Growing Up Biculturally

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
An essay on culture I wrote for a writing course.

Submitted: May 20, 2009

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Submitted: May 20, 2009



I walked into the classroom and took a seat on a colorful rug next to a chubby Caucasian boy. It was the first day in my new school – George Washington Elementary of Burbank, California. The room was decorated with the essence of childhood: posters that announced the alphabet and the numbers one through ten, shelves upon shelves of books that contained more pictures than words, and short desks that sat neatly in groups of six. Mrs. Martin was my teacher that year, a stout woman with pale skin and short dark hair. She began her “Welcome to Second Grade” introduction and as I listened, I observed my peers. I surveyed the other girls around me with envy as I silently compared myself to them; they sported pretty, navy skirts that matched the school uniform and wore sneakers with the word “Vans” sprawled across the side, with their socks barely visible below their ankles. I stared disdainfully at my own black Mary Janes that exposed my obviously too-long socks that reached past my ankles. I frowned upon the distasteful jumper-skirt my mother fitted on me earlier that morning; it was too youthful in comparison to the mature skirts of my peers. The majority of the girls bore striking, long blonde hair that I longed for, that their mothers permitted them to wear down while my own mother insisted upon having mine plaited. I wished a number of things that day, though what I essentially desired was to rid myself of my culture. This was not possible, as my mother was a first-generation Filipino in the U.S. Her background, beliefs, and ways of life were instilled upon me from day one. And I hated it all. I wanted to fit in, to have a pretty navy skirt and striking blonde hair with Vans and short socks. Even at the tender age of eight, I knew then that my culture, my identity, my entire being, could never completely blend into this entrancing American society.

My story is one of millions; one that shares the same storyline as others, and yet, is unique in its own perspective. Each year, about one million immigrants enter the United States through legal means, and countless more enter illegally (“How to immigrate to the U.S.”). The story of the immigrant is an experience that is often overlooked, one that has become so common that the lessons and appreciation that derive from such stories have lost their significance. Life has certainly been difficult in terms of my attempt to assimilate. I have had my share of obstacles and embarrassing moments, most of which derive from my naïveté of American culture. It’s true that the assimilation for some has experienced more hardship than me, though I feel that each unique story has its own message to convey. I would like to think that I know the message that my story has to offer, yet it seems as though I have yet to discover it.

The sources of my biculturalism derive from two places: society, and my mother. I feel that culture has been forced upon me in one area, while the other beckons me, dangling what appears to be normality as a lure to hook me in. My mother is of course, the one who enforces my biculturalism. “We may live in America,” she sometimes says, when she feels that I’m losing my culture, “but we are Filipinos. Do not forget that.” This phrase often follows a long lecture, and the lecture often follows when my sister and I have committed an act that we deemed acceptable through American eyes, but is frowned upon through Filipino ones. I recall, now, one of the many times she had said this to me. In high school, my friends often went out to eat once classes had ended, while I was expected to go directly home. I decided, one day, to accompany them rather than go home immediately as I was told; I concluded that no harm could come from this. I returned home to an upset mother, one who was hurt, angry, and disappointed that I had the nerve to disobey her. She lectured me on the dangers of becoming an unruly American adolescent, a disgrace to her and to society. She naturally finished with, “We may live in America, but we are Filipinos. Do not forget that.” This saying logically comes with its own implications of being Filipino and being American. Being Filipino entails remaining an obedient child, one who obeys her parents without complaint, even happily. Being the daughter of Filipino parents further entails the obedience to do household chores without being reminded to do so. My mother subtly nags at my sister and me with stories of her own childhood – the exemplary prototype for being a Filipino girl. She repeatedly tells us of how her days began at four in the morning, cleaning the house and making breakfast for her parents and five siblings, in an illustration of unconditional love for them. My sister and I have yet to accomplish this. Her days consisted of endless household chores, continually cleaning until my grandparents returned home from work. “I never wanted them to come home to a dirty house,” she explains. It is unfortunate for my mother that I had been born a girl, because quite frankly, I hate chores. Endless bickering and fighting have erupted as a result of my “laziness”. Had I been born a boy, my “laziness” would not have been viewed as such, because household chores are left for women to accomplish. Instead, my duties would have been replaced with physical labor that I am capable of now as a female, such as taking out the trash and climbing ladders to retrieve things that somehow arrived at our rooftop. Because of my inability to become pregnant, I would be able to become just like an American adolescent; one who is able to do whatever he pleases. Her view of American adolescents, however, contrasts greatly with that of Filipinos; she assumes that they run free of their parents’ control, able to do what they please whenever they will. Her skewed outlook on American society has cost me the freedom that I feel every adolescent deserves.

American society is the one that beckoned me with examples of children who were granted an independence I would never know. My strict Filipino parents rarely allowed my younger sister and myself to socialize outside of school. In fact, they had assumed control over every aspect of my life until late in high school. After observing the independence that my American friends knew so well, it seemed to me as though the suffocating control my parents had over me was not normal. Little did I know that it was only differences in culture, not abnormality.

The bond I shared with my mother has had a greater impact on me than I have realized, than I have yet to realize. On occasions in which she felt that her daughters were ungrateful, she would ask us, “Who will be there to take care of you when I die? No one!” She cries this knowing that my deadbeat father, whom she divorced when I was four, would never take the time or money to care for us like she would. I suppose that something must be said for her unconditional love. Despite the fact that I become annoyed every time she reminds me that she will not live long enough to always take care of me, I know that when the day comes that she leaves me, I will feel a terrible, emptying void that cannot be refilled. “You will know the reasons why I do the things I do when you are a mother,” she softly reasons when I am upset with her.

I often believe, because I was raised in the United States for eighteen years but was born in the Philippines, that I have tightly grasped the workings of assimilation. I now realize that I have a way to go before I can truly comprehend and appreciate how it functions. It has taken me several years to realize that I will never know the exact components of understanding both cultures until I become a mother myself. I predict that when I am a mother, my instinct will be to revert to the old, Filipino ways in order to protect my children from life’s dangers, but my upbringing in American society will soften that harsh mindset. As I mentioned earlier, I have yet to discover the message that my story as an immigrant has to convey, though I am sure that motherhood will bring clarity, revealing the result of my life’s effort to balance the two cultures. Until then, I will just have to keep struggling to understand them.


"How to Immigrate to the U.S." The Advocates for Human Rights. 15 Sept. 2008


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