Heritage Lost, And Found
By: André Confiado
As a son of a diplomat, I grew up overseas because of my father’s job. I actually knew enough Tagalog while living overseas, but I rarely spoke it outside the house (there are few Tagalog speakers outside the Philippines). When my father’s tour of duty came to an end, I made a conscious decision to study in the Philippines when the time came, and I am often asked why…
One of the consequences of the Filipino diaspora is that children are left in the Philippines in the care of relatives while their parents toil in faraway lands, working as engineers, doctors, nurses, caregivers, teachers, or domestic helpers, in the hope of a better future for their family.
On the other side of this coin are the children of Filipino couples who live overseas as expatriates (or, in my case, as diplomats), of Filipino migrants, of single Filipino mothers, and of mixed-race couples. This is an entirely different situation altogether.
For those whose parents are both Filipino, or who have single Filipino mothers, they would hear at home Tagalog, Bisaya, Cebuano, Waray, Ilocano, or any other Philippine language. Yet, upon crossing the threshold of the family home, these children enter another world—that of their host country. They have to resort to the language of their adopted country in order to facilitate integration or assimilation into that culture.
For mixed-race children, more often than not it is the mother who is Filipino. They grow up with a lot of Filipino food at home, but their mother’s Filipino language and culture often take a back seat to the language of their father or that of their host country.
Growing up in such situations is not as easy as one thinks. Unlike those who go overseas as adults to study in university or to work, these children are often singled out and subjected to bullying in school because they are different—more so if they go to the local schools. They may speak like the natives or behave like the natives, but they look partly or entirely Filipino, and thus are not “exactly” like the natives. Upon visiting the Philippines, these same children are also singled out because they are different: They look partly or entirely Filipino, but they do not speak like the natives or behave like the natives. They are criticized—directly or indirectly—for being “inglisero” and being “nosebleed” (or worse, for not even knowing how to speak in English).
Thus, it is not entirely unexpected for these children to feel lost and to search for an identity. They belong to two, or possibly more, cultures, yet they do not entirely belong to any. They become what are called “third-culture kids.”
Upon entering adulthood, the majority of these “lost children” begin to feel that there is something missing. They yearn for something, a part of them that they do not really know. They grew up not knowing the Filipino language. They grew up not knowing Filipino cultural traits. They grew up not knowing their Filipino heritage.
It should come as no surprise then that 40 years after the phenomenon of the overseas Filipino worker emerged, many of the children of mixed marriages, of Filipino migrants, of expatriates and diplomats, return to the Philippines to study, to work, and to live in this country, in order to know what it is to be a Filipino.
They are doctors, lawyers, bankers, and young professionals in international organizations and institutions, multinational companies, nonprofits, NGOs. They are also singers, dancers, DJs, VJs, and actors. They are Olympic athletes, members of the Volcanoes Rugby Football Union team, the Smart Gilas basketball team, the Azkals football team. From Jessica Sanchez, Anne Curtis, to the Younghusbands, they are all “Fil-foreigners.”
These Fil-foreigners are in a unique position to act as bridges to different countries around the world, and assist in the improvement of the Philippines. In public policy, they can better analyze situations and provide alternative solutions that can work because their exposure to the policies of more developed countries has given them a different perspective. In diplomacy, they can facilitate discussions given their knowledge of various languages and of the behavioral norms and cultural intricacies of their host countries. In development, they can serve as a link between the donors and the recipients.
These are but a few examples. The opportunities are limitless.
Some of them may be criticized for being “not really Filipino.” Indeed, some of them are only 50-percent Filipino, while others, like myself, are 100-percent Filipino. But then again, is there really such a thing as 100-percent Filipino? The percentage of “Filipino-ness” notwithstanding, what the critics do not know is that these children have a stronger sense of being Filipino than they are given credit for. These children return to the Philippines because they want to learn about it. It takes a conscious effort and willingness to do so because criticism is always present. But by sticking to their guns, they find what makes them complete as an individual. They learn to love and represent this country with renewed fervor, and they are willing to help the country of their mothers and fathers with zeal and a sense of purpose, proud of their Filipino heritage.
André Confiado, 25, returned to the Philippines in 2003 and graduated from De La Salle University in 2009. He initially worked in development and is now employed by an international bank in Manila.
*reprinted from Philippine Daily Inquirer with permission from the writer
reprinted from Philippine Daily Inquirer with permission from the writer