Raised by Filipino parents in an unfamiliar country that I wasn’t born in, I’ve experienced an almost ‘double-life’—eating fish and chips on a Friday after school under an umbrella in the typical British weather and then rolling my skirt down to knee-length before entering my home. I greet my mother when I come in, take my shoes off by the door, and eat a small snack such as Skyflakes or siopao before heading to my room to do some schoolwork.
Living in this bicultural household was tough sometimes—the differences between my parents’ culture and the culture my sisters and I grew up in often generated arguments caused by frequent disagreements. I remember a particular instance when I talked back to my parents over a misunderstanding of a school project and, as we were arguing, my parents explicitly pointed out to me that they never talked to their parents like that. One of the many important rules in our culture was respecting elders. Although I was familiar with this tradition, I never really practiced it as much.
The other day, my family and I were in a heated debate because my parents think we’ve ‘grown out’ of our culture and have turned into ungrateful, angry brats—a common misconception that I believe a lot of Asian parents develop.
We were sitting around our rounded table under the dim light of our small chandelier, a cardboard bucket with empty chicken drumsticks and napkins sitting messily under the light. Our dad told my sister and me, “You’re forgetting the culture you were brought in.” I agree that there are certain aspects of Filipino traditions and values missing from our lives—however, it’s not like we’re intentionally leaving them behind. I countered his statement, exclaiming, “We’re not forgetting it, we’re just learning new things.” I told my parents that this was one of the consequences of immigrating to a foreign land; the development of an independent and free-spirited mind may be inevitable in a child who is raised in a progressive first-world country.
As our discussion became more turbulent, my family members’ upset inflamed, and I saw sadness in my parents’ faces. It was then that I realized every parent’s fear: their children growing up. As children grow up, their minds are stretched and broadened by new experiences, people, and knowledge. Since my parents grew up in a third-world country during the darkest era of Philippine economics and politics, they didn’t have the same accessibility to or awareness of social changes in Western society. Rather than being open to the ideas of sex, feminism, and the economical struggles of millennials, embedded into their minds are conservative, religious, and traditional Filipino values. These customs include respecting elders, the concept of shame (hiya), having the nuclear family as the center of a social structure, the traditional role of the woman and the wife, and, of course, excessive hospitality.
Some of these values (i.e. having a supportive and close-knit family who we can always rely on, and our friendly, hospitable attitude towards others) are what make me proud of my heritage. However, there were some values I resented while growing up with wild-child best friends, such as the aforementioned idea of hiya. This cultural philosophical concept is linked to the Filipino values of social acceptance and societal conformity—social harmony and belonging in a group are central in Filipino values.
I grew up as an introvert and would oftentimes voluntarily spend my time alone, so I personally viewed social conformity as a bother and almost always did whatever I wanted to without thinking. My parents, aunties, uncles, and grandmother, on the other hand, have other people’s opinions and perception of them constantly on their minds; their dependency to be socially accepted creates this innate obligation to put others’ needs and satisfaction before their own. When they do otherwise, shame and embarrassment and sometimes guilt overtake their self-esteem. Although this characteristic is considered a virtue, it made me suffer from low confidence and prevented me from taking opportunities I wanted.
To come to a conclusion, people living biculturally have many ups and downs, all of which are important to the evolution of something unique. Filipino culture—having already been shaped and influenced by numerous countries and regions such as Spain, China, America, and the Middle East—is already unique, making it just one-of-a-kind. Although there are negative outcomes of biculturalism (such as the confusion of identity, cultural conflicts, and, perhaps in some cases, racism), this concept represents unity amongst different cultures. In a world where racism, discrimination, and hatred still exist and function, biculturalism is important in our society.