Embracing My Cultural Identity5 min read

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Kumusta ka ey? Kumusta? Hello, how are you? ¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?

The world is getting smaller thanks to the advent of modern technology. Definitely, one of its advantages is bringing different world cultures closer than ever before. Learning different languages has never been easier. Culture mixing has never been more prevalent. But, at what expense?

Throughout my teenage years, I struggled a lot with my cultural and regional identity. I didn’t know where to belong and how to belong. Growing up with a Pangasinan-speaking family, I experienced a major culture clash within me. Growing up learning and speaking Filipino at school, I became confused even more. Growing up consuming media in the English language—books, music, and movies—I became a different person altogether. Growing up in a society and a community with a strong colonial mentality wherein everything American or white is venerated, it made my situation even worse. I didn’t know how to identify myself.

Identity Crisis

Learning all these languages at a young age, I became trilingual. This however, came with some underlying effects that will scar me later in life. Back then, I was young and naïve. I didn’t know how to respond to the “bastardization” of my cultural and regional identity. I was unfortunate for not having someone to explain the cultures and histories of these languages before learning them.

Cultural identity, as defined by this paper by Nina Martin, is “the extent to which each individual person attributes certain views and beliefs to him or herself, and to the feeling of affinity this person has towards a distinct cultural group of people.” The paper also discusses how “bilingualism consequently affect a child’s cultural identity development.”

When I was in my primary and secondary years, my classmates used to ask me where I was born. I have always answered Manila to some and San Carlos to others. I was afraid to identify myself as a native Pangasinense for the fear of being frowned upon. That being a native is inferior compared to being born in urban places like imperialist Metro Manila. Some also mistook me for a “foreigner,” a dialectal term, because of my Caucasian features. What’s so unacceptable is that I didn’t let them know what I really am. Remember, this is in the early 2000’s wherein colonial mentality is strong among the provinces. During those years, I was responding in a way that I can and I know. This led me to be confused of my own cultural and regional identity. Who am I and where do I belong? What language should I speak? Am I a true-blue native? Does it even matter?

My cultural turmoil followed me even in my 20’s. Recently, when I was speaking to a friend in my native tongue, I was horrified that I have already forgotten some of the words. I was floored. I wanted to pull my hair out to puke out the words. I was experiencing what linguists call a language attrition. Wikipedia defines language attrition as “the process of losing a native, or first language.” I think that this was brought by my moving to Metro Manila after graduating from college. Because I didn’t know someone who speaks in my native tongue, I learned to survive with speaking in Filipino/Tagalog or English. I also patronized consuming media in a foreign language that is English. My situation became even worse than before. I was becoming a lost cause.

A Wake-up Call

Due to my mission to improve every aspect of myself, I started learning Spanish this year. A month passed and I started noticing something incredible. It felt a bit of a cultural awakening in me. Like a veil is being lifted. Learning a foreign language makes me appreciate more my native tongue and my culture. I was not afraid to identify myself anymore. Since then, when I’m elsewhere but Pangasinan, I often steal opportunities to speak to my family members and relatives in the native tongue. Since I’ve read in the news that Pangasinan as a language is dying, I felt committed to save and preserve it.

You wonder why I’m writing about owning my identity but I am learning a Spanish. I have always known that my family is of Spanish descent by genealogy—that we have a pint of Spanish blood running in our veins. And what a shame it would be if no one stands up to own that culture? If no one in this lifetime embraces our “otherness”? This is my way of paying homage to my roots. I am owning everything that I am made of. Besides, Spanish is part of our culture as Filipinos.

The Importance of Cultural Identity

The importance of cultural identity has never been stressed enough. Simply put, it makes one feel belonged. It makes him know his place in the world. That’s why it’s very important that we push diversity in various forms of media—books, TV series, movies, songs, etc. When a person sees or reads about a character who looks like him, he may not feel alone in the world. He will feel represented and included. There will be a sense of belongingness and security. More importantly, it will break toxic social norms that bound individuals in the society.

My upbringing, education, and experiences led me to question and embrace what I really am. Now that I am acknowledging my Hispanic influence and learning a language that colonized my ancestors, I won’t let it shroud my true identity. No matter where I go or no matter what language I speak, I will always identify myself as a Hispanic-influenced Filipino—specifically Pangasinense. I will always bring with me the native language, tradition, and customs my ancestors fought to survive. I won’t deny myself anymore.

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