The last time I visited my family in the Philippines, my cousins and I spent hours sitting outside, swapping stories around a white picnic table. I didn’t have many opportunities to speak in Tagalog while I lived in the States; so, being in-country and all, I tried to spend as much time as possible talking to my cousins in that language. At one point, one of them said, “You know, you have a foreign accent while speaking.”
I remembered looking confused for a hot minute. “Foreign accent? What do you mean?” My grasp of the language wasn’t any more than conversational, sure, but I thought I still sounded pretty alright.
“It’s the way you say certain words, or the way you choose other words for your sentences,” he explained. “It’s apparent that you didn’t grow up here.”
I don’t really think I thought much about being an Asian-American – or a Filipino-American to be more specific – until that night. I guess, for the most part, I still saw myself as mainly Filipino. But since then, I’ve been more cognizant of cultural influences on my identity. Certain ways I view the world and myself are distinctly influenced by being American – the hunger to be more, the hustle to be more diverse, etc. But some ways I express myself – from the art that I write to dances I performed – are distinctly Asian/Filipino in influence. And that’s not bad at all. What I once took as a pejorative, I now embrace with pride.