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Thursday, 2 August 2007

Advice from the Fil-Ams to the Fil-Fils

Yup, that's what we are called in the US, "Fil-Fils." One of the things that Tricia first learned when she first came to New York was that some "Fil-Ams" are irritated by Filipinos who study abroad because of how many of us complain about having to do minor chores. "I've never been so tired, I never did my own laundry before" type of statements are particularly annoying. Tricia was also often teased for being part of a social class system and not being critical her role in it. Also, some Filipino-Americans that she met commented that Filipinos who go abroad for vacation or to study do not bother to understand the hardships of Filipino Americans, of being a member of a minority population in the US.

Below are some suggestions from Filipino-Americans on how to understand where they are coming from. We asked Allen Gaborro and Toni Urbano for a better understanding of the Fil-Am perspective.

Which specific Filipino-American issues (ex. identity, equality, having a voice in politics) should students from the Philippines know about?

Allen Gaborro: I think understanding what mainstream American society expects of them and a mutual understanding of American and Filipino culture are two critical areas of inquiry for students.

Toni Urbano: I think the first thing is identity and finding a community here that they can feel comfortable around. In terms of politics, I think it really depends on whether the person has an active interest in that area so I feel that hooking up with the Fil-Am community would provide the foundation for moving into the other issues the individual may find of interest.

What can we students from the Philippines do to help us understand the concerns of Filipino Americans?

Allen Gaborro: Reading a great deal on the topics important to Fil-Ams would help. Even better though would be to talk to anyone who has already undergone the experience of living in the U.S.

Toni Urbano: The first step in understanding is listening, so again, join in and experience the way things are done here and concerns will automatically arise. Plus, as a person coming to the US from the Philippines, I think the person will have a lot to handle from their own perspective let alone taking on the Fil-Am perspective.

Which books do you recommend we read?

Allen Gaborro: I think the books of E. San Juan are good, but they might be too academic for some. Although it is a fictional work, I like Jessica Hagedorn's novel "Gangster of Love." It can give students an idea of how different US and PI cultures are. Bienvenido Santos has also written a great deal of fiction about Filipinos living in the U.S. Just to shamelessly promote myself, I wrote an essay a few years ago on Filipinos living in America.

Toni Urbano: Dogeaters and Gangster of Love as the latter will give a Fil-Am perspective of growing up with the US culture.

Other than that, I think people should read books about the area that they have moved to in order to get the history and context of the city they are living in to get a better feel.

What bothers you most about Filipino citizens who come to the US to study?

Allen Gaborro: That some of them want so much to be American, they willingly sacrifice a great deal of their "Filipino-ness" in the process.

Toni Urbano: Nothing.

Any advise about relating to Filipino Americans?

Toni Urbano: I think there may be a tendency for Fil-Ams to feel self-conscious (and therefore shy) about their own lack of knowledge or understanding of the Fil-Fil experience so I would say that the best thing to do is to be outgoing. Don't be shy, and really try to get to know people.

Allen Gaborro grew up in both Manila and San Francisco. Both his parents are from the Philippines. Allen is also a member of the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc. based in San Francisco.

Toni Urbano is of Filipino and Italian heritage. She is a filmmaker and grew up in San Francisco

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