Being half or mixed race is often taken on a positive note in the context of our Filipino society. For years, our society developed a fascination with the foreign, believing it to be a privilege instead of what it simply is–a difference in race and culture. Perhaps it was centuries of Western colonization that dismorphed our sense of Filipino identity, but regardless of our diverse ethnicity, here are some lessons I’ve learned that made me appreciate our Filipino roots and culture more:
As a half-Filipina in Belgium, our European society is far different from the joyful complexity and diversity of Filipino streets. Growing up, I found it hard to fit in. Being mixed race meant I had two polarized cultures to understand and be accustomed with. While my peers were of the same European ideologies and upbringing, I was visibly confused which culture to follow. My different cultural background was noticeable from an early age. As a half-Belgian with a Filipino mother, I grew up eating classic Filipino dishes like pancit and menudo, which I’ve learned to cook myself but became a clear distinction in culture among my peers.
Small differences like this would build up until I realized I was different and didn’t quite fit the Belgian mold I was supposed to be. This was also the case when, back in kindergarten, my peers discovered I had a different energy of being carefree and lively, which caused them to interact with me less. Belgian culture leans on being private and more reserved, which is different from our Filipino culture of being very open and happy-go-lucky.
This only amplified the internal identity crisis and struggles I had as I grew older. But we have to understand that cultures can be very different from each other, as is the case between Belgian and Filipino upbringings and social traditions.
Most of our identity crisis stems from our lack of self-acceptance. Since our culture and roots are the foundations for our upbringing, it’s important that we reconnect with them in times of confusion.
I have to admit I haven’t been in close connection with my Filipino roots. This is where the problem is stemming from. I’ve only ever been to the Philippines once from childhood, as Belgium has been my home for most of my life. But for some reason, the Belgian culture didn’t resonate with me well. For years, my quest for conformity within our European community often left me befuddled and drained from trying to keep up with a culture that only represents 50% of who I am. A part of me felt there was something missing that prevented me from fully accepting my identity and living life uninhibited by the need to conform.
Reconnect with all parts of your cultural identity, no matter where you are. Don’t forget your upbringing, because It solves any confusion or conflict you may have with yourself. When you come back to understand your culture, you’re strengthening the core of your identity. You don’t have to conform when you know yourself. Other people will stop ignoring the parts that we ignore when we accept them first.
- Traveling can show you how environments influence culture.
They say the environment influences behavior. Observe where a person lives and you’ll understand why they act a certain way or have dispositions that are different from yours. The people around us, the living conditions we’re in, the food we consume–all these subconsciously influence our beliefs, personality and attitude.
This is the case when I traveled to the Philippines.
To understand why I couldn’t resonate with my Belgian roots and culture, I had to look the other way around and explore the Filipino culture I haven’t connected with.
It wasn’t enough to watch my country from a distance. I knew, if I was going to find the other half of who I am, my feet had to touch Filipino soil. It’s a consoling and liberating feeling when I first stepped out of NAIA (the country’s main airport) towards the bustling streets of Manila.
There was chaos. The Philippines greeted me loudly with noisy jeeps and unregulated traffic. There were jaywalkers crossing the highways with such bravado. They didn’t know the proper way to head towards a destination, but they walked with such passion and joy for life that it didn’t matter if they enroute to different directions now and then.
It took me five trips to the Philippines to realize this is where I belong.
Initially, that innate Filipino energy within me was hard to get in touch with. I’ve lived in Belgium for a long time. But as I explored Manila, I saw myself in the chaos.
I’ve been trapped and inhibited for so long. It could’ve been a cage of my own making but for the first time, stepping on Filipino soil made me feel a sense of inner peace and acceptance no matter the external chaos ramming through the streets and alleyways.
There was something roaring inside of me that finally came out. A roar of peace I haven’t felt despite living in Belgium where the streets were quiet and there was external order.
As I ventured into Bohol, Palawan and all these amazing, breathtaking islands, I saw myself in the bright sunrises and rippling waves at the heart of every beach. We Filipinos have the innate resilience, care and love that sometimes come off as too intense, bright and open. And for the first time, I discovered the hospitality and warm welcome of passers-by I’ve encountered on my trip. I felt the bayanihan of fellow Filipinos that made me discover that I truly belong.
In retrospect, the environment says a lot about our personalities and behavior. Where we live matters as much as how we’re brought up.
- We define ourselves. Our culture and upbringing are simply there to guide us in creating our identity.
Connecting to my Filipino roots has been my lifelong internal battle. Having to split half of my personality and self-identity between being Filipino and Belgian remains a challenge I have to live with for the rest of my life. But slowly, I realize I don’t have to limit myself within social constructs and cultural structures. Being able to accept the entirety of one’s self doesn’t mean you have to label each part of your personality and attempt to categorize it into a social construct.
For most of my life, I had to hide who I was in fear of not being accepted and failing to conform with who I thought I should be. But now as I’ve grown and evolved into an adult who’s experienced more in life, embracing my roots and culture became my backbone and pillar that helped me develop a sense of self-worth and value in this world. It also inspired me to write my thoughts and musings about life and share it to the world through my book, Sharing My Light and Healing Energy: Journey to True Self.
We don’t get to choose the ethnicity we’re born with, but we can flourish when we accept and embrace our roots and culture. We learn that we’re always a work in progress, yet pieces of our heritage and upbringing continue to serve as our core. They influence the evolution of our identity.
Nothing makes me sing with hope and joy that I’m a half-Filipina. The Philippines may be my second home, but it will always be the closest and #1 home in my heart. And as we carry on and live across different parts of the world, I hope we realize how rich and diverse our identity is.
Being a Filipino harbors a source of pride and strength no matter the challenge or adversity of life’s journey.
Still having an identity crisis and need some clarity on self-acceptance? Get a copy of Gresson Peiffer’s Sharing My Light and Healing Energy: Journey to True Self now!