From Hate to Love: How Ethnic Studies Redefined my Filipino American Identity

From Hate to Love: How Ethnic Studies Redefined my Filipino American Identity
Posted on 05/29/2019 . 6:00am

By: Jeren Lacsamana Peñalosa


Filipino American Identity


“No Hxstory, No Self. Know Hxstory, Know Self.” To me, this quote means that without learning the hxstory of my people, I would not truly know who I am. Understanding the struggles that our ancestors faced helps us navigate the problems we encounter in our community and lives today. As Filipinxs/Filipinx Americans, engaging in our culture, hxstory, and heritage is part of discovering our identity. I first heard this quote in my Asian American Studies class my Freshman year of high school back in 2010, and at the time, I did not really understand what it meant at all. Nine years later, this powerful and important quote has been ingrained into my soul as person of color, student, and especially as a Filipino American. If it was not for that class, I would not be the person I am today.

And this, is my journey of how Ethnic Studies has paved the road of discovering my identity, future goals, ambitions, and dreams.

Born and raised in Union City, California, I come from a loving and caring community that was supportive of my educational journey. Both of my parents are immigrants from the Philippines. My Father migrated to the U.S in 1978 from Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. My Mother is from Manila and came to the U.S in 1986. If it was not for their sacrifices, hard-work, and love, I would not be able to live such a privileged life. Growing up, I was taught to be more “American.” The effects of colonial mentality was so present in my childhood that it gave me a strong sense of ignorance and disgust towards my Filipinx identity. I hated who I was. Especially as a teenager, I was made fun of for being Filipinx; people calling me a “Fob(Fresh Off the Boat),” that I eat dog, and being seen as a monkey. These racializations and prejudices caused me to distance myself from wanting to learn more about my people. In effect, I hated and made fun of those who were embracing the culture and Filipinx identity. Hating myself turned my back on my identity, community, and hxstory. My parents, family, and friends were all part of the process of how I was socialized throughout my childhood to bear hatred towards being Filipinx, that I had know idea who I was. It was not until my Freshman year at James Logan High School that this negative mindset and prejudice about our people changed.

Filipino American Identity


My Asian American Studies and three years of Tagalog classes were pivotal parts of my education that allowed me to explore the different intersections of my identity. During my time in high school, it never occured to me how much these classes would create a strong impact for my future. I was carelessly going through these classes as if they were available everywhere. Oh how completely wrong I was reflecting back on it. I realized how much privilege and opportunity that I had with my high school offering Ethnic Studies. To be able to partially decolonize myself by learning Tagalog, our culture, and hxstory, I began to find the importance of myself in all of this. I started to critically think and question how I am part of this American dream. Ironically, I hated my U.S hxstory, world hxstory, and government classes. This was because my people were not represented in the textbook or curriculum at all. Hxstory courses are so eurocentric that it is a privilege that while white people’s narratives is a requirement to learn, mine is an elective. If I learned anything from my teacher Ivan Santos in Asian American Studies class, is that Filipinx hxstory IS American hxstory. I learned the importance of understanding different perspectives of POC’s hxstory and how our collective struggles are relevant in America. My Ethnic Studies class helped me find love for myself, that I matter, and that my identity is strongly connected to all those who overcame their problems before me.

Filipino American Identity


My involvement within the Filipinx American community during my 4.5 years at San Jose State University has helped me grow as a leader and find my life’s purpose. I went into this chapter of life not knowing what I wanted to major in or what occupation I wanted to pursue. At first I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I was completely wrong. During my time at SJSU, I became active in the Filipinx American organization on campus, AkbayanSJSU. I basically did everything; became a kuya, Friendship Games, internship, PCN, cabinet as a Public Relations Officer, and Pilgrad. Through all these programs, I was eager to learn more about our culture, hxstory, and the Filipinx American experience. I surprised myself of how immersed I was in trying to further my understanding of what it meant to be Filipinx. Through my growth in the Filipinx American community, I discovered for myself that I wanted to be a teacher. In taking Ethnic Studies courses for my Asian American Studies Minor, I had so many supportive professors that were guiding my educational growth. One thing I took from all those courses was that oral hxstory, my families experiences, and my story was all part of Filipinx-American hxstory. Towards the end of my undergrad, I pushed myself to get involved in other community work. I became an intern for LEAD Filipino and a teacher for Pin@y Educational Partnerships in San Francisco. Through these experiences, I was able to further my growth as a leader, teacher, and Filipino American. Involving myself in different spaces in college is so crucial in developing the intersections of our identity, in which I found my passions and dreams to be a teacher.

Filipino American Identity


Without the presence of Ethnic Studies, I doubt I would be the person I am today. Ethnic studies has paved my path of self-discovery in order to understand who I am. From my Freshman year of high school to the very end of my college career, Ethnic Studies has constantly kept me grounded to my roots; finding answers about who I am and about my people. To be here today is because I am my ancestors wildest dreams. My dream is to become an educator and teach Ethnic Studies, and it is crazy to see how far I have come. From hating who I was and pushing my Filipino identity away, to eventually finding love and constant curiosity to learning more about our people’s hxstory, culture, and narratives. If it was not for my teachers, professors, mentors, and community who were all supportive of me and my growth, I would have had a difficult time navigating the world around me. Ethnic Studies bridges our understanding of the struggles our ancestors faced to connecting it how we navigate our lives and community which builds hope towards a brighter future. I hope to instill light and hope for the future generations to come as an educator by offering these critical spaces. If ethnic studies helped me grow in my life, I am hoping it will do the same for the youth to come.

Filipino American Identity


I would not be the person I am today without such amazing figures in my life that helped me through it all.

Thank you to:

  • Ivan Santos for being my first mentor in Ethnic Studies
  • Binibining Carasco & Pilapil for teaching Tagalog to all those yearning to learn more about our culture
  • AkbayanSJSU for being a home and place of cultural growth throughout college
  • Professor Valerie Francisco-Menchavez for being an Ethnic Studies mentor through your time at SJSU
  • LEAD Filipino for allowing me to grow as a leader in the FilAm community in San Jose
  • Pin@y Educational Partnerships(PEP) for allowing me to be a space to grow into a stronger educator
  • My parents for sacrificing their dreams in order for me to pursue my own
  • My community for all the love and care
  • Lastly, to all my ancestors and those who came before me: I am their wildest dreams~

Filipino American Identity


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