Filipino American Voices
In the United States, Filipino Americans make up the second largest Asian group population. That’s pretty awesome! And each Filipino American has a unique voice and story to tell.
That is why I am proud to produce a series called Filipino American Voices! A place for Filipino Americans to share their stories and experiences of what it is like being Filipino American.
You can read last month’s Filipino American Voices featuring my own personal story of discovering Filipino roots in “What are You?”
Today’s GUEST BLOGGER
Today, I am delighted to feature guest blogger, Leialoha Kekauoha, who shares her story of how she came to love and appreciate her Filipino heritage. Leialoha is the author and creator of Lost On Da Mainland, a blog exploring the American-Hawaiian experience and identity.
Filipino American Voices – Kindness of a Stranger
Growing up, we never really embraced our Filipino side. In fact, our Filipino side was kind of a mark of shame. My mom, who is half Filipino (and the reason we are Filipino), would say things like, “Don’t walk like that or you’ll look buk-buk*,” or “Stop being so Flip*.” Or, if we were out in the sun too long, she’d tell us to come in or else we’d turn purple like a Filipino. I didn’t appreciate my Filipino blood, and whenever people asked my ethnicity, I’d mention Filipino, but quickly emphasize how much of a Hawaiian I was.
*buk-buk and flip are often considered derogatory terms for a Filipino person
When I served and lived in the Philippines for 18 months on a church mission, a part of me held onto these negative views, but I slowly found myself defending the Filipino culture as I learned more about it.
No, they don’t eat dogs, I would write. Or, No, they don’t talk the way mom and dad used to tease them. Or, No, Filipinos are not purple…
Something in me had changed, and it was all caused by the kindness of the people.
One day I was on a jeepney – the Filipino mode of transportation – riding alone, my suitcases bustled up next to my legs. I was traveling from one town to another, and it had been about a two hour ride. There were supposed to be some people waiting to meet up with me in the city I was traveling to, but as I was unfamiliar with the area, I wasn’t exactly sure where they’d be.
The jeepney driver turned into the Bayan (town) and all of the other passengers flooded off. I ducked low to look out the side of the jeepney hoping I’d be able to see my friends.
You might like: How to Ride a Jeepney in the Philippines Like a Local
The jeepney driver kept going through the Bayan, and then came around full circle. I felt his eyes constantly looking at me through the rearview mirror—after all, I was the last one on the jeepney.
I didn’t panic, but I was worried. I didn’t want to be alone in the middle of the big city with my suitcases and no way to contact my friends. At the same time, I wasn’t this man’s responsibility. He had every right to kick me off the jeepney because this was the end of the journey and he still had another two hours to complete his round trip.
We circled around the Bayan once, then twice, and then a third time. With no sign of my people, I sat there, unsure of what to do.
“May cell phone ka ba?” he asked. Did I have a cell phone? I didn’t. I kept looking out the window, but nothing was familiar.
“Ate,” he said to me, using the name reserved for young girls my age. “Tawagin mo sila” (You call them). He handed me his little blue phone, a brick of a thing. It had no beauty: the rubber numbers and letters were rubbed off, the black and white screen had scratches across the top, and it was hot to the touch, obviously overheated in the humidity and furnace of the day. The phones in the Philippines had to be pre-loaded with minutes or texts, and guilt immediately crossed my mind.
“Tawagin mo sila,” (You call them) he repeated, as I held the phone a little dumbfounded.
“Sigurado?” (Are you sure?) I asked, and he nodded, repeating his command to call them. I fumbled through my bag to find the phone number then called as quickly as I could. I had held this driver up long enough.
“They should be there,” came the reply on the other end of the phone, and I felt my heart sinking. I could already see myself, standing alone in the middle of the city, with my bags. “I’ll call them to verify,” said the person on the other end, then added, “How about you get off at the McDonald’s and I’ll tell them you’re there.”
I looked at the McDonald’s building and felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into the jeepney seat. It looked like a sea of people going to and fro, and there were street kids standing outside the McDonalds windows, their hands up, begging for food.
“Walang sila?” (They’re not there?) asked the driver. I shook my head and handed him back his phone. Then I could see it. He was concerned, but he couldn’t keep the jeepney sitting in one place for too long. We were both in a tight spot.
I looked out the back of the jeepney again, praying to see a familiar face. And just as I did, I noticed my friends standing in the distance.
“Nandoon sila!” (They’re over there!) I said, and called out to them. They rushed to my aid, taking my suitcases and embracing me in excitement. Before I followed them to the rest of the group, I paused and turned to the driver. He grinned from cheek to cheek.
“Maraming salamat!” (Thank you so much!) I told him, then reached into my bag and handed him extra money. After all, by using his phone, I had used his minutes. And the minutes weren’t cheap. In making him wait at the Bayan, I had also made him lose potential customers. He had also circled several times, which used his gas.
“Huwag na!” he said, meaning that he didn’t want it. I held it out to him but he repelled back like it was poison. “Huwag na, ate,” he said. “Ingat ka sa daan!” (Take care on your journey!)
“Ingat na po kayo,” (Take care) I said, then got off and waited until his jeepney disappeared around the curb.
My heart welled up inside of me. How could a total stranger, in the middle of a foreign country, be so kind to an outsider like me? He could have left me on the curb, and not given a second thought about it—he had every right to!
My mind always goes back to this experience: a little Hawaiian girl in the middle of the Philippines. While I pride myself on my Hawaiian culture, I learned how to be proud of my Filipino culture too. I will never forget how that one jeepney driver did more for me than just keep me safe.
Now every time I see Filipinos in Hawaii, or even throughout my travels, I give them a big smile and they return it, and the island warmth and spirit of aloha, and Filipino pag-ibig (love), makes the world a better place.
Leialoha Kekauoha is halo-halo (mix-mix) herself, a mix of Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, and Caucasian. From Hilo, Hawaii, she served an 18-month church service mission in the Philippines where she learned to speak fluent Tagalog.
She is the author and creator of Lost On Da Mainland (lostondamainland.com and @lostondamainland), a blog exploring the American-Hawaiian experience and identity. She’s a Hawaii girl at heart, so when she isn’t writing articles, she can usually be found by any large body of water.
Thank you to Leialoha Kekauoha of Lost On Da Mainland for sharing how she came to love and appreciate her Filipino heritage. Be sure to visit her blog and say hello!
What are your thoughts on being Filipino American? Have you had a similar experience? If you liked this story, please share with someone who might be interested!
Do you have your own story to share? Contact me on Instagram or add a comment below.
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