Raising Kids in America with Filipino Values

The history of Filipino Americans is rich and varied. Over the last hundred years, this community has flourished in Chicago, and is part of the second largest Asian American population in the U.S. Through the decades, Filipino Americans have blended into the fabric of American living, so much so that they are known as the “Invisible minority”.

As with any populace that has undergone migration, Filipino Americans have their problems of identity, especially in the second and third generations, which are born and brought up in the motherland their parents adopted. Sometimes known as Fil-Ams, these children grow up in a household of conflict where Filipino values of “family reigns supreme” often cross swords with American values of “individual rights and responsibilities”. Given this background, it seems difficult, if not nearly impossible, to raise Filipino children in this country with Filipino values.

Filipino American parents are advised by the dictums of their cultural heritage to teach their children the moral values prevalent in genuine Filipino society. A Filipino adolescent’s peer group is not supposed to replace his or her family in importance, they are to merely widen the family circle. Filipino families often include the parents of either spouse and they take care of the children and expect a degree of respect and consideration as grandparents. travel When extended families come visiting, a Filipino family will do all within its capacity to accommodate, dine and entertain them, according to the ugaling Pilipino, or the Filipino trait. At such times, the children are expected to converse in their mother tongue, and display at least a cursory knowledge of Filipino customs and traditions.

All this is in stark contrast to the actual environment a Filipino American child grows up in. He or she is influenced by the social interactions with other Americans, where the sense of the individual is strong. Adolescence is a naturally rebellious phase, and given to an accented sense of self-importance. To follow the teachings of the parents becomes even more difficult especially at this age, when the surroundings do not teach these children the importance of sharing, or the primacy of family. The environment at school can significantly discourage being seen as different from the rest of the class, where it is not uncommon for blonde children to coin names for Filipino American children, or tease them for their Asian appearance.

Fearing such discrimination in childhood and in later life, many Filipino American parents speak to their children in English, so that they do not develop a distinguishing English accent. The mother tongue becomes secondary and most children are only able to understand the mother tongue, or any other Filipino dialect but are unable to speak or write in them. This adds to their sense of alienation from their original heritage. Tia Carrere, born Althea Dujenio Janairo, a Filipino/Spanish/Chinese said in the Filipinas magazine, “My dad never taught us Filipino because he didn’t want us to have an accent. I understood it was because he was an immigrant and didn’t want us to be left out. But I do think it’s a shame to leave behind that important part of your heritage, your language.” She is an actress often seen on American television, and is making forays into Hollywood, who feels that her parent, with all good intentions, deprived her of a sense of heritage.

The latest generation of Filipino Americans thus does not feel part of the country it was born in, nor of the country its parents hail from. A peculiar sense of rootlessness can be seen to have set in, which is by no means a healthy trait for a young generation. Parents of this group of children need to realize the problems these children face in their everyday lives, and how they may be affected by a seeming loss of identity. They need to take steps to ensure that this generation is exposed to the cultural heritage they are part of, through social functions, folk dances and theater and traditional celebrations like the Flores de Mayo.

And most important of all, Filipino Americans need to realize that being different is no longer a barrier in acceptance. Many inter-racial marriages, with a brown husband and a white wife and vice versa, are now commonly accepted as perfectly normal, and an integral part of the American social picture. The tropical appeal of the exotic brown skin and jet black hair has increased and not diminished in the past years. Today, Filipino American skin is seen everywhere from a fashion ramp to a movie screen. And with careful training, it is possible to teach a child to speak the mother tongue, without affecting the English accent. They might, in this case, speak in an accented mother tongue, but some might prefer that to not being able to speak at all, especially if they happen to visit Philippines!

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