This article was originally published on The FilAm.net, an online magazine for Filipino Americans in New York.
By A. Mabini
For my parents.
First-generation, by established understanding, are Pilipinos* who were born in the Philippines and have migrated to the United States. Second-generation Pilipino Americans are those born in America.
I linger between definitions. Although by the above criterion, I fall under the former, I came here at a very young age and have always felt assimilated in the American culture and norms. I considered myself a second-gen Pilipino American. I experienced the distance between a boy uncertain about his identity and his parents who had difficulty raising their children under the American norms. I have also experienced culture shock and the challenging process of assimilation, shared by the first-generation Pilipino Americans.
My father and I did not see eye to eye when I was younger. When I was around 12, I remembered thinking that growing up in the Bronx, with broken English and a severe case of home-sickness was difficult enough, and having to deal with parents who could not or perhaps refused to understand what I was going through, made it almost impossible to progress. To prevent conflict, I would run away for a night and sleep in subways cars and head back around 7 a.m. when my parents were off to work so I could shower and go to school. This went on for a year or so.
Then one night, as my father and I began to clash again, I thought about the long, cold and lonely night ahead and suddenly felt lazy. So I decided to grab a chair and talk to my father — boy to man. We spoke for a good hour and looking back at it, I think that was the moment that my father and I saved our relationship, and perhaps the moment that my father saved my life. Exercising great humility by way of listening to his youngest son and compromising accordingly instead of kicking his son’s wise-ass quite simply allowed me to live without the undue burden.
I have always respected my father, and feared the man that set my brothers and me straight by way of wire hangers and his leather belt. I often reminisce with my father about that moment and we both agree that we were fortunate enough to build the bridge then and there. I suspect many others weren’t, or aren’t, so lucky.
Needless to say, there is an overwhelming gap of understanding between first-generation and second-generation Pilipino Americans. My respect for my father reminded me that he always had the best intentions for my brothers and me. It took a lot for me to sit with him and explain to the man I have feared all my life that the way he was raised in the province of Bukidnon, Mindanao would not do so well if applied to me, growing up in the boogey down Bronx (lean back). In fact, I insisted that it would only do the opposite and raise a rebel out of me. I don’t think I appreciated the effort it must have taken for my father to change his ways and his ideas of raising his sons. I can only imagine that it was his profound love for me that allowed him to listen to his youngest son mouth off about what would do best for his sons’ well being.
I believe the root of the conflict between first-generation Pilipino Americans and second-generation Pilipino American is simply the difference of culture that has become the foundation of the individual’s beliefs and ideas.
My mother was subjected to what she indirectly referred to as chores and what I — and possibly the rest of my peers — would call manual labor by my grandmother. If she were a moment late, my grandmother would beat her without motherly compassion. Similarly, my father was raised in a farm, with about five “chores” starting at four in the morning and then he would walk about three kilometers to and from school. Sometimes, he would have to swim about half a kilometer during rainy season when the river would flood.
These types of difficult experiences by the older/first-generation Pilipino Americans build an uncompromising view of life. You try to apply that point of view to someone who was provided a free bus pass to get to a school less than a mile away, and no demanding “chores,” with basic knowledge of a protective law against parents ass-whooping their kids, you would certainly find a difference of understanding.
My father has also admitted that he too was dealing with his own difficulties assimilating in addition to the stress of financial obligations. Naturally, as a young boy, I did not realize the individual challenges and trials my parents went through as immigrants. Quite frankly, I was far too concerned with my comfort and being able to supply my friends with stories that reciprocate their comfortable living. I was not able to comprehend that lady luck has designated my sorry ass a tougher road than my peers who were born and raised here.
Another contributing factor to the tension between first and second-generation Pilipino Americans is the natural jealousy of a parent over his or her child’s opportunities, and the child’s lackadaisical attitude towards those opportunities. The frustration in seeing endless opportunities by a parent who has come such a long way to get so far on so little is certainly another source of disconnect. The frustration of a child feeling smothered by the look of disappointment in his parents also furthers the divide, even as the child struggles with his shortcomings.
Interestingly enough, when I speak of first-generation immigrants and second-generation immigrants I often refer to the younger and the older generations. I certainly think it’s interchangeable. I have come to realize that the conflicts between both groups are accentuated in the age gap.
Often I would hear the older generation confide in me that the younger generation has no sense of appreciation or gratitude for the blessing that their parents have brought them. I think that’s bullshit. I believe these types of statements are fueled by the older generation’s imagination of the palaces and wealth they could have built with the opportunities that this land and this time have given my peers. I am claiming that the older generation shares George Bernard Shaw’s sentiment when he famously stated that the youth is wasted on the young. Generalizing my entire generation is simply unacceptable, but then I suppose it would be a lot easier to defend our generation if most of us stop fucking around and actually step up to the plate.
The privileged attitude that my generation exposes is difficult to defend. I know of some young Pilipino Americans who will not give the time of day to learn their dialect, culture and history. These unfortunate individuals are incapable of understanding the concept of “No History, No Self; Know History, Know Self.” But then I am a firm believer that everyone is a reflection of their parents’ characters.
*The author chose this spelling.
A. Mabini was born in Davao City and raised in the Bronx. This article was originally published on TheFilAm.net, an online magazine for Filipino Americans in New York.