, no imprisoning. There's the lightness of flowing air, the grace of morning's tropical sunlight.

No possessiveness. Perhaps this has to do with man's regard for woman, for it is the man who woos. More probably though, it has to do with the completion of the self with, in, and through one other person (the kita relationship in Tagalog) as only one aspect of the I -- personhood: there's also ako (just the self and no other), tayo (relationship with two or more persons, including the person directly addressed) and kami (also with two or more persons, but excluding the person directly addressed).

The completion of the self in kita cannot possibly deny tayo and kami. While one desires, one wants, too, to yield. There can be and there is passion, physical, but it dissolves in tenderness, in affection, in fondness. Softness wins out in Pinoy loving: it's only in yielding the self that one becomes complete.

Loving is the dialectic dialogue between desire and affection. And love brings us to a new realm -- beyond desire, beyond tenderness, beyond body: the penetration of a new world!

From Pinoy na Pinoy column, Businessworld 14 February 2002

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I loathe the term all American. It's always attributed to some blond-haired, blue-eyed good ole boy or girl who is the standard by which people of color are held up to. It immediately tells us that we don't belong. That we are outsiders. That we will never be good enough. It doesn't matter what we've contributed to this country or even that we've fought and given our lives for this country. If we don't "look" American, it doesn't matter how well we speak the language or how long we or our ancestors have lived here — we still aren't welcome. We are not treated as American because we are still not seen as American.

This concept of people not seeing me for who I am has affected the way I carry and define myself. I was born to an Irish mother and a Filipino father, but I don't look like either. I can pass for white, but never Filipino. I identify as a woman of color, but I'm not very colorful. The paleness of my skin has always made me feel like I can't fully embrace my brown side because of how people see me and probably how I see myself.

Growing up, my parents deeply influenced my identity. I want to preface this by saying I deeply love my parents and this isn't an attempt to call them out on their faults. I'm writing this to show how I've come to the conclusions I've come to and how I've come to identify myself based on my background.

That being said, my Filipino-American father has completely assimilated to American culture, so much so that I sometimes ask, "You know you're brown, right? I know you live in Coeur d'Alene, ID, now, where you are the entire Filipino population, but you're still brown." All joking aside, I feel he has in many ways neglected to keep our Filipino culture alive. He may cook typical Filipino dishes sometimes, but only because he wants to eat them. I don't feel like there's any sense of pride in our culture, even though he does say he is proud to be Filipino when prompted.

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The most disheartening part for me is that he didn't teach us Tagalog because he said he didn't want us to have an accent. I questioned whether me not having an accent was more important than preserving our culture. He didn't say it was, it was just how he felt at the time because of how it affected him and the opportunities he feels he may have missed out on.

Then, it dawned on me: the privilege I have as a first-generation American on my father's side. I get to embrace my Filipino side and keep it alive without having to deal with the struggles that my father and so many others who immigrated to this country had to endure. Thinking of what he and countless other immigrants went through in this country makes the next thing I'm going to write even more painful.

My mother is in many ways a typical white American: claims patriotism and passion for her country when questionable and offensive things fly out of her mouth. Or demands that people speak English here in America but is furious when the restaurants in foreign countries don't have English translations on their menu. Oh, the irony! When I was younger, driving in the car with her in our predominantly Asian neighborhood was a contemptuous experience: "Learn how to f*cking drive!" "Go back to your f*cking country!" "Go back to where you came from!" Those are the ones that stood out and still stick with me as I sit here and think about it.

If these people, like my father — her husband — were supposed to go back to where they came from, then where do I belong?

I still feel the same emotions that I felt when I would watch her, tears welling in my eyes as I sat there quietly imploding. I would ask her how she could say such terrible things when I was part Asian to which she would reply, "You're not Asian, you're Pacific Islander." My own mother couldn't even see me. And for a moment, I would forget she was my mother as I thought to myself, "Who do you think you are, white woman, to define who I am?" But maybe that's why she said those things, because in those heated moments, she would forget that I was her daughter. My mother. Telling people that I identified with to go back to where they came from. To go back to their country. If these people, like my father — her husband — were supposed to go back to where they came from, then where do I belong?

I've struggled most of my life trying to establish my own identity and how I define myself. Many of my earlier conclusions had been a consequence of how others perceived me to be. In a sociology class back in college, we read an article by Yen Le Espiritu subtly titled "We Don't Sleep Around Like White Girls Do," about Filipino immigrant mothers not wanting their daughters to be like American girls because of their alleged promiscuity. We were then instructed to break into small groups and discuss. My group consisted of my friend Aileen, a Filipina-American, and two, I think, Italian-American girls. We were about to start discussing when one of the girls started ranting and I remember it going something like this:

"Oh my God, like, I am so offended that they would say that about us. Like, I know so many Filipino girls and they are, like, the biggest sluts. Like, how dare they just say that we're all like that, that's so offensive. I can't believe they think like that, like, how rude!"

She took a beat and looked at Aileen.

"Oh, my God! Like, I have this Filipino friend and her mom is, like, always rearranging the furniture in their house. That's, like, all she ever does. Every time I go over there, the furniture is, like, always in a different place. . . . I bet your mom does that too, huh?"

I don't remember exactly what Aileen's response was as I sat in dumbfounded silence, but I remember the tone being along the lines of, "F*ck no!" I just stared at the girl, a look of confusion that seemed to have paralyzed the rest of my bodily functions as I wondered if she had the capability to get through the title of the article.

A few moments later, she proceeded to show us a picture of her sister at prom then told us, "But, my mom has to, like, hide it when my grandfather comes over because he would freak out if he knew she went with, like, a black guy. But, I just don't get how you don't like black people. Like, they are so cool. They're, like, such good dancers."

Done. We were done. We looked at her then at her friend, whose face seemed to plead, "I'm sorry. Yeah, I know I come in with her every day, but please don't associate me with this stupidity."

We walked out, Aileen venting as I listened. Then, Aileen turned to me, saying, "And she didn't even acknowledge you. She knows you're Filipino, but she didn't ask you if your mom arranged f*cking furniture. And you know why? It's because she doesn't see you as Filipino."

I hadn't even noticed. Maybe because my mom's white and I automatically assumed she knew that even though she didn't. Or maybe it's because I didn't know what I was.

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Yes, I've technically always known that I'm part Filipino and part white. But I didn't feel like I could be Filipino because I didn't look like I was Filipino, as ridiculous as that sounds. I didn't feel like I was able to claim this part of myself because I didn't physically resemble what someone would typically picture when they imagined a Filipino person. But it's not just me. It seems like most people I meet have questions and concerns trying to define or question my existence.

"You don't look Filipino." Well, yes I do. Because I am. But I never say this. I just nod and smile politely.

"Do you speak Tagalog?" No, but I'm learning. I still criticize my father for not teaching me to, you know, carry on our culture and save me a ton of money.

"Do you speak Spanish?" No! I'm Filipino.

"You're so white." Yeah, I know. I used to spend a lot of money and a lot of hours ruining my skin under tanning beds because my paleness seemed to put off people. So deep was my tanning obsession that when my husband sees old photos of me, he feels inclined to give me a Jersey Shore nickname. My own mother remarked on the whiteness of my skin to which I replied, "Uh, that's your fault."

"How did you get this?" I was asked this the first time I used my Philippine passport in Manila. As I approached the two Filipino customs agents, they looked at me warily as I got closer. They looked at my passport and asked how I had gotten such a document. I didn't understand so I asked them what they meant and they just repeated it. I said I just applied for it. They looked at each other, looked at my passport, looked at me, then asked, "You're Filipino?"

Proof! I had proof that I was Filipino and they still didn't believe me.

We're constantly told that we identify too much with one side or aren't enough of the other and vice versa depending on who declares themselves the authority on our identities at that given moment.

In high school, I distinctly remember walking into the Filipino club orientation and walking right out because I didn't feel like I belonged there with all the "real" Filipinos. This constant feeling of not belonging or not being "enough" is something that I know many people of mixed ethnicity struggle with regardless of what their mix is. I've found that a lot of mixed people can relate more to each other than to others of their same ethnicities. We're constantly told that we identify too much with one side or aren't enough of the other and vice versa depending on who declares themselves the authority on our identities at that given moment.

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So where do we belong? Who are we? Why can people not see us?

I recently spoke with a dear cousin of mine who is Filipino and black, and she reiterated these same feelings I have of feeling lost. Feeling like we don't really belong in either world. She told me about a biracial woman she saw on an episode of Needles & Pins that spoke so poignantly of being mixed race. After we spoke, I immediately went to my television to find it. The episode was based in New Zealand and focused on the Ta moko, traditional Maori tattooing. The episode featured many Maori people of mixed race who spoke about the difficulties of having ancestors who are both the oppressors and the oppressed. But these young people were in the process of rediscovering their history and reclaiming it through decolonization. One of the women reflected on her mixed-race identity:

"I thought my weakness was that I was half Maori or half Jamaican . . . on and out of different kinds of worlds. I never really felt that I belonged and that's how I carried myself. And then I realized that those weren't my weaknesses and I wasn't half of anything. I was completely Maori. Completely Jamaican. Completely myself."

"Yeeeeesss," I cried to the television. This. All of this. I've always felt like I wasn't enough because I was considered to be half of each.

But I'm not half. I'm not missing anything. I am a whole human being.

Even if people may see me as something different, it does not change who I am. People will always try to define me and put me into the box they feel I belong in. But how I feel is who I am and whether people see that does not matter. What I am matters. And I am completely Filipino. I am completely American. I am completely myself. With my brown hair, my brown eyes, and my yellow-tinted skin, I am all American and I belong here.

We all do.

Image Source: Courtesy of Stacie Gancayco-Adlao

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