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Mabuhay! I'm an Asian American writer (Back Kicks And Broken Promises, Abbott Press, 2012), martial artist and teacher who was born in The Philippines, raised in Hong Kong and ended up in New Jersey.

27 August, 2016

The Latinos Of Asia - A Response

I came across Dr. Ocampo's book via a Facebook post and I finished reading it about a month ago. And, I thought it was an amazing book. Absolutely excellent! For one thing, I think it's a great start - or, perhaps, a great continuation with a larger and more mainstream reach - in discussing the Filipino's role in the multicultural landscape that is the United States of America. Too often, Filipinos are forgotten; either lumped in with other ethnic groups (be it Asian or Latino) or altogether ignored. So, kudos and thank you to Dr. Ocampo for conducting his study and sharing his findings and opinions in a succinct book that was easy to read. It wasn't full of academic mumbo jumbo. Instead, I felt like I was sitting in a room and listening to him share his findings with me. 

Before I continue, let me say clearly, I liked this book and admire the work and praise the discourse it has started. So, when I discuss my response to it, I am not disregarding it or discrediting it. Some of you who read this might take it that way. My intention is to offer other insights and even suggestions into future study on the Filipino American.

Dr. Ocampo's research and findings were revealing and insightful. This type of anecdotal research won't produce any definitive results and Dr. Ocampo says that himself in the appendix. There are no right or wrong answers here. The conclusions presented in this book are based on the very personal experiences of the subjects and each one is unique. Dr. Ocampo clearly states also that his research subjects were few and from very specific communities in California and of a specific age group. He interviewed eighty-five second generation Filipino Americans ranging in age from twenty-one and thirty. Most of them came to the United States when they were very young (under eight) or were born in the United States and they were taken from Eagle Rock and Carson; two middle-class, multiethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. 

What I found interesting throughout my reading of  The Latinos Of Asia was that no interviewee brought up the geography factor - that The Philippines is in Asia, therefore, coming from there at an early age and/or being ethnically Filipino, they would, by definition, be Asian. Since coming to the United States in 1985, I've often been asked "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" Growing up in Asia, I was never asked that; at least not in an accusatory way that I have been here in the United States. And, even when I answer, I'm often contradicted with a statement like "Filipinos aren't Asian" and many of those contradicting me are other Asians of Chinese or Korean heritage. 

To further Dr. Ocampo's discussion, I would like to see follow-up research but with subjects who came to the United States either as a teenager (like I did) or adult. In both cases, a sense of identity will have already set in. In my case, I came to the United States when I was sixteen and I already considered myself Asian. My wife, who is also from The Philippines, came here when she as already an adult and also considers herself Asian. So, too, do our adult friends from The Philippines who have relocated and settled in the United States. I also have a friend, born in The Philippines but who came here when he was very young, and he considers himself Asian. He is, however, in his forties and not in the same cohort group as Dr. Ocampo's research subjects. So, perhaps there is an age factor that determines how one sees him or herself. Although not in the United States, all of our (my wife's and my) family and friends back in The Philippines (my in-laws, my parents and brother, my wife's former classmates) all consider themselves Asian. So, too, does my sister who lives in England.

Another follow-up study that would be worth seeing is how third culture kids, to borrow the phrase coined by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, identify themselves. I am a third culture kid, which is someone who is or has some combination of growing up in different cultures other than his or her parent culture and who is often also multiethnic.

To clarify with my own experiences, I am primarily Filipino. My mother is half American and half Filipino. My father is three quarters Filipino and one quarter Chinese. My mother's American side is of German origin and her father's parents was the generation that came to the United States from Munich. On my father's side, his mother was half Chinese (Manchurian) and half Filipino. You can also trace our surname, Bas, directly to a priest from Madrid who, during the Spanish colonization of The Philippines, spawned the first Filipino members of The Bas Family. So, you can see how, from an ethnic standpoint, I am a third culture kid. There's more. I moved from The Philippines to Hong Kong when I was nine months old. I moved back a few months later then moved back to Hong Kong some time after that. From then on, I've called Hong Kong home. However, I wasn't ignorant of The Philippines and its culture growing up. I was exposed, although I don't speak it well, to Tagalog on a daily basis and to other Filipino languages also. We cooked Filipino food as a part of our daily meals. We would go on extended vacations back to The Philippines to visit family and friends, giving manong and manang (a sign of respect to older males and females; taking the elder's hand and touching the back of their hand to  your forehead) to my lolo (grandfather) and lola (grandmother), riding Jeepneys, eating Halo Halo and Balut. Growing up in Hong Kong, I learnt to speak some Cantonese, was exposed and grew to love Chinese cuisine and folktales, like Journey To The West, and I've even adopted some of the mannerisms of my fellow but native Hong Kongers. As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong is where I call home, not The Philippines. However, I don't look stereotypically Asian, my German American genes winning that battle. If you look carefully, you'll see the Asian in me but at a quick glance I'm often taken for straight up Caucasian or I get the confused look and the eternal question - "What are you?" Going back to Dr. Ocampo's book, it would be interesting to see how other third culture Filipinos who ended up in the United States see themselves. 

A final follow-up suggestion, would be to duplicate Dr. Ocampo's research with the same conditions (second generation Filipino Americans, mostly born here or who came here at age eight or under and from middle class, multiethnic neighborhoods) but from other parts of the United States; a cohort group in Hawaii, a cohort group in the Northeast, a cohort group in the Midwest, etc.

Again, I admire Dr. Ocampo's work and I thank him for doing it. So, please don't think I'm hating on it but I think it's just the first step. I hope he and others are already working on the next ones and, in doing so, maybe we'll see anecdotes and data on the populations I mention here - older Filipino Americans, Third Culture Filipinos and Second Generation Filipino Americans in other parts of the United States. The implications to truly understanding the often neglected Filipino American population across the country are valuable and abundant from educational opportunities to public office representation to employment opportunities.

​Either way, whether you're a Fil Am who identifies as Latino or a Fil Am who identifies as Asian, as I do, don't neglect the Fil part. Filipinos are a proud, brave, kind, generous and driven people. We're survivors, adaptable anywhere and we're strong of limb, sharp of mind, quick of wit and stout of spirit. Lakas ang Pilipino!