What is it to be Filipino in the US — specifically here in New York? It’s a difficult question to answer even if I have been here almost 5 years now.
I arrived in June 2000 all set to get married and embrace this new life. I left behind a career in Corporate Communications with an American multinational who pirated me from a British multinational in the same line of business. My whole family was left behind in Manila along with my dearest friends. The only thing that brought me here to New York was — corny as it may be to some people — love. There was a man who actually swept me off my feet and made me think about growing old together with no ifs and buts, and he even brought home his whole family to Manila for the “pamanhikan” to boot — so I stuck to my new direction with a passion I had never known ever before.
The hardest part about the adjustment was being away from everything I held dear to my heart. For a good 6 months or so after I arrived here, there were nights when I would just break out into sobs as Alan slept soundly beside me. Sometimes just the mere thought of my brother or my mom or my dad would bring me to tears. I would cry when I received letters or pictures from back home.
Culturally, it was an easy adjustment. I was taking the subway on my own within my first month in the big apple. While at first I had to listen more intently to foreigners speaking the language (trying to buy a hotdog or magazine perhaps), I eventually got the hang of it, and put the right twang into my English, and before long, it was a breeze talking the talk so to speak.
Perhaps it was the fact that New York is awash with various nationalities which makes me feel at home even among people who are not of my own race and kind. It is the homogenous blend of skin colors and languages that makes one feel at home being from a different place in a city as dynamic as Manhattan. You never feel like you stick out like a sore thumb because you are Asian. There always be enough Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and fellow Pinoys to make you feel like you are part of the crowd even if you are a minority.
I have not quite lost my link to home — after all, I have only been here 5 years. I still catch myself saying “sa atin” when referring to things in Manila when I talk to my mom or friends or family visiting from the Philippines. One time my hubby actually called my attention to this and told me I ought to be saying “doon” or “sa kanila” because this is where I live now. I never truly realized the meaning of “Home is where the heart is” until he said that. I guess it IS true that home is here now, but I cannot deny the fact that I still keep coming back to what used to be my home, back in Manila.
When I hurt myself while cooking or perhaps tripping while walking, my expression of pain is still “Aray!” and not automatically “Ouch!”. In the heat of an argument, I still express my emotions best in Tagalog. I have a subscription that allows me to keep track of Philippine television (although I wouldn’t be caught dead subscribing to TFC), and everyday, I visit at least one daily newspaper from Manila online.
I’m just one of the many immigrants here in New York but I don’t feel as though the city has swallowed my identity. I still consider myself Filipino, and even if my son was born here in the United States, I will raise him believing he is a Filipino in America and not just a Fil-American. I may not be able to imbibe the “po” and “opo” we grew up with into his vocabulary, but I will make sure he learns conversational Tagalog at least.
The years will come and go, but I know that I will always be a Pinay in New York — never just a New Yorker — but a Filipina New Yorker.. sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa.