Longing to learn about my own culture

I have spent so many of my formative years trying to conceal my Asian-ness and brown-ness.

By Kiana Fernandez 

I can count the number of Filipino words I know on the fingers of one hand.

For most of my childhood, I would block out the sound of my parents talking to each other in Tagalog, the main dialect of the Philippines. The words they spoke held no meaning to me. Their conversations became background noise.

I have spent so many of my formative years trying to conceal my Asian-ness and brown-ness.

Growing up in a majority white environment, I always felt different. Walking into a room where I was the only person of color became a norm. This continued on in the media I consumed: From music to television, I could never point out anyone who was Filipina like me. Being in a space that lacked Asian-American representation, I felt a constant need to reduce my ethnic identity and maximize a sense of whiteness. This part of myself became something I wanted to hide. Through years of this, interest in learning about my identity as a Filipina never had a chance to develop.

"For most of my childhood, I would block out the sound of my parents talking to each other in Tagalog, the main dialect of the Philippines. The words they spoke held no meaning to me. Their conversations became background noise."

It has only been recently that I have started to appreciate my culture. What comes with this slow ease into the comfort of my own skin is a new sense of guilt. All of those times I was passive in accepting my culture, I could have been actively learning more about it.

I saw America and the Philippines as two completely separate places. America was familiar and normal while the Philippines seemed different and strange to me. I had only heard brief stories about the Philippines. The closest I felt to the country was through meals made by my mother or through family reunions. I have never been to the Philippines.

This semester, I started taking Italian as my language course. As some of my classmates are taking this opportunity to discover more about their own culture, I can't help but feel a bit disconnected. I long to experience something similar.

Despite a lack of mainstream representation of Filipino culture in America, I am still trying to go out of my way and make an effort to be more educated about it. Whether this is through seeking out creative work done by Filipinos or even asking my parents to repeat the words they say in conversation with each other, I am trying.

Every Friday morning at 1 a.m., I host a show on KVRX 91.7 called "DWA: DJ'ing While Asian". Through this platform, I make an effort to look for and promote Asian musicians to play on my show. For one of my most recent episodes, my friend helped me create a playlist with both Filipino-American and Filipino bands and artists. Most of the music I have previously heard from the Philippines were ballads my parents would listen to. Being exposed to Filipinos in the indie rock scene was a new experience. Revelations like this make me want to learn more.

The journey towards acknowledgement and appreciation of being Asian is still in process and may be for my whole life. My identity is something I am still trying to understand- both within and outside of myself. What was once embarrassment and self-hate of my Filipina identity is reaching a new sense of pride. With this pride, I hope to explore more of my culture in any way I can.

All photos are copyright free

Kiana Fernandez is a sophomore advertising student at the University of Texas at Austin.