Jason Tengco had little appreciation for his Filipino heritage until a single quote piqued his interest.
As the second-generation child of immigrants from the Philippines, I was once ashamed to be Filipino. My parents never spoke to me in their native Tagalog tongue, and they didn’t teach me about my culture or history. Like many Asian American parents, they wanted nothing more than for me to study hard and to assimilate into American society.
So growing up in the Bay Area, I tried to suppress my identity. I wore color contacts to make my eyes lighter, and even used skin whitening soap. It was as if I were both literally and figuratively trying to erase my culture. It wasn’t until I started college that I became aware of the culture that I so shamefully tried to avoid. I learned this quote which later became my life mantra, “No history, no self.” And there is a corollary, “K-n-o-w history, k-n-o-w self.”
This quote prompted me to learn more about my immigrant family’s history of struggle and sacrifice. I began to take Filipino history courses and even studied Tagalog for two years. Over time, I felt empowered by a community of fellow second-generation Filipino American students. And rather than running away from our culture, we explored and embraced it together.
Fast forward more than ten years later, now you can find me actively involved in the community, playing Filipino-style mahjong with my family, or eating at Filipino restaurants throughout the Bay Area. I beam with joy seeing lumpia - Filipino egg rolls - being sold at my local Costco. Looking back, although I was once ashamed of my identity, I’ve truly come full circle and derive incredible strength and pride in being Filipino.