LIT LIT: AUGUST
I'd been back to the Philippines every two years since I'd emigrated to the USA in 1991. But it was during my most recent trip visiting family this summer that I found myself seeing everything through a critical lens -- of what I'd already known and what I was still craving to learn. Maybe it's because of the tumultuous political climate of police brutality both the USA and the Philippines are currently under -- or maybe it's because this trip was centered around a loving family reunion. The point is, I am and continue to be inspired to dig deeper into my roots.
I'm fortunate enough to have a job and pursue a lifestyle that allows me to travel and experience the world -- discovering all the ways cultural exchange happens. But what I'm most grateful and fortunate for is my life's journey that brought me to this reawakening of my soul and my spirit -- this renewed devout interest in my kultura. However, not everyone has the opportunity and the means to travel. So how can you reconnect with your culture on the day-to-day?
It all starts with reflection of your own biographical truth -- and then living that truth in all that you do. Don't cover up your culture just to make other people feel more "comfortable" when they want the flavor but not the smell.
I was born in Olongapo, Philippines. Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 leaving the surrounding land devastated and forcing hundreds of citizens into evacuation. My mom and I became refugees and landed in San Diego by way of helicopter commute via Guam and Hawaii. My mom and dad divorced when I was 6, which left my single mom and I hopping around apartments in San Clemente where I grew up in various neighborhoods with Mexican and Korean kids - until she remarried a US marine when I was 10. We were then stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina where my neighbors and classmates were black and brown kids from middle school all the way until high school. Unlike most Filipino-Americans who grew up immersed in Filipino communities, I grew up around military culture and most of my neighbors and classmates were of black and brown families. Seeing anyone even remotely Asian in this part of the American South was a rarity. And so, I navigated that world with a light-skinned privilege that contributed to my identity markers of being a yellow-passing brown girl.
After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, I moved around a lot -- this time by myself as a single young woman of color maximizing opportunities for work and passion. This lifestyle brings me farther and farther away from my loved ones, though. Maintaining a thriving long distance relationship with all of my families has become my new normal (who live everywhere from San Diego to Germany to Las Vegas to Dubai to the Philippines). I currently live in Brooklyn and work in New York City. It's in this current era of my adulthood -- that I have found myself spending more and more time, energy, and interest in all things Filipino. I didn't grow up in Filipino communities -- so I'm craving more of them. My grandparents all passed away when I was a teenager -- so I'm craving their histories. My parents live on the West Coast so I'm craving family. And perhaps the most prevalent driver behind this cultural journey I'm experiencing is a sign of the times.
We live in a time of great turmoil and white supremacy is threatening people of color every single day. Now more than ever, we must hold on to our truths -- our multidimensional American cultures -- to dismantle the white supremacist bullshit that's trying so fucking hard to appropriate, dilute, and erase the beauty + integrity of the people who color America.
It is never too late to hold on to culture. I’m not saying you have to spend enormous energy (and money) trying to teach yourself how to speak your mother tongue (though it’s a great idea!) -- but I am encouraging you to relate that idea of language/communication in culture so that it lasts generations. From your ancestors to your progeny -- you are a vessel right here and right now keeping your culture alive.
Here are five accessible ways to keep your culture thriving: to keep it moving forward.
1. Rediscover your culture. Make and eat the food.
One of the most immersive and natural ways to experience culture is through food. Ingredients of a dish came together for your people because the flavors emerged from a gathering of available resources and living off of the land/sea. How was that dish and recipe passed down from generation to generation? Think about your favorite dish growing up that someone in your family made -- something that you find yourself nostalgically craving -- and make it. Cook it from scratch and stir it with love. This time, don't just blindly buy ingredients on a list, but ask yourself questions like why is eggplant mashed instead of sliced? Or why is the meat charred instead of broiled? Maybe you'll discover that your ancestors made the meat this way because it was easier to eat with hands because utensils were not a thing.
by Michael W. Twitty A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.
Watch: The Search for General Tso
This mouthwateringly entertaining film travels the globe to unravel a captivating culinary mystery. General Tso’s chicken is a staple of Chinese-American cooking, and a ubiquitous presence on restaurant menus across the country. But just who was General Tso? And how did his chicken become emblematic of an entire national cuisine? Director Ian Cheney (King Corn, The City Dark) journeys from Shanghai to New York to the American Midwest and beyond to uncover the origins of this iconic dish, turning up surprising revelations and a host of humorous characters along the way. Told with the verve of a good detective story,The Search for General Tso is as much about food as it is a tale of the American immigrant experience.
2. Unlearn + relearn more about the context of your heritage through immigration history.
Slaves and immigrants made and continue to make up this country. That's always been true of American history. From West Africans to Irish to Vietnamese and Mexicans, there has always been an influx of a foreign population seeking refuge in America - or brought here under inhumane pretenses. What is your (family's) coming to America story? Where does that story fit into American history’s timeline? And how did that journey get you here?
Read: The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration since 1965
by Mary C. Waters et al.
Salsa has replaced ketchup as the most popular condiment. A mosque has been erected around the corner. The local hospital is staffed by Indian doctors and Philippine nurses, and the local grocery store is owned by a Korean family. A single elementary school may include students who speak dozens of different languages at home. This is a snapshot of America at the turn of the twenty-first century.
3. Explore the stories that make up the roots and branches of your family tree.
Have conversations with your family members and keep record of it. *Trigger warning* When I was younger, my grandma told me the story of growing up during WWII in Bataan Philippines -- of how she and her sisters would purposefully rub mud and dirt all over their faces/bodies to make them look less attractive/protect themselves from getting raped by Japanese soldiers. My grandma passed away from cancer in 2013 and her stories now only live in my memory. Grab a blank notebook and write one question on each page about your family/ancestral history that you have always wanted to know. Pass the book around at the next family gathering - or even better - call your relatives and ask them questions. Transcribe their responses. If you have all of these anecdotes living in one place, the book will turn into a cherished heirloom that can be passed down for generations to come. And in the meantime, you can be its keeper and bearer holding onto stories of your heritage.
4. Navigate your culture through a worldview lens.
Study maps depicting colonization by empire. There’s a reason Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. You may have more in common (food, music, language, traditions) with another culture on the other side of the world than you ever thought possible - because it’s likely at some point in the arch of human existence, your ancestors/your people experienced a shared history of being wrongfully conquered by the same brutal colonizers who wronged another group of people.
Read: The Spanish Empire
See: Maps of Colonialism
5. Participate in your culture as often as possible.
Live your truth and connect with the diaspora! Luckily for us, social media has made cultural exchange more possible and available to us. Find your digital sisterhood (like TGM!) to read stories/articles/lifestyle tips written by and for women like you to connect and learn from one another.
Read & follow:
by Flerine Atienza