Millennials Share What Being Filipino Means To Them While Growing Up In Hawaii

(Clock-wise from left) Nicasia Paulo, Cassity Ilog, Judith Bernaldez, Charmaine Magbaleta and Deion Quiambao

by Jasmine Sadang

Hawaii is a mix of different cultures, making the state a unique place for people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

According to the 2010 US Census data, the Filipino community surpassed the Japanese as the second-largest ethnic group in the state.

Like other ethnic groups, many Filipino immigrants have been able to retain their knowledge and sense of culture, customs, and pride. Five millennials shared their experiences of growing up as Filipino-Americans in Hawaii and what being Filipino means to them today.

The 26-year-old Judith Bernaldez grew up in Waipahu, which is one of the most Filipino-populated cities in Hawaii. She described the community and Filipinos in general as “very family-oriented” and “welcoming,” values that make her proud to represent her cultural heritage.

In her experience, she said that “the younger generations would take care of the older ones and vice versa. For example, instead of sending elderly family members to a care home, family members would take care of them at home.”

Bernaldez also realized the Filipino community is composed of very hardworking people.

“They work hard to provide for their families back home if they emigrated from the Philippines. I still see really old ‘nanas’ and ‘tatas’ working hard to provide for their families,” she said.

Just like Bernaldez, fellow 26-year-old Nicasia Paulo also grew up in Waipahu. She lived in a neighborhood called Ota Camp, which she described as having a heavy Filipino influence.

“Waipahu in itself has a large Filipino population, to the point where they even started offering Ilocano classes at the high school as a foreign language credit,” Paulo said. She attended St. Joseph School, an elementary and intermediate private school that has a large population of Filipinos.

“I would say about 80- 95 percent of the entire student body was at least part-Filipino, if not full,” she said.

The large community helped many Filipino children feel comfortable in their cultural heritage and most say they had not experienced negative issues with being Filipino.

“I think growing up in a heavy Filipino city sort of desensitized me. There’s a lot of things that you kind of either take for granted or you don’t realize you do or say differently from everyone else,” Paulo said.

She recalled a moment where she accompanied her great-grandmother to the emergency room and had to translate from Ilocano to English for the attending ER nurse.

“It was at that point I was reminded that not everyone around me speaks Filipino or even understands the basic terms of endearment that the older generations say to the younger ones,” Paulo said.

“If I was to grow up not surrounded by other Filipinos, I think I would be more aware of the cultural differences.”Not all Filipino-American millennials in Hawaii were able to have the experience of growing up in places heavily rooted in their culture.

Charmaine Magbaleta, 28, immigrated with her family to Hawaii when she was a child. She went to Waimalu Elementary School in Aiea, where she found herself facing a couple of challenges, such as language barriers and cultural shock.

“Growing up was not really easy for me to represent my Filipino heritage because the school that I went to was almost all Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos and a few Asians. There were only six Filipinos including me,” Magbaleta said.

Although she had her family at home to remind her of her Filipino culture, she found it challenging to fit in with the people who were very different from what she was used to.

“It took some time for me to actually make friends but eventually I mustered the courage to interact and make friends with my fellow classmates,” she added. Having Filipino friends helped Magbaleta adapt to the cultural change as well.

As a second-generation Filipino millennial, 27-year-old Cassity Ilog found herself in a similar yet different challenge where she couldn’t fully grasp her cultural heritage. Born in Hawaii and raised in Ewa Beach, Ilog had to learn about her culture through her family.

“Growing up in America and being surrounded by others who don’t know much about it makes it difficult to truly understand what it means to be Filipino,” Ilog said.

She added that being surrounded by friends who weren’t Filipino made it challenging to sink in her family’s cultural language.

“Having to constantly speak English made me forget the words that I would have learned from my grandparents when I was little,” Ilog said.

Despite having to face challenges that pushed her away from her culture at times, Ilog’s cultural heritage is something that she holds very dear to her heart.

“I like that the heritage embodies family, generosity, and dedication. [Some of these descriptions include] teaching me to have kindness for others, that family is always there for you and believing in hard work pays off. Learning these things from my family affected my motivation of becoming a nurse,” Ilog said.

As for 25-year-old Deion Quiambao, he noticed in the schools that he attended in Ewa Beach that “being too Filipino would get you ostracized” and ostracism was “most prevalent in the group of students who immigrated from the Philippines.”

“It was the first generation Filipino-American students who were the harshest towards the newly immigrated students,” Quiambao explained. “It was mostly for things like speaking Filipino, mocking their accent and how they dress. Basically, anything that signaled they were from the Philippines.”

He also added: “Whether the bullying came from a sense of superiority due to their place of birth or some subconscious desire to assimilate into Western culture that felt threatened by the presence of or association to newly immigrated students. I never figured it out, though I hope that’s changed.”Despite the negative observations, Quiambao said he personally enjoys embracing and exploring Filipino culture.

Being born in Hawaii did not stop him from learning about his culture and traditions.

“I think that for a lot of people, being a Filipino-American can give them a sense of pride in knowing the sacrifices your parents, grandparents, etc. made to immigrate here,” he said.

“For the most part, it was easy for me to proudly represent my Filipino heritage because I grew up in Hawaii where our culture is quite diverse, and Filipinos aren’t exactly a rarity. I think it would be way different had I grown up in the mainland where my status as minority would have been more pronounced.”

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