My local PBS radio station, KQED, recently did a story on multi-racial people on its morning talk show, Forum. I wasn’t a guest, but I got to be in the slideshow on the website.
In the picture, I am holding a giant decorative wooden spoon from the Philippines. The caption says it’s been in my family for over 34 years because it’s been around as long as I can remember. It may be as old as 50 years, I’m not sure. It hangs in my dining area, along with its companions, the giant wooden fork and the wooden carvings of Filipino people with nipa huts and palm trees.
It’s a reminder of my heritage, and that has always been indelibly linked with dining for me. Filipino food is the food of parties in my family. I’ve adapted a few recipes to be vegetarian, and it makes me really happy to cook those dishes for my family. My brother Richard, for example, loves sarciado. His wife and daughter are vegetarian, so I got to share our heritage with them by making my veg sarciado for them.
Some more about my background: My grandfathers, Mateo (paternal) and Jesus (maternal), came from the Ilocos Sur region of the Philippines. They came here in the 1920s. At the time, Filipinos were considered American nationals, so it was easy to immigrate. (That changed in 1934.) Still, few Filipino women made the trip over, so many Filipino men of this immigration wave married women of other backgrounds. My two grandmothers, both named Rose, are of Latina background. My father’s mother, who died when he was four, was of Puerto Rican background; my mother’s mother, my nana, who is still alive and wonderful, came to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was a toddler.
It was illegal at the time for Filipinos to marry whites, so both sets of my grandparents married in Oregon. My nana tells stories of the discrimination she and my papa faced — she was spit at for marrying a Filipino; they wanted to buy a house but were denied it because my grandmother wouldn’t pretend her husband was her houseboy — and my mother remembers feeling ashamed of being Filipino because of the racism she witnessed. For this reason, I feel it’s especially important to preserve and be proud of my background. I don’t want to forget the sacrifices my grandparents made and the difficulties they faced.