When my eighteen year-old son came home this semester break from his first year of college studies, he complained that he cannot relate to the Filipino clubs in the university because he sees them as very wacky.
I heard what he said, but I feigned indifference because I was not sure whether or not my input to his new-found predicament could make him feel better. But then he moved closer to me and restated his case right in my face: “Dad I feel like a Twinkie, brown on the outside and white on the inside.”
“Is that so? Then, have your Twinkie and eat it, too,” I responded, desperately trying to inject some humor into a potentially stressful identity crisis conversation. But I noticed that my son was seeking an educated and intelligent response, so I settled down and told him, “Well, you don’t have to worry really, Sonnie. You are a Filipino-American, that is who you are. You were born and raised here, that is why you think and act like the Whites. But then, your parents are Filipino immigrants. That explains the color of your brown skin.”
My son’s next question was more of a no-brainer, “Is that good or bad?”
“It is not only good, but also desirable. Imagine a person who is a beneficiary of two great cultures. If he is smart enough to pick the best of both worlds, it is definitely a great thing,” I said. I pointed out to him that a person who grew up in America has a distinct advantage over anybody born in the Philippines, or any country in the world for that matter. An American is essentially pragmatic, motivated, focused, and goal-oriented.
“If you have these American virtues, which I know you have, you can now throw in the endearing Filipino positives like strong family ties and high regard on education. Do you see now this individual? This is you, just perfect, and on your way to making a great life.” I added that this “Twinkie phenomenon” when analyzed and understood from the inside out is a desirable thing, indeed.
We then talked about the Philippines then and the Philippines now. I told him that I have seen far more better days in my beloved country. Those days were in the 60s when Tokyo and Manila were the leading centers of commerce in Asia Pacific. I told him that right now the situation back home is downright pathetic because most of the elected officials do not love their country, and so they mercilessly plunder the coffers of the government.
But I told him not to despair, and to continue to study and learn to love the Philippines.
“People like you – uncorrupted and unselfish – are the hope of the country. Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, once said that the youth is the hope of the fatherland. So, instead of Europe, go to the University of the Philippines or the University of Santo Tomas for your six-month elective subjects abroad next year. Your knowledge of your mother country will equip you with a tool that renders the “Who Am I” question irrelevant.
Before we ended our “identity crises” session, I encouraged my son to read the works of Rizal, who wrote to the Filipinos in Barcelona in 1889 that if we know ourselves then we can have power, because we will become visible in the eyes of our people and the peoples of the world.