Jourdan Serrano

ENGL 165 – Erpelo

MWF @ 10:10AM

Essay #4 – Final Draft

Homework Due: 12.15.05



The Filipino American history has been retold in so many different ways.  We can read history books and try to find out about the Filipino American history in libraries.  However, I could honestly say the best source of knowledge about immigration and settlement of Filipinos are from our fathers, our mothers, grandparents, neighbors that have Filipino heritage in them.  Books could only say the least, but speaking to an actual person who experienced it all is the best source ever.  These people have so much information to offer to people who have the questions.  Furthermore, how would one assimilate one self through the American culture to just “fit in”?  Migrating to the United States does end one journey, but a new chapter begins.  If you ask these people what was their main purpose in moving to America, most of them will answer that America was the “land of opportunity” and they wanted a better life for themselves and their families. 

Adjusting to the American lifestyle was hard for many Filipinos because at the same time they were accepted to migrate to America but the Americans did not approve of them.  Many were looked down on, called by racist names, and were looked at as African Americans and not Filipino Americans.  Many Filipinos have been mistaken as being Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and not many Americans knew what Filipinos were.  When Filipinos adjusted to the American lifestyle, according to Armando Alvarez in Home Bound, his family has a cultural void.  This meant that there was no Filipino culture mentioned at all in his home.  As he quotes, “…Filipino culture is something that we should retain, that we should hold on to…There wasn’t a sense that we should keep the language…Our parents don’t realize that we don’t know anything about the old country” (p. 194).  Many Filipino families can relate to this situation where the parents do not pass on the history of their culture to their children because they think the best thing for their children is to be Americanized and have English as their primary language.  This was also one of the ways for Filipinos to “fit in” right away.

There are four cultural ethnic identities which many people experience when migrating to a whole new different “home”.  The first factor that affects ones identity is biculturism ,which is when one explores and adopts values from both cultures.  The second aspect is the ethnic separation which is when a person’s ethnic background is everything to them and where they migrate to do not affect them.  The third ethnic identity is assimilation where a person’s ethnicity does not matter to them, they give up their country’s origin, and they feel that their nationality is everything.  Finally, there is marginality which a person does not feel like they belong in either culture because of negative feedback from other people.  Many Filipinos experience assimilation because of the need to fit in America’s culture.  They automatically have English as their first language, change the way they dress, and their mannerisms.   However, Eleanor experienced biculturalism because she did not want to forget about her Filipino culture, but at the same time she adapted to the American culture.

The person that I interviewed was my mother, Eleanor Serrano.  I chose her to interview because it was a perfect opportunity for me to find out about my mother and understand her migration to America.  I never was curious nor did I ever thought about asking her what her experiences were like coming to America.  I always just assumed that my mother and father came to the United States, found jobs and from there bought a house for us and that was that.  I never knew the details in between such as the racism and prejudice they went through just for being Filipino immigrants and how hard it was to adapt to a different culture while for so many years they were used to their Filipino culture.  They basically had to learn something new all the time. 

It was around the end of October 2005 and I brought Eleanor to Starbucks, which was down the street from our house.  They were about to close so there were only a few people who were in there.  I did not want her to be nervous so I told her to just speak the same way she would speak to me in any other situation and do not think that it is an interview.  I asked her questions about what I would want to know to make me understand her life better.  Such as how was her life in the Philippines like and how was her life here in America to show some comparisons about living in the Philippines and living in America.  Also, I wanted her to discuss some situations she experienced in the Philippines to show why she moved to America.  After her move to America she spoke about finding a job and how it was hard assimilating to the American culture by speaking English more at an everyday basis.          

 The 1920s was the time when most of the Filipino migration occurred and almost everyone resided to the west coast of the United States.  Another way the Filipinos brought their families over to the United States was through the fathers who were in the U.S. Navy.  Immigration of the Filipinos sped up during the 1970s and they were still coming to settle in America.  The Philippines were not getting better at all with their government control.  According to the poem Letter to Grandma by Virginia R. Cerenio, she speaks, “I have seen newspapers photos of government soldiers shooting guns and water cannons at nuns and priests…lola, I am afraid”, which shows how one fears to go back home.  In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation 1801, declaring martial law over the Philippines.  Around this time Eleanor was still in college attending the University of Saint Thomas, where she witnessed and experienced riots.  According to Eleanor, “…there were a lot of riots that went on between the government and the students…these students were activist because they were against martial law and they wanted a Democratic country”.  For Eleanor, this is one of the main reasons why her and her family decided to migrate to the United States during the 1980s.  She married Roberto Serrano who was already a United States citizen because his father was working on United States property in the Philippines, which automatically made all of Roberto’s family being able to be petitioned to go to the United States.

After migrating to United States, Eleanor’s next step was to support her family by finding a job.  When working on her first day she thought that she was going to befriend many of the Filipinos that were already working there.  However, little did she know her coworkers paid no attention to her because they knew she just came to the United States and in addition, Eleanor did not look Filipino to them.  As she quoted in her interview, “…I was wrong because those Filipinos have been here in the United States for so long already.  I just came from the Philippines and I haven’t mastered the English language yet.  It was easy to understand them when they spoke to me, but when I would talk to them I have a hard time.”  Throughout her job she experienced prejudice and racism even from coworkers that were Filipinos themselves, but they already assimilated to the American culture.  She was looked down at because she was a “FOB” and at the same time these Americanized Filipinos tried to avoid her as much as possible because she reminded them of the image they don’t want to be associated with.

Today, many people still do not know about the Filipino culture because of the fact that many Filipino immigrants assimilated to the American culture right away.  No one cannot blame them for just wanting to fit in and be looked at as an American.  Eleanor was not the only one who had to assimilate to her new culture.  According to Joseph Gonzales from the book Home Bound he states, “I tried whatever I could to assimilate like the other Anglos…I did a lot of things that were anti-Filipino.  I didn’t hang around Filipinos…I missed out…I didn’t have any real, real, true friends that could understand my culture” (p. 190).  Many have forced themselves to forget about the Filipino culture because they felt that was the only way Americans would actually like them.  However, towards the end they realize that it is not worth it because they loose in touch with their roots.  Also the Filipino culture does not get passed on to another new generation which will eventually kill off the Filipino culture in America.  On the other hand, America is having a new and unique American culture because of the melting pot position.  All cultures seem to blend into one, brought from different homelands and become fused into one group.  Intermarriage between whites, blacks and Asian Americans is just the beginning.  It is happening, but it is a slow process. (Klopf)

        Eleanor did not necessarily assimilate to the American culture, she adapted.  She still speaks Tagalog, cooks Filipino food at home and knows her history about the Philippines.  I am proof for her as well.  I was born in the Philippines but I came here when I was three months.  So, I am fully Americanized but I still know about my Filipino culture.  I could cook Filipino dishes and only understand Tagalog.  For Eleanor at work, she works with other Filipinos and with Anglos as well.  They all get along and for me working there for five years, not once have I saw my mother experience racism and/or prejudice.  I respect her for what she had to go through to adapt to America because it was not easy for her and it was something she went through for all the years she has been living in the United States.  She did the right thing to not forget about her Filipino culture and to pass it along to another generation.  She is one of the Filipinos who have not forgotten about the Filipino culture.   



Work Cited


Berk, Laura.  Development Through the Lifespan.  New York:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2004.

Cerenio, Virginia R.  Bay Area Filipino Writers.  Without Names: A Collection of Poems.  San Francisco:  Kearny Street Workshop, 1997.

Coutsoukis, Photius.  Philippines Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law”.  June 1991.

Espiritu, Yen Le.  Home Bound.  Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 2003.

Klopf, Donald W.  Intercutural Encounters.  Colorado:  Morton Publishing Company, 2001.