The Two Sides of a Coin: the Danger of a Single Story

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As of 2017, approximately four million Filipino-Americans inhabited the U.S. which does not cover one hundred million Filipinos as a whole. Many outside of the Philippines view the country with starving citizens, flooded areas, and rare health conditions with impossible cure and treatment. Sadly, we begin to view the third world countries differently and sensitively. I have been raised with a different understanding and misalignment of the struggles of my original homeland. Since I was born and raised in Guam, I am considered as a Filipino-American, an American of Filipino descent. The only connections to the Philippines are my parents and the Filipino communities I grew up in American soil. When my family and I went to the Philippines, I saw how people live. Almost all the people in Manila, Philippines live in a toxic environment and face unlimited crimes. Filipinos viewed their American relatives with pride because living in America became a status quo for middle and rich income families. Because Filipino-Americans acquire different obstacles from Filipinos, one story cannot make up the nation’s population.

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My experiences may vary differently from a Filipino-American raised in a U.S. territory with a smaller community of Filipino diaspora. I was born and raised in Guam, approximately three thousand miles apart from the Philippines. I grew up eating authentic Filipino dishes, listening to stories of the homeland from papa and mama’s, and eavesdropping tiyo and tiya’s tirade about the Philippines’ corrupted government. In my nineteen years of existence, I lived my life comfortably. Unlike in the Philippines, most work to provide for their families, including children. If children were lucky, they would attend school to obtain a high school diploma or even better, a college degree. Because schools were not free, many people living in the poverty line had a hard time getting out of their condition. I was fortunate to acquire a high school diploma and to attend college. Possessing an educational background was an ultimate jackpot in the Filipinos’ perspective. As fondly and family-friendly as I think of the Philippines, I tend to have certain views of the Philippines which may seem negative. I pity the socio-economic situation in the Philippines such as the uncontrolled poverty and the corruption of the government. Filipino-Americans such as myself were raised with a “be glad you are not there” mentality which affects some second-generation Filipinos’ views of our homeland. A few of Filipino-Americans completely turn their backs on their heritage because of this situation, and unfortunately, assimilate into the American culture. Ultimately, the majority of Filipino-Americans think of our motherland positively, and it is a part of who we are even if we are not there.

Filipino-Americans might share the same experience, but the language is different from Filipinos back home because one word can mean differently when translating it into another language. For example, the word “kilig” in Tagalog does not have an English equivalent. Kilig is a feeling of having butterflies or being on cloud nine, and it is associated with romantic feelings. Growing up, my parents stressed the English language and were less concerned about teaching Filipino languages such as Tagalog. I learned Tagalog through watching television shows such as TFC and GMA. As a result, I understood Tagalog fluently without the assistance of my parents. Because of my low-speaking ability and my confidence level, I choose not to speak it when interacting. Even though I have always been proud of being Filipino, the language component was one piece I was lacking.

In Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story, she shares her story about people mislabeling where she comes from with how the world sees her country. Because of the color of her skin, she was misidentified and stereotyped. Her speaking ability of English to her produced tape of Mariah Carey shocked her roommate. Just like Adiche’s story, I was the roommate in the situation. When I think of the Philippines, I picture people living in the slums or flooded roads which blocked the pathway to houses. I thought all Filipinos have the same distinct appearance which resembled Mexicans but with a petite figure. I constantly thought the Philippines were hopeless because of the failed infrastructure and the failed government. I had this mindset of assuming one single story could possibly make up the Philippines’ population. 

I take pride in my Filipino-American culture even though it may envy others who are in the Philippines. Because I was born and raised in Guam and was taught Filipino cultures from my parents, I enjoyed the best of both worlds. Even though I pointed out the flaws of the Philippines, I accept it as a part of what it means to be Filipino living in the motherland. The two sides of a coin, a Filipino-American and a Filipino, have different cultural upbringings. I disregarded the positive views of the Philippines and replaced it with a negative perspective. Assimilating to the American culture and hearing news which focuses on tragedy and misfortune affected my mindset about my roots. I became aware of this and shifted my perspective by putting myself into the shoes of the Filipinos. I came into the realization a single story does not make up its nation. The stories my papa, mama, tiya, and tiyo told were not sufficient to my understanding of the Philippines. I invested in obtaining two different versions of how the Philippines is viewed. Thus, my obstacles were not equated to those whose obstacles were extra pitiful in the Philippines.   

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