What is Filipino? What Filipino means to me… What is Filipino to you?

                                                                   by Jonnalyn Camba

What is Filipino?

I am Filipino. I had no say or choice in the matter. It was something I had been predestined with long before I was born. It’s interesting to think that many of the things we deem important, in fact, so important that they constitute a large part of our identity, are things beyond our control.

Being born into a family guarantees us all a set of values, and being born into a Filipino family, at that, provides me with Filipino values. My conformity or rejection of any of those values only further affirms those values’ influence.

Filipino is an essence within me, one I share with my family, and ancestors all the way from the distant past. Filipino is the city of Manila where I was born, a megalopolis overflowing with personalities, colorful jeepneys, noise, and vibrance. In its streets, one can truly feel the hustle and bustle of city living.

On the other hand, Filipino is Baguio and Pangasinan, provinces starkly different from Manila. Baguio, known as the summer capital due to its cool, fresh mountain air. While Pangasinan offers many different beaches, the moment you plunge in its waters, you realize why its name means “a place for salt”. You come out of it feeling refreshed; your face is clearer, your lungs breathe easier, and the rest of your skin feels smoother.

Filipino is the language I speak with my parents. Words my heart knows, and words that are sometimes difficult to translate. It’s the “Bayang Magiliw” and “Lupang Hinirang” that I sang and recited in school with my classmates as we saluted the Philippine flag before the first class would start… Songs and tunes of childhood memories, hard to forget, but also not easy to describe.

Living life mostly outside, playing all kinds of games…that’s Filipino. I remembered skipping jump rope (made of rubber bands I linked together), hula hooping, playing piko (Filipino hopscotch) and patintero (where we must run past marked lines).

It’s my Mama’s home-cooked meals, a beautiful balance of flavors that my tongue and heart just know. The perfect lumpia, pancit, kare-kare and adobo often found right at home.

Filipino is many things. It’s an essence within me, yet is independent of me, a separate entity that does not belong to me; it does not belong to anyone. Filipino… Is.

Filipino is both clear and obscure. It’s both tangible and ideal. It’s also something that grows and evolves. As I grow older, and hopefully wiser, I realize that Filipino continues to grow and transform, changing with its people and the country, who in turn are influenced by a myriad of things like economics and globalization. Yet, still, there’s some things that remain the same, such as the love of family, respect for the elderly, and faithful optimism.

When my family moved to the United States, I experienced the Filipino transformation first-hand. My Filipino-ness evolved from someone fully immersed into the daily customs of the Philippines, to something more esoteric, and I discovered that Filipino is also a feeling and a choice.

Separated from my country does not take away my Filipino-ness, but it does transform it from a Filipino person living in the Philippines to a Filipino person living abroad. Like many Filipinos living and working overseas, I’m still Filipino, but in a different environment. I did not feel less Filipino; its essence did not separate from me when I physically left the country.

However, my own Filipino journey (and the journeys of many others I’ve met along the way, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos who are either newly discovering or rediscovering aspects of Filipino) taught me that Filipino is also a choice.

Yes, I began by saying that I had no choice in being Filipino since I was born in the Philippines to Filipino parents, giving me a jumpstart on my Filipino-ness. However, it’s a choice to learn more about what Filipino is…to keep its language and culture a part of you, to attend Filipino events, to uphold Filipino values, and to eat Filipino food.

It amazes me and makes me feel so grateful when I hear non-Filipinos speak my language and even be able to write in it. They have made a choice to learn more about me and my culture, and even if they do not possess Filipino blood, each Filipino thing they partake in, whether it’s by learning a Filipino song or eating Filipino food, brings them closer to Filipino.

Closer to understanding what it means to be Filipino, closer to empathizing with Filipinos. In fact, some become so immersed in this Filipino-ness that the essence of Filipino springs within them. Filipino is also a seed that some choose to plant within themselves and cultivate continuously until it becomes truly rooted and becomes a part of them.


So my question for you is, what is Filipino to you?

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