The conversation between the Filipinos who left the island and those who stayed is ongoing and as passionate as ever. The subject of the Filipino identity is one way this heated dialogue continues: what is it that defines the essence of “Filipino-ness”? Having survived colonization and WWII, some argue that Filipinos don’t have an identity that is not influenced by colonizers. However, why is it that we are so quick to limit the definition of this identity to solely one?
The experience of the individuals within the Filipino diaspora may have similarities; however, much like any human experience, it is unique as the individual itself. There are Filipinos who immigrated to America who abhorred the customs of Americans. The word “American” itself is uttered with such disgust, and one can hear some Filipinos walk by white Americans mutter, “ay, mga puti,” or translated, “ay, these white people.”
On the flip side, there are Filipino Americans whose parents accepted assimilation; becoming an “American” did not seem daunting or intimidating, but rather a molting to new skin. Assimilation has a negative connotation to it, so those who traded their Filipino identity for an American one prefer the word “integration” instead. The children of these parents also did not find any harm becoming more like their non-Filipino peers, such as our local Filipino American artist, Vincent Simbe.
Vince is a simple artist; he prefers not to laud this title. He is currently pursuing certifications in IT, or Information Technology, so he may propel himself into a humble position in the heart of Silicon Valley. He uses art as a means of relaxation and leisure, very rarely using it as a means of monetary gain or clout. Artists often have a style unique to themselves, but he is more often found simply drawing what he finds interesting.
There are some artists that use their personal experience as subject matter for their art. However, when asked if being Filipino affected any part of his life, he confessed, “it does a little, mostly from other Filipino folks either asking if I know or are talking to me in Tagalog or Ilocano and I have absolutely no idea what they are saying until I tell them that. I sometimes get the feeling that after I mention that, their disposition of me immediately drops like a rock and that I’m not a true Filipino because of it. I only know my American culture and next to none of my Filipino one.”
His position is certainly not a new one. Barbara Jane Reyes, a local poet and Pinay Literature professor, coined the term “pinay liminality,” which defines the “in-between” space some FIlipino Americans feel regarding their identity: not quite American, not quite Filipino. Currently, there is a reclamation movement: Asian American youths are turning to their roots to act as inspiration for their art, like Chef Tu David Phu, Bravo's Top Chef Contestant, who uses his mother’s Vietnamese cooking to help create his own vision or writers such as Elaine Castillo whose new book, America is Not the Heart, hearkens its title from the original novel by Filipino novelist Carlos Bolusan. It was curious to see how ethnicity and race influenced not only Vince’s lifestyle, but his art as well considering his upbringing. He answered curiously, “it doesn’t, save for a little sketch of an American and a Filipino soldier after coming across a model 1899 US Krag-Jørgensen rifle and a Philippine model 1902 Colt revolver in a couple of gun shops and doing a little research on the Philippine-American War, none of the drawings I’ve made have had any influence from my ethnicity.”
Outside of the creative sphere, we were interested learning about his encounters with other Filipinos, whether it be with his peers or family. When asked if he felt a disconnect with his Filipino culture, he contemplates, “in some ways I do feel a bit of a disconnect, especially if I hear either my parents, family or other folks speak either Tagalog or Ilocano, but most of the time, it matters very little to me since I never really felt a connection to the culture in the first place and in my personal experience as a simple and casual artist who mainly focuses on fanart, people online don’t care about ethnicity since the first thing they see is the art of the thing that we share an interest in.”
While being Filipino did not change Vince’s outlook or lifestyle, there is a positive perspective in that mindset. There are Filipino Americans who don’t believe they are “Filipino enough” because they don’t understand the language or know niche cultural traditions. Perhaps, we can learn from Vince and accept that by just being Filipino, it is Filipino enough.
Vince Simbe is not on any social media platform, and he is not accepting commissions.
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Keana A. Labra - Milpitas, CA
Utilizing her background in English Literature, Keana would like to learn more about Filipino literature and history to bring an understanding and awareness to the culture. As a Filipino American, she is interested in further researching the impact of the feminist movement and how it affects Filipino tradition. She would also like to uplift the Filipino Americans who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. She hopes to encourage fellow Filipino Americans to participate and immerse themselves in the Filipino culture. Her hobbies include watching anime and reading manga.