Searching for the balance

May 23, 2023

Every year, Abby Aquino (’24)  and her family send balikbayan boxes to her extended family back in the Philippines – a taste of American life for the Aquino family. Every year, Aquino visits the Philippines to spend weeks with her grandma. Every year, Aquino looks to Asian representation to feel more aligned with her Filipino history and identity. 

Culture is an extensive topic in conversation and in ideology. For Aquino, Asian representation in media allows her to feel more cultured amongst the onslaught of Western ideology constantly thrown in her direction; for Aquino, seeing people who look like her take roles in American shows and movies bridges the gap between her Filipino heritage and her American life, connecting her to her identity. 

Aquino identifies herself as a South East Asian; growing up in Cherry Hill, she has been surrounded by her Filipino heritage through her family’s involvement with the Filipino community here. At Cherry Hill High School East, Aquino is the secretary-treasurer for the Filipino Cultural Society (FCS); having been surrounded by Filipinos for a few weeks every year allows Aquino to feel more in tune with the younger Filipino generation in school, similar to herself. 

“I love our little community in school, speaking the language and sharing the stories; it is a new way for all the club members to connect,” said Aquino. 

Despite Aquino’s love for her heritage and the effort to continually discover her culture, she finds it hard to balance her current views with traditional Filipino notions. 

“Sometimes, my family and I disagree on how to live life, [such] [as] the traditional idea of a nuclear family,” said Aquino. 

Disagreeing with the older generation is tricky because there is a fine line between standing up for your beliefs and completely refuting an older person’s cemented ideology; that is why for Aquino, representation is such an important piece that connects her to her culture. If one sees their beliefs and values accepted as the norm, they are more likely to adapt and change their view; it is generally known that once representation is given, an idea, person, or even a whole race can somehow be accepted into spaces, they were never previously welcomed. 

Aquino has faced the same experience every Asian person has: the infuriating question, “Do you eat dogs?” Like many other Asian Americans, Aquino has had to endure the unfair stereotypes used, when in actuality – many people in Asia look to such animals to sustain themselves. Aquino says there is nothing to be ashamed of when people make rude comments as it stems from a lack of education. Aquino says that now she is proud of Asian resilience. =

“It is hard; in the Philippines, you are not truly Filipino because you are American, but here you are not American because you are Filipino,” said Aquino. 

It is hard to balance so many identities while being under the umbrella term of Asian American because you are both Asian and American, but you are also so much more. Aquino truly believes that despite the adversity the Filipino community has faced in the hard colonial battle with Spain, the modern idea of a Filipino trumps everything. 

“To be a Filipino-American is to be resilient [in] [the] [face] [of] adversity,” said Aquino.

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