Being Who I Am
by Cora Quisumbing-King, Ph.D.
During this month of May, when Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage is acknowledged and celebrated, I would like to share some of my reflections about what it means to be Filipino, Filipino American, and a member of the AAPI community.
Know that there is no way I can capture the depth and breadth of it all!
I continue to yearn for home. I continue to yearn for home. My first country is not as rich or as large as the United States, where I have lived far longer than I have in the Philippines. And yet, that is where my Filipino roots are intertwined and where my parents and my eight siblings grew up to adulthood, where we learned the value of self-discipline and social responsibility, of being loyal to family and of honoring the legacy of our ancestors.
That is also where most of my family still live even as some of us have made homes in other countries. And guess what: my extended family still enjoys welcoming me home, expecting me to do the “genealogy intro” when we have gatherings!
Admittedly, there is something to be said about enjoying the fruits and delicacies of one’s own country in one’s country, despite the availability of many a product in the United States. There is something about the tropical landscape, the hills, and mountains, the seascapes, the flora, and the ancestral house.
I went to a Catholic school, in the city of Cebu, learned how to speak, write and read in English, such that (believe it or not), I have mastered it better than my Cebuano mother tongue (which was not officially taught to us).
Learning Tagalog was required up until high school while Spanish was taught during my senior year and also for four years in college. Yes, a catholic education has its “strictures,” but this is also how I learned to excel, to become a leader and an activist, to live the Christian values of compassion, fairness, and justice.
Ahhh, to be Filipino, to be a Cebuana!
As a citizen of the United States, I am also a Filipino American. I am not always sure what this means from an “upbringing, the roots-have-it” perspective.
This country is where my wings have flown me and this is where I have made a life, where I have worked, contributed to my workplace, and nurtured a home with my husband and our daughter. This is the country they call their first home since he migrated from HK where he was born on his parents’ journey from China to the United States. My daughter was born here.
As a citizen of this country, I have expanded my horizons and have used it as my base for seeing the world, learning about other cultures and also, listening to the complicated rhythms and heartbeats of this nation.
There is so much more diversity, so much more cultural complexity in this country. In fact, many a Filipino American group exists, sometimes representing different interests. The challenge must be met by us all to live productive and responsible lives within our own communities.
Advocating knows no boundaries and we must balance our local, national, and global outreach. This complex diversity extends further to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
While we can be seen as a cultural “amalgamation” of many ethnicities, we are also a cultural force that continues to find our voice and seeks to be heard and even more so during these challenging times.
The AAPI visibility among those who are more “recognizable” has often put our communities at risk, facing tragedy and death. While we check off different “categories” depending on the survey responses presented to us, we need to make sure we are seen and heard, and that one community does not make invisible the other.
This is critical not only among the AAPIs but also across other communities.
We must seek to understand. We must continue to see one another, hear one another. We must strive to be worthy citizens of this country and of the world.
CORA QUISUMBING-KING, PH.D. is co-chair of the Asian American Pacific Island Caucus and New Hampshire Democratic Party. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University and received her Ph.D. in Social and Organizational Psychology from the University of Chicago.
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