Filipino American Voices – What are You?

August 1, 2017

Filipino American Voices - "What are You?" A Journey of Self Discovery
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Filipino American Voices – What Are You?

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 introduce 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 Lora Bumatay – Lessons from a Balikbayan Box.

Sharing My Own Story

Today I am happy to share my own story of finding Filipino American identity! From understanding very little of my Filipino heritage to finally setting off on an adventure to discover my roots, my story speaks to all those yearning to learn more about themselves and how they fit into the world.


Filipino American Voices – Deborah Francisco

about the authorI am half Filipino, one-fourth Slovenian (or maybe Austrian, we never seem to know), one-eighth Irish, and possibly one-eighth French. With my combined multitude of ethnicities it’s fairly easy to blend in or get mixed up for any culture.

When I’m in Hawaii I’m given the “local” discount. When I’m around Latinos, they try to speak to me in Spanish. When I’m in Turkey they ask if I’m Mexican; in China they ask, “Indian?” And growing up in America they always asked, “Are you Native American?”

I’ve never really wished to be any other ethnicity than what I was born as. Actually, I’ve always enjoyed being an ethnic chameleon, mystifying those around me with my unidentifiable looks, confusing people with statements like, “Yeah, I’m Irish.” 

I’ve never really wished to be any other ethnicity than what I was born as.

I grew up in a typical American household. My family and I went on camping trips, we used a dishwasher, we arranged cheese platters for holidays, we ate pancakes and waffles for breakfast. I owned a stamp collection, a bike, and a plastic red Mickey Mouse lunchbox.

With floral, saddle-strap stretch pants and a fluorescent baggy t-shirt, I wandered through childhood oblivious to the fact that I looked different from other kids.


“Are you Indian?” the girl behind me asked. We were waiting in the cafeteria line for hot lunch. Our family had recently moved from an apartment to a house, and I had entered second grade with a whole new set of classmates.

“No.” I raised my eyebrows.

“Well then, what are you?”

“I’m American, duh!” I retorted with a sassy eye roll. I showed her.


filipino american identity

During my 7th grade year I declared to my classmate that I wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. She simply replied, “You can’t be Snow White. Your skin isn’t white!” That was when I realized that others didn’t see me the way I saw me (Regardless of her comment, I did dress up as Snow White that year. I guess my classmate didn’t realize that America is the land of the free).

My identity as a Filipino American had always felt ambiguous. At least, not something I felt like I could truly claim with ownership.

My identity as a Filipino American had always felt ambiguous. At least, not something I felt like I could truly claim with ownership. I knew what lumpia – the Filipino version of an egg roll – tasted like. I had learned tinikling – a traditional Filipino dance, and I was used to loud parties at my relative’s house where singing bad karaoke was just as important as the overflowing pot of white rice.

But what did it mean to really be Filipino? I didn’t know. What did it mean to be American? I had never thought about it much before.

A search for self-identity brought up obvious missing pieces of a culture I had never come to fully understand. Was I Filipino because my skin was dark and I had a “squashed nose?” Was I American because I liked craft beer and made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner?

How did I fit into the so-called melting pot of American culture?

A few years after college I was feeling restless and needed something different in my life. I felt the urge to travel abroad and serve others, “to make a difference,” so to speak.

Filipino American Voices - What Are You? Philippines travel memoir

“Why don’t you just join Peace Corps?” a friend challenged me.


“Why don’t you just join Peace Corps?” a friend challenged me.

I sputtered and then dismissed it. Me? Join Peace Corps? But the thought never left me. I kept asking myself, Why don’t I join?

A month later I applied.

After an in-depth 60-page application, two essays, an interview, months of medical tests, doctors signatures, and several pestering phone calls to the Peace Corps office, I finally received an official letter in the mail.

I had fully prepared myself to accept whatever country was offered (please God, let it NOT be Mongolia!!!) and was expecting to get sent to someplace I had never heard of, like Kazakhstan.

“Congratulations,” it began. “You have been selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.”

The Philippines?! Seriously, the Philippines?!

I laid in a peaceful bliss reveling at my luck. Of all the countries I could have been assigned to, I had somehow received the Philippines post. My quest of self-identity had arrived at my front door, literally, in the form of a thick government issued envelope.


So, what happened?


You can read the full story in my upcoming Philippines memoir. Want to be on the list? Be the first to get notified of book news and updates here.

Filipino American Voices - Halo-Halo, Mix-MixDeborah Francisco

Deborah Francisco, a Northwest native, served three years in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer (2011-2014), working on community development and youth outreach programs. She built a community music program that taught life skills to over 125 at-risk youth through music education.

As a Filipino American, Deborah’s volunteer experience abroad connected her to a culture she had long desired to understand. Currently a member of the San Diego Filipino Bloggers Network, Deborah created the blog, Halo-Halo, Mix-Mix – Discovering the Filipino American Identity, as a platform for promoting her memoir and sharing her love of Filipino culture.



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!

Have your own Filipino American story to share? Contact me on Instagram or add a comment below.


(don’t forget to pin this to save for later!)

Filipino American Voices - "What are You?" A Journey of Self Discovery

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More about Deborah

Filipino American with a passion for making a difference. Writer. Blogger. Dreamer. Adventurer.

  • Sharon Glascoe

    OMG I am in a similar situation with my ethnicity. My parents are both from Colombia but my dads side is originally from Europe and they’re Jewish. My moms side is lighter skin Colombian so you can old tell that she’s Latin American when she speaks because she has a slight accent. All the time growing up people would ask me “What are you?” because I have dark hair and a bigger nose, but some people think I’m Italian or Arabian. But as I’ve gotten older, I am so thankful for the melting pot of ethnicities going on in my life because it’s helped shaped my diverse perspective on life and made me more accepting of other people. So it’s been quite a blessing. And, now, I know where my family came from, whereas my husband has no idea where his ancestors migrated from.

    • THat’s so cool! I couldn’t have said it better myself! It’s such a blessing to be part of many cultures!

  • Rimsha

    The topic of identity is never an easy one to resolve especially in a situation like yours. I love how you’ve shared your experience in such a thought provoking manner. Very interesting read!

  • Great intro! I’m hooked! What happens NEXT?!

    I’m full Filipino, but I often get mistaken for Chinese or Vietnamese. Unlike other countries in Asian, I think the Philippines has the most diverse people. Everyone looks different (and I think that’s a great thing).

    Looking forward to the rest of your story!

  • Emely Roman

    Wow what a great intro! I think being mixed is a such a privilege. You get to see the world in so many different lights and can appreciate both the struggles and the social advantages on each side.

    • I think so too! I have come to appreciate being a mix of many cultures and all the fun cultural elements of both.

  • Tyra Skinner

    NOOOOO, why you gotta leave me hanging like that! Love, your style of writing! It reminds me of myself. Kkk. Yah, going to read the memoir now.

    • Thank you! Gotta love the cliffhangers. Be sure to sign up for the book updates!

  • Ashish Mesepam

    I treat my patients in their homes and recently moved to Texas for work. I’m Indian.
    Pt: Hey doc, what’s your first name again?
    Me: Ashish
    Pt: Well that’s a funny name for a negro!
    Me: No ma’am, I’m Indian.
    Pt: Oh me too, I’m part Cherokee.
    Me: Haha, no ma’am. I was born in India.
    Pt: Oh, I’ve never heard of that tribe.

    I definitely can relate to your experiences!

    • Oh wow, I feel your pain! I’m glad you can relate and thanks for reading!

  • Cassie Trin

    I can’t tell you how much I can relate!!! A few differences but so similar. :)

    • Glad you can relate! Please share with a friend if you think they’d be interested in hearing the story!

  • The ethnic chameleon made me laugh. My daughter is half Chinese and sometimes viewed as any one of any asian ethnicity, Mexican and a few others too.

    • Nice! Glad you liked the story! Yes I know exactly how that can be :)

  • Love this series! I read another article somewhere about how Filipinos are the most culturally ambiguous, definitely experienced a lot of that myself.

    • Thank you! Yeah Filipinos can definitely blend in with many cultures :)