I'm a Fil-Am based in Hawai'i, and I know of Filipino folks who consider themselves "Asians" and I also know others who consider themselves "Pacific Islanders." What do you think -- what are we really?
Check out this video below: Maybe Filipinos are actually Latinos? ;-)
And so that you don't feel bad about your question, check out this next amateur video made by young Filipino-Americans, which shows just how much you're not alone in this confusion when it comes to our identity:
I don't know about you, but I kinda liked the theory of that guy in the video about the Filipino people -- or Pilipino because there is no "f" in Tagalog -- being the "chosen" (pili in Tagalog) and "fine" (pino in Tagalog) people. :-) Except, of course, that assertion is pure bunk. :-( And as I said in an earlier post, Filipino is a derivative of "Las Islas Filipinas," the name the Spaniards christened the Southeast Asian archipelago they colonized in honor of King Philip II of Spain.
But back to the question: Are we "Asians" or "Pacific Islanders"?
While this question pertains to Filipinos, it is really an American issue because Filipinos in the Philippines are not vexed by this question at all. Ordinary Americans are honestly confused as to how to classify us (many typically think of Asians as only those from North Asia: China, Japan and Korea), while we, US-based Filipinos, are regularly faced with this "identity confusion" ourselves, at the most basic, when filling out forms which take this data into account. Which box to check?
More importantly, however, we get confused, even insulted sometimes, when others, favorably or unfavorably, view and lump us with other ethnic groups because of how we look and how they view our culture, or exclude us from the group we think we rightfully belong. Most importantly, this question bedevils us when we want to reach out to be part of a bigger community with whom we can have a sense of affinity, kinship and pride. We are conflicted because we seem to be both and neither at the same time.
You have to understand though that the correct classification boils down to the definition of terms. Are we of the folks who hailed from the same geographic region or of the folks who, generally, ethnically look like or act like us?
In other words, does "Asian" or "Pacific Islander" refer to geographical provenance? If it does, we're actually both: because the Philippines is in Asia and it is a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. But under this definition, the Japanese would also be both, even if they don't seem to be as contorted as we are by the labels.
Now, if the term "Asian" or "Pacific Islander" refers to ethnicity, then I think both terms are misnomers. Actually, even if I concede that "Pacific Islander" may be a little more specific than "Asian" and conceivably acceptable as an ethnic classification, there is really no such thing as a single "Asian" ethnicity for the simple reason that the continent of Asia is so big and so diverse. By this definition, any school kid with the most elementary knowledge of geography would know the term "Asian" would encompass many ethnicities, including, among others, the yellow-skinned North Asians, the dark-skinned South Asians, the brown-skinned Southeast Asians, as well as the Persians, the Arabs and the Turks (who, by the way, also consider themselves Europeans because their country straddles the continents of Asia and Europe). In fact, it can be argued that "Pacific Islander" is just another subset also of the Asian umbrella of ethnicities.
What exacerbates the issue really for us is that we have never been in the position to define these terms for ourselves. Thus, even if we do have historical and genetic kinship with the "Pacific Islanders," the US Census defined the term as referring to "people having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Tonga, Samoa or other Pacific Islands" and otherwise those "of Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian cultural backgrounds." And said government agency purposefully did not include the "Philippine Islands" as among those "other Pacific Islands."
The term "Asia," on the other hand, is another Western construct -- i.e., "a concept exclusively of Western civilization." In fact, according to Wikipedia, "the peoples of ancient Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Persians, Arabs etc.) never conceived the idea of Asia, simply because they did not see themselves collectively," and the term was "first attributed to Herodotus (about 440 BC) in reference to Anatolia or -- in describing the Persian Wars -- to the Persian Empire, in contrast to Greece [Europe] and Egypt [Africa]."
Coming from a heterogeous and polyglot society which has a colorful history of mass migrations (Negritos and Malays) and colonial occupations (by Spain, US and then Japan), the earlier waves of Filipinos who migrated to America became more contorted by racial identity issues because of ignorant and discriminatory American laws in the not-too-distant past. For instance, in California, a state anti-miscegenation law prohibiting interracial marriage between whites and "Negroes, mulattoes, or Mongolians" had been routinely applied to Filipinos because they were deemed members of the "Mongolian race." It took a controversial case, Roldan v. Los Angeles County (1933), for Filipinos to successfully argue that Filipinos are actually descended from the "Malay" race (which technically is, of course, not entirely accurate). However, the victory celebration was short-lived because the ever-reliable California legislature then, unhappy with the judicial decision, quickly responded by adding "Malay" to the restricted races because Filipinos then were viewed as "scarcely more than savages" whose "social problems were based almost entirely on their sexual passion."
kababayan, no less! -- who, like many Filipinos, had also spent childhood years in Southeast Asia and who considers himself a "mutt," which most Filipinos are.
Also, I am very thankful that as Filipino-Americans (emphasis this time on Filipino), the US now, increasingly, has better literature and forms with regards to race-related classifications. By this, I mean, of course, that we now have a checkbox designed just for us:
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!
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