October is Filipino American History Month

A fragmented history is one that unites us
The Cuencos invade Concord Filipino community parties

For the past few years, I haven’t paid much attention to October being Filipino American History Month. I can point to a number of things – living in New York, busy with work, etc. But this year is a little different. Perhaps it’s the fact that Joe, who wasn’t taught as much about the culture or history, is more curious about it now. Or maybe I’m coming to another epiphany of just how being me Filipino is just as important as breathing.

The difference between myself and Joe’s upbringing mirrors what many Filipino Americans in our generation experienced. Some parents proudly passed on the culture. But a lot of parents didn’t – wanting their kids to assimilate or simply not having enough access to information (California vs. East Coast). Unfortunately, you hear more of the latter. It’s very easy to point the finger at the United States and Spain. They laid a tough hand in carving the Filipino American identity and separating us cross-culturally and playing one group against the other. At times colonial mentality can seem just too strong to overcome.

But despite this fragmentation – we are one people.

One people who share the common history of fragmentation and a defiant spirit in spite of it. Given this knowledge and the opportunity to fully examine it, it is our generation’s (and possibly our children’s) responsibility to make sense of it all.

I feel very fortunate that my parents taught me the language, taught me to cook the food, taught me the history, etc. At times it’s I’m surprised that many parents in their generation did not do this. And even more surprised when kids my generation talk about how hard it is. It’s not that complicated really.

It doesn’t have to be big and large. We don’t need to wear Filipino flags/pendants everyday or attend rallies/write letters. It can be as simple as eating Filipino food with our kids. Watching a Filipino movie or passing on the stories of Juan Tamad. Or even taking them to events where other Filipino Am couples/families are involved. It might even require asking/begging our parents to tell us their stories and help pass on the culture.

We have a golden opportunity to accomplish what so many of our parents could not do – dialogue and provide access to this rich fragmented history as well as add onto our parents’ legacy. I would hate for it to go to waste.

To live and die in BK, it’s the place to be.

After 3 years of living in Brooklyn, I still get asked by relatives in California if I’d ever move back.  My answer is always no. I have many reasons to stay here – my career, Joey, my sister, etc. But let’s face it – the bottomline is I simply like BK more. It fulfills my desire to have access to different groups of people and if you’ve known me long enough, you’d know that I love to eat different foods. Just ask Joe or my sister – most of the time I’m eating or cooking something foreign (Filipino food at the top of that list). BK + vettie vette = a happy marriage.

Since I started my new job in Boro Park – I travel through four neighborhoods on a daily basis. Coming from my house I hop on the B38 around 7 at Dekalb and I see Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, and Fort Greene before jumping on the train at Dekalb and Flatbush. At around 8ish I arrive in Boro Park. The varying topography and populations in these four neighborhoods are a testament to BK’s physical size and diversity.

Of the nearly 8.2 million residents in NewYork City, 2.5 million call Brooklyn home. Don’t let the numbers scare you. Brooklyn isn’t crowded, residents, myself included, have plenty of room to spread our wings. Each neighborhood providing different tastes of the immigrants, native Brooklynites , and newbies from other cities/states that inhabit it. I know it’s hard to imagine how I can find a niche that reminds me of California, but this is New York. As a friend once said – one can find a niche of anything here.

When I land in Boro Park amidst the Hasidic boys and girls running to make it to their yeshivas on time, I walk into a little diner on 61st Street and 16th Avenue across from the bowling alley. On the outside it looks like any ornery diner you’d find all over the city, but once you pass your nose is tinged with the smell of…fresh tamales. TAMALES? How could this be? And yes these tamales are made from scratch by the Mexican family that owns the place. HEAVEN. It makes a native Californian-Brooklynite-foodie like me swoon.

Mexicans are one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in New York City. They’re not just in Boro Park, but have established homes in Bensonhurst, Bushwick, and Red Hook. Go to Red Hook Park on any given weekend and you will see Mexicans and other South American groups playing futbol or their form of volleyball – tossing a soccerball over a net. The fields are lined with hotdog carts and coolers, that aren’t equipped with franks, but with tamales, tacos, tortas and other Mexican fare. They’re good and cheap.

All this is just a bus or subway ride away from my doorstep.  Why would I ever leave?